East Lansing – In today’s college football, the tight end isn’t the position it used to be.
With so many teams spreading things out, using multiple receivers and throwing the ball at an increasingly high rate, the role of the tight end has diminished.
However, at Michigan State, the tight end has always been a big part of the offense. From Charlie Gantt to Brian Linthicum to Dion Sims to Josiah Price. Under Mark Dantonio, the Spartans’ tight ends have always played a large role.
But for the last couple of seasons production from the tight end has dropped off, especially last season, when Matt Sokol and Matt Dotson combined to catch 22 passes for 259 yards and just two touchdowns.
Part of the problem was the fact the offense as a whole struggled, finishing near the bottom of the Big Ten in scoring offense. Still, the Spartans understand, if they expect to turn things around in 2019, they’ll need more from their tight ends.
The only issue is the Spartans are thin on experience. Dotson enters his junior season as the only tight end to see significant playing time, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some intriguing options.
“We’ve got one guy that's played a little bit and then we're figuring it out,” tight ends coach Mark Staten said. “Thankfully we’ve got a guy like Matt Seybert, who's in his fifth year who understands (the offense) and he's got a chance to help us. (Trenton) Gillison is learning and growing up and he's just gonna be a redshirt freshman and that's exciting. (Noah) Davis is coming off his injury, and he played a couple years ago, so we’re trying to get him back in the mix and trusting (he’s healthy) and figuring it out again.
“You know, there's always challenges. You can look at it one of two ways and we look at it as excitement, like, ‘Let's go, let's get after it.’ Because we have a great defense and with a ball-control, smart offense and solid special teams we’re gonna win a lot of games.”
Dotson is the clear starter after catching 14 passes for 159 yards and a touchdown last season. But the consistency needs to improve.
Gillison is the intriguing prospect. At 6-foot-4 and 250 pounds, Gillison has the strength and athleticism to be a matchup problem for opposing defenses.
“There's so many things that he will continue to get better at,” Staten said. “It's been nice to see the retention off spring to fall camp, and it's nice to see him continue to press. Like we see he’s tired, put him back out there, because those are situations that he's going to have to be ready for. You know, you’re tired and it's the fourth quarter and what are you gonna do? And there’s certain things always in the passing game where you learn coverages, and that's good.”
Davis is a wild card in the rotation. He played in 11 games in 2017, including four starts. But he missed the entire 2018 season with a knee injury and is now trying to get back into the rhythm of playing.
“For him it’s just getting back knowing that, ‘I'm gonna be OK,’” Staten said. “I've been through knee surgery and it's hard. So at some point in time he has to go, ‘OK, I'm good,’ because he's a very smart football player. That's the great thing, he's a very smart football player and now he just needs to trust that he can get his body in the right position and do it time after time after time.”
Where Seybert and redshirt freshman Parks Gissinger fit in will be played out throughout fall camp. Seybert played defensive end last season and Gissinger has shifted over from defensive end.
They’ll all be developing under Staten, who is back coaching the tight ends after spending the last eight seasons in charge of the offensive line. He coached tight ends his first three seasons after holding the same position for three seasons at Cincinnati under Dantonio.
“The guys know my expertise and guys that I coached here before and the guys I coached at Cincinnati,” Staten said. “So there's no, ‘Well, I wonder what he's doing.’”
It was a move that Staten might not have hoped for but it’s one he’s not about question.
“As a whole we need to come together and we need to fight for it,” Staten said, “and that's been what we've been talking about, what we're trying to do. That’s not going to change. We're still going to be about effort, toughness and knowledge. Those are the three things, the pillars that have been Coach D’s motto and that’s what we're gonna do.”