Players such as Rob Gronkowski, Travis Kelce and George Kittle have played a significant role in the evolution of the tight end position in recent years.
More than ever, the tight end is a major weapon as a receiver.
Colorado tight ends coach Clay Patterson always reminds his players, however, that even the stars do the dirty work.
“All you see on SportsCenter is those guys catching balls, but they’re very physical guys and they play the game the right way all the time,” said Patterson, who was hired last month to coach the Buffs’ tight ends. “They don’t just wait until the ball is coming their way. We use that (as a teaching tool) a ton, to be honest with you, because I love watching (Kittle) play and watching how Kittle blocks and the things he does and his athleticism is unbelievable.
“A guy like him, they’re the best players at their position but they have to pass protect and we use that to show our guys, ‘Hey man, you’ve got to be able to do it all if you want to be the best.’”
Patterson has the goal of making the Buffs’ tight ends versatile weapons that can do it all for the offense.
“Tight ends are a matchup problem if they have the right skill set,” Patterson said. “It’s fun to watch because as a tight end, you’re really a unique person and unique player because you have to be on O-lineman and you have to pass protect. You have to be able to run block and then you have to be able to go beat man coverage, zone coverage and go make plays. So it’s a very unique position.”
It’s a unique position that requires a coach who can maximize the potential in the room. Patterson came to CU after four seasons coaching the tight ends at Minnesota. He is one of the most experienced tight ends coaches CU has hired in the past two decades.
Patterson followed good friend Mike Sanford to CU this offseason. Sanford was hired as the Buffs’ offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach after filling that same role the last two years at Minnesota.
“Obviously, that was a huge draw for me coming to Colorado was our relationship,” Patterson said. “We have a great relationship on and off the field and he’s taught me a lot. He has a ton of experience that I haven’t been able to have in my career, and I’m excited to build something with him.”
In his first season at CU, Patterson will work with one of the top tight ends in the Pac-12 (Brady Russell) and a collection of young talent.
When Minnesota played CU last season, the Gophers’ coaching staff asked Patterson to help them scout Russell.
“I watched him then and coming back and watching his film, I’m very excited about (working with him),” Patterson said. “I love kids like him that come from a walk-on situation that has a chip on his shoulder and he’s hungry for everything that he gets.”
A senior, Russell is one of the Buffs’ leaders but also finished the 2021 season with team highs in catches (25) and receiving yards (307). For his career, Russell has 58 catches for 646 yards and three touchdowns.
“I’m excited to see him grow, teach him the offense, but really just put him in a good situation,” Patterson said.
Behind Russell, the Buffs have five scholarship tight ends. Four of them – Caleb Fauria, Erik Olsen, Louis Passarello and Austin Smith – are redshirt freshmen, while the other (Zach Courtney) is an incoming true freshman.
“It’s really good clay – great kids, intelligent kids,” Patterson said. “They have the clay that I need and we need to work with. I’m excited about them and to see what they can do on the football field as we get out there.”
Patterson and the CU staff want to use the tight ends as receiving weapons, but he said the main goal is to get the group to help the Buffs as a whole.
“Ultimately we want to put our guys in situations to be successful and to be efficient,” he said.