Former University of Toledo player Michael Roberts hauls in one of his 16 touchdown catches last season. The Rockets will look to a trio of players to help replace his production. BLADE PHOTO
The tight end position remains one of the biggest question marks for the University of Toledo football team heading into the 2017 season.
Gone is Michael Roberts and his school-record 16 touchdowns-worth of production from the position. But Toledo has a three-man rotation at tight end, which they know might not produce like Roberts individually, but collectively could approach what the current Detroit Lion provided last season.
“We have some really good players in that spot that just might have been overshadowed by [Roberts] last year,” UT tight ends coach Robby Discher said. “They all have their opportunity to show what they can do this year.”
Adam Kulon is a senior who began his career as a defensive end before switching over to fullback and tight end. Jordan Fisher is a sophomore who played in eight games last season but did not catch a pass. Reggie Gilliam is a redshirt freshman who has not yet seen game action.
“Jordan Fisher was a high school receiver and is really savvy in the pass game and does a really good job out there,” Discher said. “Reggie Gilliam does a really good job. Adam Kulon is solid and dependable. He’s not the guy that is going to beat you over the top, but he'll be good on play action. I don’t know if we’ll have one guy that can catch 16 touchdown passes, but by committee, those guys will produce.”
Each of the three players know there is a big opportunity for playing time with Roberts gone and each will try to excel at what they do.
“Everybody has their own little style of play,” Fisher said. “Adam is a big, strong guy that can go in and block and he can be attached and make things happen in the run game. But he also has strong hands catching the ball. Reggie is another bruiser, but he’s quick and he’s fast and can make things happen in the passing game and make plays. And then myself, I’m just trying to work on everything to get to their level and be above it. I just want to be the best player that I can be.”
Kulon says the three tight ends are not trying to be the next Michael Roberts, but rather working together as a unit and playing to their strengths.
“I think us together as a group we can maybe not get all the production back, but I’m sure we can make an impact on this team,” Kulon said.
Discher hopes each player can develop into a versatile threat in the run game and as a pass catcher.
“That’s one thing we ask all our guys to do is to be able to be an attached tight end with a hand in the ground and be that fullback, H-back, move around the backfield type guy and also play in the pass game,” Discher said. “You get a guy that can do all three of those then you have something special. Some of the guys’ skill sets suit them better in different places, but we want all our guys to be as versatile as possible.”
Each of the three tight ends said they benefitted from playing alongside and watching Roberts compete at such a high level last season.
“Michael was kind of like a big brother figure for me,” Fisher said. “He showed me things to do in certain situations in games with routes and different things. I was just sitting back watching him and seeing how he got open, his point of attack on the ball and I just want to apply that in my own way. We all try to apply aspects of each other’s games in our own way to try to make us better using what other people do and trying to build that into our own repertoire.”
For Gilliam, his redshirt season was a chance to take a step back and prepare mentally for his time to see action on the field.
“Watching the older guys, I learned a lot, just from taking mental reps on the sideline and watching film every day,” Gilliam said.
Discher said in head coach Jason Candle’s offense there is usually a tight end on the field on every play, but they may have to line up as an attached tight end on one play and then when they go up-tempo might have to be an inside receiver on the next play.
“Tight end is one of the more complete positions in football,” Discher said. “To be a dominant tight end, you have to be really good at the point of attack. You have to be physical and be able to dominate defensive ends and backers. Then you have to be able to win in one-on-one coverage and separate. You have to be able to do everything to be on the field for us play in and play out.”
Opportunity knocks for the three tight ends and they are just trying to make the most of the chance that lies ahead.
“With Michael Roberts being in the NFL, we all have to step up and we all have a part to play in this offense,” Gilliam said. “All of us as a position, we are all trying to be better at blocking and receiving and anything we need to do in this offense. We all know what needs to be done.”
“All three have been much improved since spring in my opinion,” Discher added. “I think all of them will play. All of those guys may not have had a touchdown catch last year, but those guys spelled [Roberts] last year at tight end. They are ready.”