A CSU offense that averaged nearly 48 points per game over the last six contests in 2016 really has to nitpick for ways to improve. One position group that stands out, however, would be the tight ends.
Danny Nwosu and Nolan Peralta paved the way last season, hauling in a combined 25 catches for 246 yards and three touchdowns. To be fair, though, Nick Stevens rarely looked to his tight ends as Michael Gallup began to round into form. Nonetheless, there's a different vibe with the group heading into a new season.
"It's very different," said tight ends coach Joe Cox. "As a group, we've got a long way to go. We're trying to find out every day who are going to be those guys that can step in and play in that role. I think we're making progress, but spring ball is one of those times where we're throwing a lot at them early."
Dalton Fackrell represents the lone tight end to return for the Rams in 2017. The senior grabbed seven catches for 66 yards last year, but figures to have a much larger role moving forward.
Fackrell told BSN Denver that improving the intermediate passing game will be a major goal for the tight ends.
“We’re all capable receivers," Fackrell said. "We can come in and make those intermediate plays, move the chains and really add another dimension to this offense to make us that much more dangerous.”
Stevens believes that Fackrell, along with newcomer Griffin Hammer and others, can add another layer to an offense that's expected to be just as dangerous, if not more so in the fall.
“It is kind of like our missing puzzle piece," Stevens said. "If we get those guys to come along and play at a high level that we know they can, I think it’s just going to add depth to our offense with things we can do and add matchups with them.”
The Rams quarterback went on to say that he and Mike Bobo would love to be able to take advantage of the tight ends being matched up with a linebacker or smaller safety. Stevens also agreed with Fackrell regarding the need to connect on those intermediate routes.
“If we can get a couple of those a game, it’s just going to add to the explosiveness of the offense," Stevens said.
Fackrell and company will be asked to do much more than catch passes, however. With the loss of several standouts along the offensive line, CSU's tight ends must be able to make a difference in the run game.
“Absolutely," Fackrell said. "We pride ourselves on being the toughest group on the field. Not only knowing what to do in the passing game, but the run game is a huge part of this offense. Without having a good group of tight ends to do that, an offense can suffer. We’re not going to let that happen.”
Come autumn, Stevens and Gallup will be filling up the stat sheet once again. The tight ends may not be the go-to targets for the Rams quarterback in 2017, but they are slated to play an instrumental role in Bobo's offense.
“I think it’s very important for them to step up," Stevens said. "I think we have a lot of room to grow at tight end. If they improve, they can be big contributors for this team.”