Krieger Coble, Kittle have made tight end a position of strength at Iowa

Rick Brown

INDIANAPOLIS – Jake Duzey was expected to be a go-to guy in Iowa’s offense this season. The senior tight end was coming off a 36-catch year, and had the speed to get upfield and stretch defenses.

Henry Krieger Coble (80) and George Kittle (46) have made tight end a position of strength for Iowa.

That all changed during spring practice this April, when he tore his patellar tendon and had surgery. Someone else had to step in at tight end. Two cousins did.

Senior Henry Krieger Coble and junior George Kittle have become two of quarterback C.J. Beathard’s most productive targets this season. They’ve also had a hand in the run game with their blocking ability. Duzey has seen limited action as his comeback continues.

“So we’ve got a guy who is hurt in Jake, and it looked like we were going to have a real void,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “Then to get two guys who have emerged and are really playing at a high level, that’s kind of the way our team has been. We seem to incur an injury, and somebody grabs the rope and just helps out and makes it be OK.”

Krieger Coble is second on the team in receptions with 29. But here’s his most impressive statistic: 14 of his last 15 catches, going back to the Illinois game Oct. 10, have gone for first downs.

“Henry was a good, solid player coming into this year,” Ferentz said. “He’s always had great hands, unbelievable hands. But he’s just playing at a really high level right now. I don’t know how many tight ends in the conference or the country can be playing any better. He’s blocking really well. He does a great job of running routes.”

Kittle has 18 catches, including a team-leading six touchdown receptions. That matches the most touchdowns for a tight end in Ferentz’s 17 seasons as Iowa coach. C.J. Fiedorowicz also had six touchdown catches in 2013. Scott Chandler had six in 2006. Both are in the NFL.

“George is a guy who was undersized out of high school but has improved at every turn,” Ferentz said. “I thought he turned the corner last spring. He started blocking the way we hoped he would. He’s done a lot of good things, and he’s made a lot of big plays for us, too.”

Tight ends have had a value role in the Iowa offense for decades. Coach Hayden Fry used them a lot, and Ferentz followed suit. Eleven players have made the NFL at tight end since Ferentz replaced Fry in 1999. Krieger Coble could make it 12.

“We’ve had a lot of good tight ends historically, and he’s playing as well as anybody we’ve had,” Ferentz said. “That’s not to suggest he’s the athlete Dallas Clark is, but not many guys are. Just as a tight end, he’s really playing well.”

Ferentz tells every NFL scout who comes through the football complex that no one makes more tough catches in practice than Krieger Coble, a multi-sport standout at Mount Pleasant. And now there’s game film to back up his claim.

“When you have to go out there and make a tough catch in traffic, you need to trust your hands and your eyes,” Krieger Coble said.

A tweak to the coaching staff by Ferentz has also played a role in the emergence of Krieger Coble and Kittle. Ferentz moved LeVar Woods, a former Iowa standout and NFL player on the defensive side of the ball for seven seasons, from linebackers to tight ends.

“He brings a whole different element to our group,” Krieger Coble said. “He’s been on the defensive side of the ball pretty much his entire career. Having his perspective, and giving us what the defense is thinking in their side of the ball, really helps us try to know how to attack them.”