The tight end position is changing throughout football.
In the past, tight ends have been known more for blocking than scoring, but in recent years NFL teams like the New Orleans Saints have transformed the position into a flexible one that lines up all over the field.
Ball State head coach Mike Neu, who was the quarterbacks coach for the Saints before coming to Muncie, said he's looking to implement a similar system.
“[The tight ends are] going to be playing in the slot,” Neu said. “They’re going to be playing the outside wide receiver position because we feel that strongly about their athletic ability.”
Redshirt freshman tight end Keidren Davis, who played wide receiver in high school before moving inside for the Cardinals, had a simple explanation of the strategy.
“Run like receivers out on the outside, but with bigger bodies,” Davis said.
Ball State has five tight ends on its roster — Davis, Nolan Givan, Dylan Koch, Danny Pinter and Kyle Schrank — and all of them are 6-foot-3-inches or taller and are all either freshmen or sophomores.
Offensive coordinator Joey Lynch said he's excited for the changes because of the mismatches the tight ends can create, especially in 12 personnel (one running back, two tight ends). Normally, he said, defenses expect the run when they see two tight ends join the huddle.
“All the sudden, now people might play base defense with two, three bigger linebackers on the field,” Lynch said. “Then the very next play you have them spread out and it looks like a multiple receiver set and it puts those guys in space which maybe they’re not used to doing as much.”
The tight ends' youth is evident in last season's box scores. Only Pinter, a redshirt sophomore, recorded any stats for the Cardinals — three catches for 10 yards.
But with the loss of Ball State's all-time receptions leader, wide receiver KeVonn Mabon, Pinter said the tight ends are ready to fight for a bigger role in the passing game.
“We like it, we’re up to the challenge,” Pinter said. “The biggest thing is we’ve all gotten in our play books and we know every position so when we go out there all we’ve got to do is go execute. I think we’re getting better each day at it. We’re ready to play wherever.”
Just three practices into their spring workouts, Lynch said the tight ends have been enthusiastic.
“They’re getting it and they’re working real hard at it,” Lynch said. “They really like football, they’re coachable guys, so that’s been fun. There’s some mistakes here and there, and that’s going to be part of it as you develop as a young guy — especially when you try to move them around a lot — but they’re very willing.”
Ball State's spring practices continue until the spring football game on April 15.