Big Ten: Brent Celek
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
The rise of the spread offense in college football has put many of the nation's tight ends on notice.
As more coaches look for quickness before brute strength, tight ends are being forced to reinvent themselves.
"You see a lot of colleges phasing out the tight ends, but we've got to phase out of that, too," Michigan State junior Charlie Gantt said. "We've got to be faster, stronger. We've still got to be big, but we each have to adapt to it."
|Dave Stephenson/Icon SMI|
|Charlie Gantt is hoping for more opportunities to catch the ball this season.|
The Spartans' tight ends are making the adjustments. It's why Gantt can make statements like this and get taken seriously: "I envision a lot more pass-catching opportunities, a lot more different kinds of routes and plays that we can do. Two-, maybe three-tight end sets, that's what I'm hoping for, to get as many tight ends in the game [as possible]."
Michigan State boasts the depth and talent at tight end to make Gantt's wish come true this fall. Gantt returns for his second year as a starter after hauling in 19 receptions and four touchdowns in 2008.
He'll once again be spelled by Garrett Celek, a sophomore who appeared in 12 games last fall, recording six receptions and a touchdown. Talented Clemson transfer Brian Linthicum joins the mix, and heralded recruit Dion Sims also could see the field this fall.
"Especially with Dion coming in, we'll have four solid tight ends, at least two or three used every game, goal-line packages, different formations just to get more out of the offense," Linthicum said.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Brian Linthicum's ears betrayed him, even though his eyes could see the truth.
The statistics showed that Clemson's tight ends typically caught between 10-20 passes a year in a spread offense catered more to smaller, quicker receivers and backs. Thomas Hunter led Tigers tight ends with 16 receptions in 2006 and 13 in 2005. Ben Hall topped the list with nine catches in 2004, and Bobby Williamson had 12 in 2003.
Linthicum seemed likely to continue the trend, but he was told something different.
"I basically got wrapped up in the recruiting deal," Linthicum said. "I was purely going off of what I was being told and not what was happening in previous years. They told me they were looking for my type of athlete to come in and play a tight end-split out position, 40 passes a year and stuff like that."
Linthicum got on the field as a true freshman in 2007. The predictable result: 11 receptions for 76 yards and three touchdowns.
He decided to transfer from Clemson and found a team -- and a head coach -- that held the tight end position in higher esteem. Michigan State had a history of producing solid tight ends -- Duane Young, Mitch Lyons, Josh Keur, Chris Baker, to name a few -- most recently with Kellen Davis in 2007.
Spartans coach Mark Dantonio also coached Philadelphia Eagles tight end Brent Celek at Cincinnati.
"I looked at schools that would feature the position," Linthicum said. "I went through it once, so going through it again I knew exactly what I was looking for. It was definitely appealing to come here."
The 6-foot-4, 235-pound Linthicum had a solid spring and put himself in the mix at tight end, one of Michigan State's deepest positions. Charlie Gantt and Garrett Celek return, and heralded recruit Dion Sims joins the group.
Though Linthicum has closed the book on his Clemson experience, one aspect of his time at Death Valley could prove valuable this fall. The tight end position is changing with the popularity of the spread offense, and even though Michigan State runs a more traditional scheme, the Spartans want their tight ends to have above-average speed and versatility.
After playing in the spread at Clemson, Linthicum feels he fits the mold.
"I definitely gained something out of that," he said. "At Clemson, I was used a lot in the backfield as more of an H-back, motioning a lot. Since I got here, that's what Michigan State wanted to do and incorporate that into their offense. I guess I help add a little bit more experience in that area."