As Iowa TE George Kittle fills out, he hopes to fill up stat sheet

Chad Leistikow

IOWA CITY, Ia. — More than growing up at Iowa, George Kittle has grown out.

When he first got to Iowa City?

“My first weigh-in ever was 201 (pounds),” he said.

Three and a half years later, he stands 6-foot-4 and close to 250 pounds. A nearly 25 percent weight increase might be something you’d see in the career of a corn-fed Hawkeye offensive lineman, but rarely at tight end, where Kittle’s potential going into his fifth year is off the charts.

At a program that is known for tight ends — from Jonathan Hayes to Marv Cook to Dallas Clark to Tony Moeaki and many in between — Kittle’s position coach says this: “He can be as good as anybody that's played here.”

Whoa. Go on, LeVar Woods.

“He has the speed and the size combo,” said Woods, in his fifth year as a full-time Iowa assistant and second presiding over the tight ends. “He also has an energy and enthusiasm about him that can help him be as good as he wants to be. And we're far from seeing I think the best that George has put on the field. But he's got a long way to go, long way to go.”

Why Sean Welsh could be Iowa's next great lineman

There you have it. Kittle isn’t there yet. But the former wide receiver out of Norman, Okla., is clearly Iowa’s guy at tight end, with Henry Krieger Coble and Jake Duzey gone. And with wide-receiver depth a major question mark, Kittle could be that much more important to the 2016 Hawkeyes.

“It’s something I’ve been looking forward to, every player looks forward to — being the guy,” Kittle said. “I’m still earning that every day of spring ball, all the workouts. I’m not going to be satisfied with just being No. 1 on the depth chart in the spring. I view the guys below me as my competition for my spot, and so that’s really helped me. That’s a driving force for me.”

Kittle is the natural No. 1 at tight end this year, considering he caught 20 balls for 290 yards and a team-best six touchdown receptions in 2015. But it’s not all about the pass-catching and athleticism, which has been visible for everyone to see. (You probably recall his one-handed catch against Maryland or his touchdown dive at Indiana.)

But Woods said Kittle — the player said he weighs 250 pounds but is officially listed at 246 — is the best blocker among the tight-end stable. The added weight and muscle, Kittle said, helps “with the run game especially. It also helps when you’re running routes; you don’t get pushed off as easily. You can lean into guys.”

Like everything with Kittle, the potential is there for greatness.

George Kittle scores from 35 yards out against Purdue on one of his team-best six touchdown receptions in 2015.

“When the guy comes off low and he fits his pads right and he does what he's supposed to do, he can move anybody,” Woods said. “But he's too inconsistent right now in practice, and that's something we're working on every day.”

Iowa's spring focus at tight end is significant: not only developing Kittle, but the depth behind him. Iowa frequently deploys two or three tight ends at a time, so getting sophomore/converted linebacker Jameer Outsey (6-3, 245; currently No. 2) and junior Jon Wisnieski (6-5, 250) up to speed is critical.

Outsey is a natural at run-blocking but needs to work on crisper pass routes; Wisnieski, the Dowling Catholic grad, has taken a much-needed step forward since the Rose Bowl. Walk-ons Peter Pekar and Nate Wieting will also get consideration this summer, along with incoming freshmen tight ends Noah Fant (6-5, 220) and T.J. Hockenson (6-5, 230).

Fans and media will get a glimpse at the tight-end jumble at Friday’s 6 p.m. open practice at Valley Stadium in West Des Moines.

Details set for Hawkeyes' Valley Stadium practice

“Last year, we had two guys that were seniors, and then George kind of emerged his junior season, so we had three guys that were readily available,” Woods said. “Right now, we're trying to find out who those other guys are.”