By Dalton Ray–
Louisville’s football season opener against Charlotte is now 53 days away and TLC’s position break down is picking up steam. In week three, we broke down the wide receivers. Next up: the tight ends.
In 2015, U of L’s tight ends accounted for 21 percent of receptions and 23 percent of receiving yards. Despite having 49 total receptions, the group was responsible for nine of the 21 receiving touchdowns. That’s one touchdown every five catches for tight ends, compared to the receivers who had one touchdown every 16 catches.
Catching passes isn’t the only task for tight ends – blocking is the most important part of their job. To get on the field, you have to be able to hold your own in the trenches for the run game. The 2016 group of tight ends is mature, experienced and led by seniors Cole Hikutini and Keith Towbridge.
Cole Hikutini, senior
2015 stats: 19 receptions, 348 yards, 18.32 yards per catch, three touchdowns
After spending his first two years at City College of San Fransisco, Hikutini landed in Louisville. When Hikutini returned from missing two games due to a shoulder injury, he emerged as the best receiving tight end on the team. The senior is a pass-catching tight end that causes match-up problems for defenses. At 6-foot-5 and 250 lbs, Hikutini is too big for most corners or safeties to cover, and his athleticism gives him advantages against linebackers.
“I think Cole is a real special receiving tight end (with) his ability to run, and run routes full-speed,” Coach Bobby Petrino said. “That’s the thing about him, when he runs his routes, he runs full-speed, cuts full-speed. He doesn’t have to change to get out of breaks.”
Hikutini had his best performances late in the year and a career game in Louisville’s bowl game. Over the final five games, Hikutini produced 255 of his 348 yards and all of his touchdowns. Against Texas A&M, he had 103 yards, including a 56-yard reception. Hikutini should be able to ride the momentum he created towards the end of last season. A tight end is the quarterback’s best friend and Lamar Jackson has a great friend in Hikutini.
Keith Towbridge, senior
2015 stats: 10 receptions, 154 yards, 15.4 yards per catch, three touchdowns
Towbridge missed spring ball because of a foot injury, but will be back by the start of the year. Perhaps the best run blocker at his position, Towbridge is a vocal leader for the team. With 10 career starts, Towbridge has earned the respect of his teammates through his work ethic.
Although Towbridge isn’t known as a receiving tight end, he has the ability to make defenses pay if he isn’t accounted for. Against A&M in the Music City Bowl, Towbridge was able to take advantage of that to score a touchdown. On a play-action, Jackson found Towbridge who released up field and got between the safeties who had their eyes on everyone else. His big body, 6-foot-5 and 260 lbs, makes Towbridge a great target in the red zone and short yardage situations.
Play-actions will be a large part of Petrino’s offense in 2016 because of Jackson’s running ability. With the increase of running and play-actions, the probability of using two tight ends increases. With a receiving and blocking tight end on the field at the same time, defenses will have a hard time telling whether or not a play is a run or pass.
Micky Crum, redshirt sophomore
2015 stats: 14 receptions, 163 yards, 11.64 yards per catch, three touchdowns
At a similar size to Towbridge, 6-foot-4 and 257 lbs, Crum isn’t afraid of contact. A very physical tight end, Crum is willing and able to do the dirty work that doesn’t get appreciated. The redshirt sophomore will go across the middle between linebackers and safeties to pull in tough catches. Last season, Crum appeared in all but one game and started six. Crum was suspended against Wake Forest last season due to “conduct detrimental to the team.”
Against Houston, Crum had a career game and one of the best receiving performances on the year. He hauled in six catches including one touchdown with 103 yards. Between the Houston and Auburn games, Crum had 10 receptions with 139 yards and a touchdown. When Hikutini returned from injury, Crum’s role was reduced to a situational player mainly used in run packages.
Crum isn’t a better receiver than Hikutini and isn’t a better blocker than Towbridge, so getting on the field won’t be easy. If Towbridge isn’t able to fully recover from his foot injury, Crum should get some playing time.
Charles Standberry, junior
2015 stats: Six receptions, 71 yards, 11.83 yards per catch
Standberry has played in every game for the past two years. Despite playing in all 16 games of his career, Standberry has only been able to pull down 13 passes for 128 yards with two touchdowns. His size, or lack there of, was a problem during his first two campaigns. Since the end of last year, Standberry has gained 21 lbs and now stands 6-foot-3 and 241 lbs.
“I’m pushing guys around. I’m getting a lot of push off the line, and I’m a lot stronger now, so I’m doing real good at all phases of being a tight end,” Standberry said.
More of a receiving tight end than blocking, Standberry is very versatile and can even split out wide as a receiver. While he’s not as athletic and smooth as Hikutini, Standberry is a very viable option to catch passes in Petrino’s offense. Standberry has gained ground in terms of weight, which was lowering his performance last year. Standberry should push for playing time this upcoming season.
Other tight ends
Jordan Davis announced he will be transferring to Louisville in April. The former four-star played this past season with Texas A&M. Due to NCAA transfer rules, Davis will have to sit out the 2016 season.
Tyler Polston is a walk-on tight end from Louisville’s Saint Xavier High School. Polston has been a practice squad player for the Cardinals.
Paul Logsdon is also another local walk-on for U of L. A 2013 graduate of Butler High school, Logsdon is mainly a practice squad player.
Photo by Wade Morgan / The Louisville Cardinal