The Daily Hoosier is previewing each position group during the final days leading up to the opening kickoff of the 2021 Indiana football season on Sept. 4 against Iowa.
Today we take a look at the tight ends.
Indiana is as talented at tight end going into the 2021 season as it has been in a long time.
At the top of the depth chart is a name you know, as healthy and prepared as ever. Behind him is some promising young talent, and they will be catching balls from one of the best quarterbacks in the country.
WHO IS GONE
T.J. Ivy transferred out of the program. He missed the 2020 season with an injury after playing in 11 games in 2019. During his time at IU he caught three passes for 24 yards.
THE 2021 ROSTER
RETURNING WITH EXPERIENCE
Peyton Hendershot says he feels the best he has ever felt coming into his fifth season in Bloomington. Third-team All-Big Ten in both 2019 and 2020, he has a clear shot to earn first team honors if both he and Michael Penix, Jr. can stay healthy. Hendershot ranks second on Indiana’s tight ends career list with 10 touchdowns, and he sits third with 90 receptions and 936 yards.
Matt Bjorson has quietly played in all 33 games over the last three years, leaving the spotlight to Hendershot. He has 13 receptions for 100 yards and a score for his career and he was named the program’s Ted Verlihay “Mental Attitude” Award winner in 2020.
A.J. Barner is the next star at tight end. With imposing size and good speed, he will be a major threat down the seam and in the end zone. Barner played mostly special teams as a freshman in 2020 but should be on the field with the offense plenty this year.
Kham Taylor is a big, physical tight end who will need to get healthy to contribute this year.
Indiana also has four walk-on tight ends on the roster.
NAMES ON THE RISE/IMPACT NEWCOMERS
Aaron Steinfeldt is a true freshman and hometown product from Bloomington North High School. He flashed some in fall camp and could see the field on special teams and possibly in some games with the offense. Steinfeldt was the No. 34 tight end nationally in the 2021 class according to Rivals.
WHAT THEY ARE SAYING
Hendershot on his relationship with quarterback Michael Penix —
“It was kind of a big emphasis for us, because last year you could just tell how we were not on the same page. That is just a bunch of unfortunate circumstances: we didn’t get the spring or fall to throw at all, so we made that an emphasis for us this offseason. Any time we could, me and Mike would go throw and catch. It is kind of like we are vibing it this year because there are times when the play gets busted and somehow me and him are on the same page and he finds me. It is a really good feeling and I feel like we have a really good chemistry coming into this year.”
Michael Penix on what he has seen from Peyton Hendershot during the offseason —
“He has had a great offseason. He’s a guy that this offseason, I haven’t seen him like this (before). He’s been working extremely hard, sprints and all that he’s always trying to be the first guy. He’s always encouraging, even when he’s tired. Sometimes that’s hard to do, but he’s a guy that wants to be great. He’s a guy that comes to me after every practice ‘hey can I get 100 catches real quick.’ He’s a guy that wants to work extremely hard all the time, but I feel like he’s definitely going to have a big season this year, he’s definitely made big strides in his career.”
Tight ends coach Kevin Wright on A.J. Barner —
“He is a guy that I think has a high ceiling and I think you will see him more on the field this year, not just on special teams, but in different packages. He is going to be a good football player. I think, and I’ve told the guys in our room, this is probably the first time in a long time, maybe ever, you can look at the tight end room and say there are a couple potential NFL guys sitting in that room.”
Dynamic tight ends can be game-changers, and IU appears to have two of them ready to make a big impact in Hendershot and Barner. If Hendershot can put it all together, both as an improved blocker and by eliminating drops, he could be in contention for All-American votes.
MORE 2021 POSITION PREVIEWS
- The cornerbacks
- Safeties and huskies
- The defensive line
- Linebackers and bulls
- The offensive line
- The wide receivers
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