Courtesy: Tim Fitzgerald/CMU Athletics
CMU Spring Football Spotlight: Tight Ends
MOUNT PLEASANT, Mich. – The role of the tight end in the Central Michigan offense is as simple as it is complex. While there is one main requirement needed to play the position, versatility, there are many skills that need to be mastered to do it successfully.

“We like tight ends to be on the field because it gives us an advantage in the running game and in the pass game,” said CMU tight ends coach Butch Barry. “The role of the tight end has to be able to block and control, but we still need to know how to get open to catch the ball. We think we can create those favorable match-ups for us or we could get a mismatch on a linebacker or a safety. So, we have to be versatile. We have to be able to block and we have to be able to stretch the field and catch the ball.”

In 2013, CMU returns three tight ends who each have measurable playing experience and contribute a different skill set. Two of the three played in all 13 games last season and the trio combined to make seven starts.

Connor Odykirk is a fifth-year senior who caught six passes, including two touchdowns, in 2012.

“(Connor) does a nice job stretching the field, runs well, and has good ball skills. We will move him around in spread out formations and he can be a wide receiver for us or put his hand down and be a tight end,” said Barry.

Mike Kinville, who will be a redshirt junior, transitioned from linebacker to tight end last winter and saw his role increase as the 2012 season progressed.

“(Mike’s) a kid who is 255 pounds strong and is a good blocker. He does a good job at controlling the C gap and with running the intermediate routes,” said Barry.

“(Switching to tight end) has been a great move for him. Once he was able to process early on what his assignments were and what exactly he had to do and how to do it, he really came on and showed what he could do for us.”

Ben McCord, who is entering his third season at CMU, led the group of tight end returnees in 2012 with nine catches for 81 yards.

“(Ben) is still learning the offense but his development has come a long way and he will be a guy that should be able to do everything as he grows up. We need to get him a little bit bigger, but he’s getting to understand all that and still be able to keep his good ball skills. He is really able to stretch the field with the football,” said Barry.

A year ago, CMU tight ends combined for 32 receptions for 305 yards and three touchdowns. This spring, having his tight ends emerge as greater receiving threats in 2013 is an area of focus for Barry.

“We have got to become a bigger factor in the pass game. This is something we would like to happen this spring. I think it helps our run game, it helps our quarterback, and it especially helps our receivers because now you have them maintaining one-on-one match-ups.”

In 2012, the CMU rushing attack was revitalized, as Zurlon Tipton rushed for nearly 1,500 yards. The success the Chippewas had on the ground was due in no small part to the blocking efforts of the tight ends. Nearly without fail, whenever asked about the run game, head coach Dan Enos is quick to point out the importance of the tight ends. And for Barry, a former offensive lineman at Central Michigan, the blocking abilities of his group is an aspect to which he pays special attention.

“It’s a big part of my background and I do think it is very important. I try, every time I get the opportunity when I meet with my players, to tell them that if they want to be great tight ends, they have to run block. Everyone loves to catch the ball but you need to take pride in being a good blocker and controlling the C gap.”

The spring season is a proving ground for players and an evaluation period for coaches and, for the CMU tight ends, this March and April will be no different. The one directive Barry has for each of his charges is development. 

“I would like to see improvement on something that is not one of their strengths. It is an open competition at the end of the day, and I would like to see a player come out of spring and solidify himself as a complete tight end. That’s my number one goal. Each guy has his own individual list I make for him that he needs to get better at for the spring, so we can maximize what he can do for us.”

The CMU tights end are not only long on potential and talent but possess another attribute that makes up a quality player – hard working.

“They are all mature kids and I enjoy coaching them,” said Barry. “They come to work every day and that’s all you can really ask for. They have a great attitude and just want to learn more and be able to do more.”