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Indiana football 2020 position preview: The tight ends

The Daily Hoosier is previewing each position group during the final days leading up to the opening kickoff of the 2020 Indiana University football season on October 24 against Penn State in Bloomington.

Today we take a look at the tight ends.


Offseason turmoil created uncertainty for Indiana at tight end.

Would the Hoosiers be moving forward without record breaking pass-catcher Peyton Hendershot?

Fortunately for IU, the answer to that question is no, and a position full of questions is now solidified as a strength of the team for new tight ends coach Kevin Wright.

WHO IS GONE

One reason why tight end should be an asset for IU is because everyone returns in 2020.

Moreover, Indiana has added intriguing components, meaning this could be one of the best collective tight end groups in recent history.

THE 2020 ROSTER

RETURNING WITH EXPERIENCE

Peyton Hendershot is the headliner returning for IU after a record breaking redshirt sophomore season.  He set the IU season receiving marks for tight ends with 52 catches and 622 yards.  The third team All-Big Ten performer expressed remorse for an off field incident after the 2019 season.

Matt Bjorson played in all 13 games and caught seven passes for 36 yards and a touchdown.  He is looking to become more of an outside receiving threat in 2020 and should see plenty of action.

T.J. Ivy adds size to the run game and has pass catching abilities.  He caught 3 passes in 2019.

Gary Cooper caught two passes for 15 yards in four games as a true freshman.  He is a promising piece of the long-term puzzle.

NAMES ON THE RISE/IMPACT NEWCOMERS

A.J. Barner is a true freshman with great length.  The coaches have already been impressed with him as a weapon in the open field.

Kham Taylor is a graduate transfer from South Alabama.  Another weapon in the run game, Taylor is also a load to bring down.  He has dealt with injuries and may not be a factor early in the year.

WHAT THEY ARE SAYING

Kevin Wright on how Hendershot needs to improve —

“I think he has got to get a little bit better in every aspect from run blocking to pass pro,” Wright said.  “He catches the ball and he has really good ball skills. That is something that I think has always stood out with him. But I have seen the gradual increase in his ability to block, to pass pro, to block inline and to block on the perimeter. Just be a complete player. We watch a lot of NFL tape as we are breaking things down, so I think he has a goal and he sees what it takes. He is working awful hard toward that.”

Bjorson on the depth at tight end —

“I believe that the tight end position has the most depth on the team,” Bjorson said.  “We have four or five guys that can make plays no matter when they get on the field. Having two big bodies in there is better than one. We run a lot of two-tight end sets. We are able to get a lot of people open. We can run.”

Wright on freshman A.J. Barner —

“AJ is an offensive guy with a defensive mentality,” Wright said.  “His physical skillset, he is 6’6, 240 pounds and he is nowhere close to where he will be from a strength and bulk standpoint. He is very aggressive in the run game, very coachable, very smart kid. He did not play a lot of tight end in high school, so we really wondered about his ball skills. But he has shown tremendous ball skills, especially in the red zone. He is a big target in the red zone. He has good body control and he has been coachable.”

THE OUTLOOK

With Kalen DeBoer as the offensive coordinator in 2019, the tight end position became a point of emphasis for Indiana.  We don’t expect that to change under new play-caller Nick Sheridan.

If Hendershot can make advances both as a receiver and blocker, he has the potential for a first team All-Big Ten campaign while catching balls from quarterback Michael Penix.

With the right mix of receiving threats, run blockers and young talent, tight end can once again be a key weapon for IU in 2020.


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