Tulane tight end Charles Jones III played a game of famous name association when talking about the four players at his position after practice Tuesday.
Fellow sophomore Trey Scott, one of the fastest players on the team, is Aaron Hernandez (the on-field version, he quickly added, as a hedge against anyone who is easily offended).
Senior Sydie London, who caught a couple of touchdown passes Tuesday, is the Green Wave’s version of Jeremy Shockey.
Tall redshirt freshman Kendall Ardoin (6-foot-5, 228 pounds), whose 47-yard catch and run opened Saturday’s scrimmage, is Kellen Winslow.
Jones, who started six games as a true freshman and tied for the team lead with three touchdown grabs, labeled himself a Rob Gronkowski wannabe.
Forgive Jones for making some overly ambitious comparisons, to put it mildly. He is just excited about the potential of a group that promises to turn a largely forgotten position into a frequent target for Tulane quarterback Tanner Lee, and not just around the line of scrimmage.
“They are a big factor in our offense,” coach Curtis Johnson said. “I love what they are doing. Every one of them can get down the field. With a team like this and a program like this, we need versatility, and that’s what they do for us.”
Jones and Scott in particular should play a huge role after learning on the job as true freshmen.
Jones, who has more of a traditional tight end frame (6-4, 234), caught 21 passes last season, even though he played the position for only two years in high school at St. Aug.
Scott (6-2, 222), a mismatch nightmare because of his speed, did not catch much of anything, finishing with 10 receptions and nearly that many drops after playing for a run-oriented offense at Powder Springs (Georgia) McEachern High.
He worked on his hand positioning and making eye contact with the ball during the offseason and has caught almost everything in preseason drills.
“We both want to be all-conference if not All-Americans,” said Scott, who set goals of 50-plus receptions and 700-plus yards. “We are putting that pressure on ourselves this year.”
The last Tulane tight end to even make an all-conference team was Cory Geason in 1996, but Jones and Scott should get plenty of opportunities to put up numbers this year. The Green Wave is shy on proven players at wide receiver, and the two tight ends frequently play at the same time, with Scott lined up in the slot.
“I’m not the traditional tight end,” Scott said. “If I can split out and get into some space, it’s easier for me. I love it.”
The tight ends are still a work in progress. During a two-minute drill near the end of Tuesday’s practice, Scott could not quite pull in a difficult catch while covered tightly in the back of the end zone. He stood up calling for pass interference, only to have tight ends coach David Johnson scream at him to make the play and quit complaining.
“They have a ton of potential, and they are extremely smart guys,” he said. “You have to coach your best players the hardest, and that’s what we do. We don’t allow them to act like superstars.”
David Johnson pegged Scott the second-fastest player on the team behind freshman running back Devin Glenn. He has big plans for Jones, too, if he improves his fundamentals like getting in and out of his breaks.
“He’s going to be one of the best in-line tight ends in the country in the future,” David Johnson said. “He has to continue to work hard, and he can run a little bit in space, too.”
Most college tight ends are no-names. Florida State’s Nick O’Leary, the AP first-team All-American in 2014, finished 186th nationally with 48 catches for 616 yards. The only tight end to finish among the top 100 in receiving yards was Florida International’s Jonnu Smith, who placed 90th with 710 yards on 61 catches.
Jones and company said they have the ability to make everyone know their names. Even Ardoin, who redshirted last season, will be a “major prospect for the next level in two years,” David Johnson said.
Even if Ardoin is not the next Winslow and the other tight ends fall short of NFL Pro Bowl comparisons, the Wave appears to be in terrific shape at the position.
“That’s the difference between us and everybody else,” David Johnson said. “We play with tight ends the same way they do in the NFL. We’re really trying to prepare these guys.”