This is the fourth in a series of 11 previews leading up to the Minnesota football team’s Aug. 1 start of practice.
TODAY’S POSITION: TIGHT ENDS
Rating (1-to-10 scale): 5.5
Projected starter: Drew Goodger (junior)
Key backups: Lincoln Plsek (sophomore), Alex Bisch (redshirt junior), Maxx Williams (redshirt freshman)
The breakdown: The Gophers lose their top tight end from last year in John Rabe, who had 14 catches for 143 yards and four touchdowns, which ranked second only to wide receiver A.J. Barker’s seven touchdown receptions. Rabe established himself as a reliable tight end and a target for Minnesota’s quarterbacks over the last two seasons.
Now Goodger is the team’s top returning tight end. He played in 10 games as a true freshman in 2011 but caught just two passes for seven yards. Those numbers took a jump during Goodger’s sophomore year as he caught 13 passes for 115 yards and found the end zone three times. Now an upperclassman, the 6-foot-5, 265-pound Kansas native will be relied upon as a leader of the tight end group.
After some thought he may redshirt last season Plsek debuted as a true freshman midway through the 2012 season and played in Minnesota’s final eight games last year, including the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas. He had just three catches for 22 yards as a freshman but got plenty of game experience that should pay dividends during his sophomore season. Plsek hails from West, Texas, which was devastated by a fertilizer plant explosion this April during the Gophers’ spring camp.
Bisch does not have a catch in his college career but did see time in eight games last year as a redshirt sophomore. The Northfield, Minn., native is 6-6, 251 pounds and could see a few passes thrown his way in 2013.
Williams is a name that coaches have mentioned this spring. The 6-4, 254-pound redshirt freshman has football in his blood; his father played for the Gophers and was later drafted by the New York Giants, and Williams’ grandfather was a quarterback at Notre Dame in the 1950s.
Best position battle: Minnesota certainly has plenty of big bodies to choose from at tight end, as the Gophers have 10 players listed at the position on their roster entering fall camp. Goodger is really the only sure thing at tight end, meaning several others will have a chance to earn snaps as the No. 2 tight end.
Plsek may have the upper hand because he has game experience, although he only caught three passes a year ago. Bisch also has seen action at the college level, which means he may see some targets as a redshirt junior.
Among the candidates who could be an intriguing option is incoming freshman Nate Wozniak, a 6-foot-9, 258-pound tight end whom Scout.com rated as a three-star prospect. It remains to be seen whether Wozniak will get playing time as a freshman; if he does, he might be one to watch.
Best of the Big Ten: 1. Jacob Pedersen (Wisconsin) 2. C.J. Fiedorowicz (Iowa) 3. Ted Bolser (Indiana)
The Badgers have churned out a handful of impact tight ends over the years, and Pedersen is the next in line. As a junior last year he was named first-team All-Big Ten by the coaches and won the award as the Kwalick-Clark Big Ten Tight End of the Year after catching 27 passes for 355 yards and four touchdowns. The only question with him is who will be throwing him the ball this year?
Fiedorowicz garnered honorable mention All-Big Ten honors last year as a junior. He’s got great size for a tight end — 6-foot-7, 265 pounds — and caught 45 passes for 433 yards. The one knock is he doesn’t quite have the knack for finding the end zone, as he had just one touchdown catch last year.
Bolser is a little bit under the radar to start the 2013 season, but he was part of an Indiana offense that led the Big Ten in passing a year ago. Bolser saw a big jump in his numbers from his sophomore to junior seasons, hauling in 41 passes for 445 yards and three touchdowns last year.
Head coach Jerry Kill, on Lincoln Plsek: “He’s a mature kid. To come all the way here and come to the University of Minnesota and play as a true freshman, I worried about him getting homesick and all that. From the day he’s walked in, he said Minnesota is his home.”