Gophers’ tight end production was nonexistent in 2018, but that could quickly change

Published 8:18 am Friday, August 16, 2019

By Andy Greder

Pioneer Press

The Gophers football team had the worst pass-catching production from tight ends in the Big Ten last season.

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All 13 other programs had at least one tight end catch more passes than all of Minnesota’s tight ends combined in 2018. Half the conference’s teams had two or three tight ends catch more than the six total receptions from the Gophers’ Bryce Witham, Ko Kieft and Jake Paulson a year ago.

But the U has ingredients for change in 2019. The biggest source of optimism is redshirt freshman Brevyn Spann-Ford.

The St. Cloud Tech alum didn’t catch a pass in four games a year ago, but the best-rated player from the state of Minnesota in the 2018 class looks like a handful. At 6-foot-7 and up to 270 pounds, Spann-Ford has been channeling his high school basketball days by winning jump balls in the corner of the end zone during preseason camp.

Paulson, who had the Gophers’ lone touchdown reception from a non-receiver in 2018, started six games and has an off-the-field chemistry in a friendship with a fellow Kentucky kid, starting quarterback Tanner Morgan.

Also in the mix are Kieft, who started three games a year ago, and Witham, who reclassified to remains a redshirt junior this season. Kieft is also a redshirt junior.

Gophers offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca went more basic in what he needs to see in tight end development this season.

“Well, they’ve got to do a great job blocking, so we’ve got to start there with them,” Ciarrocca said.

The Gophers’ biggest offensive question mark comes at left tackle, so if Sam Schleuter or Jason Dickson can’t hold down the spot without keeping a tight end in to help block, any talk of tight ends catching more passes becomes moot.

But for blocking, Spann-Ford and Paulson both have put on at least 10 pounds during the offseason.

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