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Upgrade/Downgrade: Tight End

Jedd Fisch is implementing a new Pro Set offense for the Gophers that will require strong blocking play from the tight ends. Heading into 2009, Minnesota loses tight end Jack Simmons to graduation. Simmons is now on the roster of the New York Jets. Simmons was expected to have a big season in 2008, and finished the season with modest numbers of 36 catches for 336 yards and 2 touchdowns. With Nick Tow-Arnett entering his senior season, Eric Lair having a year under his belt, and incoming freshman phenom Ra'Shede Hageman, will the Gophers be upgraded or downgraded at tight end for 2009?

Nick Tow-Arnett is the only returning tight end who saw significant playing time in 2008. He caught 10 passes for 221 yards and 1 touchdown. Tow-Arnett is a solid blocking tight end, and as a bonus exhibited good receiving skills when the ball was thrown his way last year. He doesn't have blazing speed, but his strength and experience should lock him in as the primary tight end for this season.

Having watched Eric Lair in 2008, he should project to play as more of a hybrid tight end/wide receiver for 2009. Lair has good speed but at 230 pounds doesn't have the size to be dominant in short yardage situations. It would be reasonable to expect Lair to be used frequently in passing and long yardage situations.

Ra'Shede Hageman is a highly touted freshman who is reported to have had offers from programs such as Ohio State and Wisconsin. Some online reports suggest that Hageman entered camp at over 250 pounds and put up impressive weight room numbers. Although a true freshman, expect Hageman to play frequently, especially in short yardage situations. Additionally, Hageman's highlight film suggests that he has excellent coordination and receiving skills:

The Gophers also return junior Curtis Hughes, a tight end who saw action in 10 2008 games primarily as a blocker. So, for 2009, will the Gophers be upgraded or downgraded at tight end?

UPDATE: Coincidentally, has released an article on the same topic that can be read by clicking here.