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August 6, 2008

Spotlight: Tight Ends

The last few seasons, to no prevail, much emphasis has been placed on getting the tight ends more involved in the offense. Yet again last season, no player emerged to take control of the position and a three-headed monster was formed. Graduated Robert Lewis, current defensive tackle Johnie Kirton, and this season's projected starter Michael Gottlieb only combined for 20 receptions, 225 yards and no touchdowns. Somehow, with a complete lack of productivity from the tight end position, the Husky offense averaged 29 points per game. However, with the wide receivers and running backs being so inexperienced, the tight ends must be more productive in 2008.

Michael Gottlieb
Mercer Island, WA (Mercer Island HS)
6-foot-5, 245-pound, Redshirt Senior
2007 STATS: 12 receptions, 136 yards

Michael Gottlieb is a former class of 2004 walk-on that has now emerged as the number one tight end on this young offense. Gottlieb played in every game for the huskies last season, as part of a three-headed monster, none of which could emerge as the leading target. He started six games and amassed the highest catch total for tight ends with 12. In fact, he's the leading receiver on the entire roster, doubling that of the next best D'Andre Goodwin's six receptions. As a sophomore Gottlieb played in 10 of 12 games, only missing the Oklahoma and Fresno State games due to injury. He had 4 receptions for 78 yards that season, but showed the coaches enough to entrust more responsibility to him as a junior. In high school Gottlieb was a standout on the other side of the ball where he collected 262 tackles, 174 of those solo for his career. As a senior he led the KingCo's tight ends in receptions and showed promise at both positions heading into college.

Gottlieb will be called upon to lead this young group and he should be up to the task. First year tight end's coach Brian White is gushing with enthusiasm over his young playmakers, but admits that it's Gottlieb that has the best combinations of skills at this point. He's not the best blocker or best pass catcher, but he's without a doubt the most consistent player at the position and the best at both skills combined. He should start from day one and consistently be their first down tight end. He won't be the every down guy, but his position as leader of the group has been cemented.

Walt Winter
Bothell, WA (Juanita HS)
6-foot-5, 250-pound, Redshirt Senior
2007 STATS: NA

Walt Winter began his Husky career as a defensive lineman and after redshirting his freshman season saw action in seven games as a sophomore, collecting five tackles, three in a game against Oregon. He began his junior year again at the defensive line, but injuries to the tight ends forced his move. Winter saw action in 12 of 13 games last season at tight end, but in a limited role. He didn't record any receptions and was more of a factor on special teams.

Winter's impact on will be felt more in practices than on the field. He will see considerable amounts of action, but don't look for him to be a featured weapon. With that said, he is only one of two seniors available to Jake Locker in the passing game, so his role could expand if he impresses early. The tight ends appear to be getting considerable looks in the offense thus far, and Winter has had a couple of very nice catches. Even if his role doesn't look good on the stat lines, his impact on the younger players and on special teams should be great.

Chris Izbicki
Kirkland, WA (Lake Washington HS)
6-foot-3, 230-pound, Redshirt Freshman
2006 HIGH SCHOOL STATS: 24 receptions, 299 yards, 70 tackles, 3 sacks

Chris Izbicki was the Rivals.com class of 2007 highest rated player in the Evergreen State. He was considered the 13th best tight end in the nation and he came to campus with a ton of promise, despite missing much of his senior season of high school with an injury. He impressed early in fall practices as a freshman, but with a full squad of upperclassmen tight ends ahead of him, he was redshirted. In high school he was a second team all-league selection at tight end as a senior, a first team selection as a junior, and a Seattle times All-State selection both seasons. Izbicki was selected to play in the Offense-Defense All-American Bowl in Fort Lauderdale and held offers from most of the Pac-10 schools.

Izbicki is the best blocking tight end on the roster and coach White acknowledges such. That should get him situational playing time as he looks to secure a more permanent role in the offense. Coaches would love to not have a tight end by comity, so if he can live up to they hype, his role could increase greatly by the end of the season. He has progressed well with his understanding of the blocking schemes and that combined with his blocking ability make him an instant asset along the line.

Kavario Middleton
Lakewood, WA (Lakes HS)
6-foot-5, 255-pound, True Freshman
2007 HIGH SCHOOL STATS: 45 receptions, 503 yards, 8 touchdowns, 115 tackles, 10 sacks

Kavario Middleton was rated the nation's second best tight end by Rivals.com coming out of Lakes High School. He caught 34 passes for 412 yards and six touchdowns as a junior and upped those totals to 45 receptions for 503 yards and eight touchdowns as a senior. Middleton's numbers would have been more impressive if it wasn't for the fact he was used as a decoy more so than not. Even at 255 pounds, Middleton is thin and once he adds some solid weight and muscle, watch out! Middleton, the state's top recruit was just as lethal as a defensive end in high school, if not more so. As a senior, Middleton registered 115 tackles (15 for loss) and 10 sacks. For his efforts, Middleton was selected to play in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl as a defensive end and was named to the Washingtonpreps.com All-State First-Team on both sides of the ball.

Middleton is currently in the mix and his playing time will mainly depend on the mental aspects of the game. Tight end is one of the most mentally demanding positions on the field, having to learn all of the blocking and passing schemes. However, don't be surprised to see Middleton used early if the other tight ends can't secure the spot. Another thing that could hold him back is pure strength. He's still a lean 255 pounds and may not have the Pac-10 muscle needed to compete every down. However, if you ask him, strength hasn't been a problem thus far. He claims to be as strong as the guys he's going up against, but that could all change once the pads go on. Either way Middleton is a tremendous talent that will be catching passes at Montlake for years to come. The only question is how soon will he catch his first?

Romeo Savant
Cathlamet, WA (Wahkiakum HS)
6-foot-5, 250-pound, Redshirt Freshman

Savant is a walk on redshirt freshman who made a name for himself on the service team last season. Savant is big bodied and moves very well for his size. Coach White believes he has a legitimate chance of earning a scholarship down the road but will need time to adjust to Pac-10 football after coming from a Class B high school program. He was a standout in high school, at both football and track, where he won the Class B state championship in the discus and took third in the javelin.

Savant will provide depth at special teams but won't see the field much as a tight end yet. However, currently listed as the fifth tight end, he's only an injury or two from seeing the field.

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