By Jourdan Rodrigue, SDA Digital Communications Intern
The tight end position, while glamorous in the air, wins football games in the trenches.
Chris Coyle, Arizona State’s senior tight end, has learned this altruism over the course of two years as ASU’s starting tight end.
In 2012, he was one of quarterback Taylor Kelly’s favorite targets as he collected 57 receptions for 696 yards and 5 touchdowns, and the big-bodied No. 87 was known for needing two or more defenders to bring him down.
This year, new offensive weapons have stepped up to contribute to the Sun Devils’ 10-3 record, including scoring phenom Marion Grice and junior college transfer Jaelen Strong. Coyle’s receptions numbers may have dropped to 28 on the season, but for good reason. This year he can be counted on to do more than catch a seam. He can put his 6’3” 222-pound body in the way of a collapsing gap and shove outward, allowing Grice, DJ Foster or even Kelly to run through without so much as an untied shoestring, or he can ruin an outside linebacker’s plans to wrap up a receiver on a screen pass.
“Last year I was mostly a receiving threat,” Coyle said. “One of the biggest things I knew I needed to work on was my run blocking and blocking in general, and that’s what I focused on in spring ball and in camp. That’s what I’ve gotten a lot better at.”
While the tight end position has received a steady influx of glamour and attention thanks to professional players like the Saints’ Jimmy Graham and the Patriots’ Rob Gronkowski, the position itself at its stripped level is all grunt work.
A tight end is best used to create mismatches in the slot or run a quick switch to an outside route to deter a cornerback who smells blood. They were originally supposed to help create space for the run or route runners to move downfield.
Coyle does this remarkably well thanks to an offseason spent in the weight room building up key muscles used for blocking, shoulders, hip flexors and obliques.
When blocking along the line, he doesn’t have time to gain the type of velocity that outside linebackers do, so he has to make up for it by relying on his mass to overpower a looming defensive tackle.
Coyle is bigger this season, yet just as quick thanks to the work he put in over the spring and summer.
“I’ve gained about 15 pounds that I’ve been able to maintain, and I still have my speed, so that’s given me more power and helped with my blocking,” he said.
Because of his speed, depending on his blocking assignment, Coyle could potentially reach peak acceleration at a faster rate, which, combined with his mass and a low center of gravity, would be enough to stop a small car in its tracks—let alone a defensive tackle.
“I have to be fast enough to beat linebackers and safeties on routes, but I also have to be big enough to block linemen and linebackers downfield,” he said. “Everything I’ve learned during my time here at ASU has helped me with that, whether it’s blocking or route running.”
Though he’s in the end zone less than last year (only by one touchdown), Coyle is definitely being utilized in a way that’s best for the team.
“I believe it’s my job to do whatever my coaches ask of me, whether it’s catching a pass downfield or executing a block, and I’ll do it,” Coyle said. “Opening up a hole is the best feeling in the world. It’s awesome knowing you created that hole and someone is getting to the end zone and the team is scoring points, which is all that matters.”
He’s comparable to a queen in chess: dangerous when protecting or paving the way for the play, yet just as dangerous when he’s on the offensive and powering downfield after getting hit on a seam over the middle. And as every ASU fan has seen, once those 222 pounds gain momentum, it takes a whole army of pawns to drag him to the dirt.