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New era dawns at ‘Tight Ends University’

Tacoma News Tribune

SEATTLE – All-America tight ends including Jerramy Stevens, Ernie Conwell, Mark Bruener and Rod Jones helped the University of Washington earn the nickname “Tight Ends University.”

Unfortunately for Bob Simmons, he has become UW’s tight ends coach at a time when those guys are alumni, and when the current player with the most experience at the position – Joe Toledo – has moved next door to offensive tackle.

That leaves Simmons to turn a pair of converted linebackers into the kind of multipurpose tight ends needed for the new West Coast offense being installed by coach Tyrone Willingham and offensive coordinator Tim Lappano.

“This place is known for having great tight ends – they’ve let me know that,” Simmons said. “I’ve inherited some young men who have a great work ethic. I don’t think they have a lot of experience.”

They don’t.

The top leading candidates are junior Dash Crutchley, who appeared in four games last season with no receptions, and sophomore Robert Lewis, who had five catches last season in limited play.

The versatile Johnie Kirton, a redshirt freshman working mostly in the backfield, also could see some time at tight end.

What the players lack in experience, they are trying to overcome with a lust for learning.

“I think the first week I was with Coach Simmons I learned a lot more than I learned the whole entire year last year,” said Lewis, who stands 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds.

“I’ve been all over the place, but tight end is where my body type fits in the best,” said Crutchley, a 6-6, 255-pounder, who has been tried at linebacker, receiver and defensive end. “I’m learning. The offense is making more and more sense every day.”

Their current challenge is becoming blockers.

Both are athletic enough where their pass-catching skills came first. And that will be important in an offense that will feature a short-passing game.

However, Lappano wants to begin with a power running game, which means the tight end must have both skills.

“This place has had tight ends forever,” Lappano said. “This place is Tight End U, right? It’s not a strength right now, but we’re trying to find somebody who can not only step up and make plays in the passing game for us, but we’re talking about being a power run team. We’ve got to have somebody to hold the point, especially on our strongside run.

“Everybody’s talking about the quarterback deal, and I know that’s big, but we’ve got to have a tight end step up.”

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