Cyclones ready to take next step with unique trio at tight end

Then-freshman quarterback Brock Purdy and then-redshirt freshman Charlie Kolar celebrate after Purdy ran the ball for a touchdown during the first half of the Iowa State vs. Baylor football game Nov. 10, 2018.

Noah Rohlfing

The tight end position often gets overlooked in modern football, as the game has evolved and changed the way offenses line up and attack defenses. 

Iowa State has had a recent history of underusing its tight ends, primarily deploying them as blockers and scarcely catching passes. But in 2019, the Cyclones — with help from returning offensive coordinator Tom Manning — might rely on the position group to be a key part of its offense. 

Manning, who spent last season coaching tight ends for the Indianapolis Colts, has been a big presence in the position room this spring, redshirt junior Chase Allen said. 

“With coach Manning coming back, there’s so much more energy around us,” Allen said. “We’re not just pass protecting, we are really an asset for the offense.”

Manning has also been spending a lot of time with recruiting coordinator and tight ends coach Alex Golesh. 

Golesh said the Cyclones have all been picking Manning’s brain to find the best way to utilize the three returners at the position. He added that the room has a lot of areas to improve.

“I know they’ve gotten some accolades, but I still have felt like we’ve underachieved as a group for three years,” Golesh said. “That’s not to put them down, it’s just to say that there’s an elite standard of excellence for the tight ends in this offense.”

Iowa State has plenty of targets to go around following the departures of Hakeem Butler and Matthew Eaton, and Allen and Charlie Kolar both caught passes for the Cyclones last season. Kolar grew into a red-zone role as the season went on, thrust into a larger role with the severe groin injury of Allen. 

Kolar said he got more comfortable with each game, and that preparing as if he were the starter before Allen’s injury against Oklahoma was important to his ability to adjust.

“Manning calls it ‘accelerated vision,’ when you know the plays better, you can see more,” Kolar said. “I just prepare the best I can every week.”

As spring football begins, Allen is healthy again following two surgeries and is looking to make an impact in an Iowa State offense suddenly devoid of experienced pass-catchers. The tight end room is now one of the oldest on the offensive side of the ball, with all three potential contributors playing significant minutes in 2018. 

The main departure from the room, Sam Seonbuchner, was an important part of Iowa State’s running game in the “F” position. Golesh said that the position might be done by committee, but the player with the build to mirror Seonbuchner’s impact is likely redshirt sophomore Dylan Soehner. 

Soehner is a different build — standing at 6-foot-7 and 270 pounds — but he has a similar style and is generally a block-first player. 

“Dylan has some freakish tendencies,” Golesh said. “He’s so different and unique.

“He’s an invaluable guy for us, just like Sam was.”

That’s not to say Kolar and Allen don’t block, but the trio has different strengths. Allen is a threat up the seam, and Kolar fashioned himself into one of Purdy’s favorite targets in the red zone, while Soehner uses his physicality to make a difference in the running game.

It’s the trio’s versatility that has the potential to help Iowa State’s offense greatly in 2019.

Allen said the versatility is important to keep defenses guessing. 

“We kind of got pigeonholed with certain guys out on the field [last year],” Allen said. “When you bring guys in that can do more, it opens up so much more options for us.”

Golesh added that the Cyclones have discussed using all three tight ends on the field at the same time, a sight rarely (if ever) seen under coach Matt Campbell’s watch. 

But the return of Manning has opened up new possibilities for the Cyclones. Manning’s work with Indianapolis — and the great success players such as Eric Ebron had in 2018 under his tutelage — has Iowa State thinking bigger in an often-overlooked area. Whether it be lining up Allen or Kolar in the slot, putting all three on the field at the same time or using different route trees, the tight end group has expectations it hasn’t yet had in the Campbell era.

Golesh thinks the room is ready to make the leap. 

“They just continue to push each other,” Golesh said. “I think it’s such a positive atmosphere in there because they all want to be really good.”