IU’s tight end room has been in flux for much of the offseason. Some injuries to top guys during spring and fall cost some practice time, and that’s after the Hoosiers entered spring camp with just one upperclassman in the room.
Indiana went to the transfer portal after spring to add some more experience at the position, and the aforementioned others are healthy entering the season. The question, now, is how big an impact they can have on this year’s team.
Here’s our outlook for the tight ends, with roster turnover, the projected depth chart, quotes, and more.
Roster turnover — who’s gone
- AJ Barner (transfer — Michigan),
- Ryan Miller (retired),
- Ryan Barnes (out of eligibility)
Roster turnover — who’s back
- Trey Walker (redshirt senior),
- Aaron Steinfeldt (redshirt sophomore),
- James Bomba (redshirt sophomore),
- Brody Foley (redshirt freshman)
Roster turnover — who’s new
- Bradley Archer (transfer — Stanford),
- Anthony Miller Jr. (3-star, Duluth, Ga.)
- Sam West (3-star, Greensburg, Ind.)
Projected depth chart
- James Bomba, redshirt sophomore, 6-foot-6, 250 pounds (three career starts)
- Aaron Steinfeldt, redshirt sophomore, 6-foot-5, 250 pounds (two career starts)
- Bradley Archer, redshirt senior, 6-foot-3, 245 pounds (four career starts at Stanford)
It’s tough to separate Bomba and Steinfeldt, both Bloomington natives. Both players have similar experience, are similarly sized, and neither pulled away from the other in camp. For all intents and purposes, they’ll be 1A and 1B, and the starter could vary from week to week depending on the game plan. Archer is primarily a blocking tight end — he may see the field a good amount this season, but don’t expect gaudy receiving numbers.
The wild cards
It’s tough to see any true wild cards emerging from this group. Some younger players like Brody Foley and Sam West drew some praise from coaches during spring and fall camps, and Anthony Miller Jr. is an intriguing prospect with his size. And some of those guys should play on special teams this season. But it’s hard to see any of them getting significant playing time in the IU offense this year without an injury, or maybe multiple.
Aaron Steinfeldt on what he learned last year and what he’s working to improve at:
“Biggest thing was speed, just the physicality of it. Those guys are bigger, or as big as you, D-ends. And a lot of times, the nickels or linebackers are faster than you. So just learning the finesse of the game, I think, was the biggest thing for me. And I think the biggest thing in the offseason that I worked on was just getting stronger, just getting bigger. I did a lot of yoga in my free time, just to get a lot more flexible, be able to bend, be able to use my length in certain ways. And I think that the biggest thing as well is just making a big-time play, because a lot of the times in those games, it’s going to come down to who wants to make a bigger play? And I think in spring ball, definitely, fall camp, got some moments, I just want to make big plays. Just learning how to block bigger guys and just outworking corners and safeties and nickels to get open in space.”
Kevin Wright on his coaching philosophy in the tight end room:
“I always stress that we’re going to develop the whole room. Maybe that’s my high school background where you’ve got what you’ve got, and you have to develop everybody. I always try and make a point of emphasis that no matter if you’re No. 1 on the depth chart, or No. 8 on the depth chart, that we’re going to try and develop everybody. I think the buy-in has been really good. Going back to my first couple years, we played a lot of two tight end sets and so you’ve got every Saturday, counting special teams, five guys that are probably going to play. I think that type of mindset in developing the whole room and trying to get as much as you can out of the guys has helped us. There’s always been a guy that has emerged by the time you get to the season as the guy that sets the standard in practice. I think that when those younger guys see the older guys that helps create a tradition and sets a standard that you want.”
Kevin Wright on James Bomba’s development:
“He didn’t get to go through spring practice, he had some things cleaned up with his shoulder. He’s all good now. The challenge to him is to be in the best shape that you can be. Just totally reset his body, similarly to Aaron. He’s a physical guy, I think the thing that he has to do is be a great technician right now. He played a lot last year as the second tight end, as an end-line guy. He just needs to continue to be a great technician and catch the ball when he’s thrown to. I think that’s what he’s done. James is a natural leader, he’s one of those guys that leads the room not just by how he carries himself, but also by his words and I think that means a lot. We really need him to continue to grow and be that guy in the room.”
Why it will work
With all the talent Indiana has at wide receiver and running back, the tight ends could be overlooked by some.
But there’s potential. Steinfeldt and Bomba have shown playmaking ability. They were behind AJ Barner for most of last season, although Barner had injury struggles that provided Steinfeldt and Bomba with more opportunities. If those two have indeed made strides in the offseason, they could be sneaky important weapons for the Hoosiers.
And if Archer adapts well to the Big Ten, he could give Indiana a solid blocking-first tight end — something the Hoosiers didn’t really have last year.
Why it won’t
The same thing we wrote here about wide receivers applies to tight ends. If Indiana’s quarterback is an inconsistent passer and can’t reliably get the ball to their targets, then the tight ends’ impact will be more limited.
There’s another pitfall to point out, though. This group is very inexperienced. Steinfeldt and Bomba both played very sparingly last year, but they still have much to prove. Only Archer has played significant amounts of time at the collegiate level, and that was in another conference. There’s a very real scenario that could play out where Archer has trouble adjusting to the Big Ten, and where Steinfeldt and Bomba prove too inconsistent to rely on in a heavy role, and the tight ends just aren’t a big factor in IU’s offense.
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