Tight ends gather in Nashville to learn from NFL’s best
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee tight end Chig Okonkwo has a really good reason not to be working with the rest of the Titans’ rookies as they wrap up their offseason at the team headquarters.
Okonkwo, the rookie who ran the fastest 40-yard dash among tight ends earlier this year at the NFL Combine, had somewhere better to be.
Tight End University, the equivalent of a master class at the rookie’s position.
“It’s just so amazing to be able to be here and do this …,” Okonkwo said Thursday. “And it’s just awesome. There’s like 80 of us out here. … And there’s so many Pro Bowl guys, so many big contract to the guys. It’s just really nice to be able to go out there as a rookie in my first season.”
Going into his first NFL season, Okonkwo is trying to be a sponge, soaking up everything he can, especially when seven-time Pro Bowl tight end Travis Kelce of the Kansas City Chiefs speaks.
“He showed me something that I’ve never seen before,” Okonkwo said. “And I was like, ‘I think I should probably start working on that because he’s really good, he’s the best in the business.’ So just learning things like that, like being able to just take little tidbits like that from different guys.”
That was the whole reason for Tight End U — or TEU for short.
A three-time Pro Bowler for San Francisco, George Kittle already had been working with eight to 10 tight ends in the offseason after moving to Nashville five years ago. He talked with Kelce and three-time Pro Bowler Greg Olsen about expanding the group, and Olsen said to invite everybody.
They expected 20, with 50 in attendance last year at the high school where Kittle’s father, George, works as an assistant football coach for former NFL quarterback Trent Dilfer. The invite list grew so much for this week’s camp they had moved to Vanderbilt University and had at least 85 tight ends in attendance.
Kelce, Kittle and Olsen also had to tell a bunch of young tight ends no.
“We’re still expanding and trying to find room for everybody to be able to come out here because everybody sees what kind of turnout it is,” Kelce said. “And on top of that, to hear the stories from the guys that are coming through and what they’ve learned, we know how unique of a situation it is. We’re going to keep trying to make it bigger and better every year.”
The tight ends spend camp working through problems like blocking 300-pound linemen to running routes against much faster players. They picked the brains of veterans like Olsen in a classroom before moving onto the field to hone the physical techniques to thrive in an NFL season.
Getting that many people together costs money.
TEU has Bridgestone, Charmin, Gatorade, Levi’s and Bud Light as sponsors. The tight ends also raised money again for the Boys and Girls Club. Dawson Knox of Buffalo winning the competition with Okonkwo second, and they brought in more than $131,000. Bridgestone brought that to $681,000 with a further donation Thursday.
More TEU expansion is likely in the future. Kelce said they would like to bring in more tight ends, possibly tight end coaches and maybe even college tight ends.
For now, everyone leaves having learned something, whether it’s a new release on a route, a blocking technique or something off tape.
“And everyone here is hungry and everybody here wants to be a great NFL tight end,” Kittle said. “And so when you put all that hunger together, it’s just big ol’ nasty beast, and that’s what a tight end is.”
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By TERESA M. WALKER
AP Pro Football Writer