'You guys are a QB's best friend': The lessons and bonds of Tight End University (2024)

  • 'You guys are a QB's best friend': The lessons and bonds of Tight End University (1)

    Stephen Holder, ESPNJun 20, 2024, 10:07 AM

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      Stephen joined ESPN in 2022, covering the Indianapolis Colts and NFL at large. Stephen finished first place in column writing in the 2015 Indiana Associated Press Media Editors competition, and he is a previous top-10 winner in explanatory journalism in the Associated Press Sports Editors national contest. He has chronicled the NFL since 2005, covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 2005-2013 and the Colts since 2013. He has previously worked for the Miami Herald, Tampa Bay Times, Indianapolis Star and The Athletic.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The anticipation had been building throughout the day, and now the moment had arrived.

Finally, the group of NFL stars descended on the Vanderbilt University campus on Nashville's West End in front of a few hundred invited guests. Necks craned and cameras snapped as familiar faces rolled through.

You might expect this level of excitement for quarterbacks or wide receivers, the kinds of players teams feature on billboards. Instead, this was the start of Day 2 of Tight End University (TEU) -- the fourth annual get-together conceived by former Pro Bowler Greg Olsen and current San Francisco 49ers star George Kittle and Kansas City Chiefs All-Pro Travis Kelce.

This week's version drew its largest group of attendees, with more than 70 tight ends and quarterbacks showing up to mentor, learn, work and grow. The tight end position now features some of the game's biggest names, with few NFL players able to claim a higher profile than Kelce.

But no matter a player's status, there was something to be gained for veterans and those striving to make their names.

The Jacksonville Jaguars' Evan Engram, entering his eighth season, has attended each year and said showing up continues to pay off.

"As my game has grown over the last four years, it's always cool to come back and still hear different tidbits and kind of a different perspective of how guys see the game," said Engram, who made his second Pro Bowl in 2023. "It's been great."

Engram displayed his level of experience when he was asked by Olsen during Tuesday's on-field workouts to add input, giving the group pointers about coming out of their breaks when running routes.

The event is part football clinic, part retreat. The companies sponsoring TEU held a welcome reception Monday night followed by a concert and party at Brooklyn Bowl on Tuesday. Families are welcome, and a heavy dose of free swag and good food are staples.

But as the players took the field to get down to business, the depth of the talent on hand became obvious. During one moment in individual drills, Kelce took reps flanked by Engram on one side and 2023 rookie sensation Sam LaPorta of the Detroit Lions on the other. On the opposite end of the field, Kittle took part in drills alongside the Dallas Cowboys' Jake Ferguson, who broke out with 71 receptions in his second season in 2023.

The Cowboys' Dak Prescott headlined the quarterbacks on hand to throw to the tight ends, with the three-time Pro Bowl selection at one point challenging players to go beyond their current roles by advancing their understanding of the game.

"At tight end, you've got to know the offense -- every part of it," he said. "Run game, pass protection, all that. The next step is truly knowing what your quarterback is thinking. ... You guys are a quarterback's best friend."

The education continued at other moments. Olsen coached up players on how to make more efficient releases off the line of scrimmage. Former Indianapolis Colts great Dallas Clark worked with LaPorta and others on creating separation at the top of routes.

There was an eagerness by all involved -- from Olsen and the quarterbacks to even some of the youngest tight ends participating. That attitude extended to the series of flag football games the players competed in with players from local high school girls' teams. Clark did his fair share of coaching during the flag games, looking every bit as intense as he did during his playing days.

But the primary goal of this event was for players to leave better than when they arrived. With the valuable lessons imparted, that was not difficult to envision.

"There's two types of guys who play tight end in the league," Olsen said. "There are guys who coaches have to get open. ... Then there are other guys who can get themselves open."

The hope was TEU would help players become the latter.

'You guys are a QB's best friend': The lessons and bonds of Tight End University (2024)
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