DeKALB — In today’s football climate where spreading the field, getting fast guys out in space and letting them do work is the norm, the tight end position is one that is becoming expendable.
In most offenses, a tight end is there for blocking situations, and maybe they get a bone or two thrown their way on occasion.
That’s not what’s happening with the Huskies, as tight ends Daniel Crawford and Mitchell Brinkman have become huge pieces of the offense. In fact, Crawford, a redshirt senior, and Brinkman, a redshirt junior, have become one of the more prolific tight-end tandems in the nation.
Heading into Saturday’s road contest at Miami University – Ohio, Crawford ranks eighth nationally among tight ends in both receptions, 24, and yards, 337, while Brinkman is 16th in receptions with 21 and 13th in receiving yards with 284.
Together, their 45 catches are just two behind Harrison Bryant and John Raine from Florida Atlantic University, who have combined for 47 catches this season as the top pass-catching tight-end teammates in the Bowl Championship Subdivision.
This is quite a change for the Huskie tight-ends, as the two had combined for just 18 receptions in their college careers heading into this season.
Brinkman had a huge day in Saturday’s 39-36 road win over Ohio University in Athens, Ohio. The tight end set career highs with five catches for 100 yards, including a 48-yard reception late in the fourth quarter that set up the Huskies’ final touchdown.
“It’s nice getting some passes thrown to me,” Brinkman said. “I’ll do whatever it takes to win, but it’s nice catching a few balls. In college football you can have no tight ends on the field or you can have three or four, so in our room that’s what we strive to do. We want to be consistent every day so the coaches can come up with a game plan that we can execute to the best of our ability.”
Both players are taking advantage of a new, pro-style offense brought in by Head Coach Thomas Hammock and executed by senior quarterback Ross Bowers.
Bowers’ biggest strength is that he spreads his passes among several different receivers, and it seems like his tight ends are his favorite targets, as Crawford leads the team in receptions, and Brinkman is third behind wide receiver Cole Tucker.
“My role in the offense in previous seasons was as a blocker, but this year they are using me in the slot, up the seams and in the flat,” Crawford said.
Crawford has started off strong, missing the 2018 season after tearing his ACL in spring practice.
“Last year was a lot of quarterback runs and a lot of power football,” Crawford said. “This year, we have the power run game, but we can spread you out and throw the ball a little bit. We have a lot of reads, it’s more of a traditional offense, but you have to be really smart to play it. I just want to make more plays to get my team in a position to win. Even when I’m making plays, there’s always more that you can do.”
The seeds that have become this season were sown in spring practice, where the tight ends proved they were ready to take on a larger role in the offense. The trust Crawford and Brinkman earned with the coaching staff has a lot to do with their extended roles on the field this fall.
“We ask them to do a lot,” tight ends coach Tony Sorrentino said. “I harp a lot on the receiving end of it, but I told them if you can be physical and tough you have a chance to play for me, and everyone answered that call. I think the first thing is that they are really hard-working kids. They take coaching well and they are talented guys. They are older and mature and they take coaching really well.”
Crawford and Brinkman will be back in action at 1:30 p.m. when the Huskies travel to Miami looking to win their second straight game.