IOWA CITY, Iowa — Looking at the numbers, it would be easy to say Iowa tight end George Kittle isn’t making the contributions expected of him.
But Kittle’s game is about more than numbers. Ask his teammates and they’ll tell you how important the senior is to the offense. Or just check out the John Mackey Award midseason watch list.
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When the watch list for the award given to the nation’s top tight end was released Wednesday, indeed Kittle’s name was there, despite catching just 15 balls this season. That juxtaposition is just the latest example of how Kittle continues to contribute, even if it isn’t through the air.
Midseason watch lists aren’t the end all, be all of evaluating players. Honestly, they shouldn’t be relied on too heavily. But Kittle’s inclusion shows yet again that others are recognizing his work in all facets of the offense. Pro Football Focus (PFF) consistently rates him as one of the nation’s best tight ends — he earned the top Big Ten grade for a tight end this week.
That was in a game he caught 4 passes, but his impact went beyond his 39 receiving yards. What else caused the high marks? What caused the high marks? His blocking. He was the only blocker on the screen pass to wide receiver Riley McCarron that went for 21 yards. Without Kittle the play goes nowhere.
“That’s a benefit in his game,” Iowa quarterback C.J. Beathard said.
Kittle is a throwback tight end. He came make an impact with his receiving and with his blocking. For a team that wants to establish the run, his blocking is as vital as his receiving skills. But when he’s moving aside defenders, as well, PFF indicates he’s still a key piece of the offense — independent of how often he’s targeted in the passing game.
“He takes pride in it,” McCarron said of Kittle’s blocking. “That is why Georges is such a great player for us.”
There is no doubt Kittle can do more. He has 15 receptions for 249 yards and 2 touchdowns. The problem with getting Kittle more involved in the passing game is opponents aren’t letting it happen. Teams are double-teaming him, especially since wide receiver Matt VandeBerg broke his foot two weeks ago.
“We like to get George in one-on-one situations and get him the ball the best we can,” Beathard said, “but if the defense takes it away we have to go somewhere else with the ball.”
The solution is getting more wide receivers involved in the passing game. Opponents won’t stop doubling Kittle until Iowa forces them to. That will require someone like Jay Scheel or Jerminic Smith becoming enough of a passing game threat to divert the attention away from Kittle.
Until that happens Iowa (4-2, 2-1 Big Ten) won’t get the one-on-one matchups it wants for its tight end, but it doesn’t mean Kittle won’t factor into how well the Iowa offense does. His blocking ability ensures as much.