The recent evolution of the tight end in the University of Maine’s passing game has been an important component behind the team’s offensive success.
“They should be a quarterback’s best friend,” junior quarterback Chris Ferguson said of the position.
Ferguson remembers his first year as a starter in 2017 when the Black Bears had just moved quarterback Drew Belcher to a hybrid tight end-fullback (H-back) position.
In his debut, Belcher caught four passes for 67 yards in a 24-23 loss at New Hampshire. He finished the year with 17 catches for 233 yards and two touchdowns. Three other tight ends caught 11 more passes for 85 yards.
A year earlier, in 2016, the top receiver among the tight ends was Jeremy Salmon (10 catches, 124 yards).
Fast-forward to last season when the Football Championship Subdivision national semifinalist Black Bears got 46 receptions for 357 yards from Belcher and another seven receptions for 89 yards from tight end, Julian Dunn.
Belcher and Dunn have graduated, so the Black Bears will be inexperienced at that position this season.
Head coach Nick Charlton likes what he has seen from his tight ends so far and stressed that they will be involved in the offense despite their lack of playing time.
“It’s important to involve them in the passing game as well as all phases of the offense like pass protection and the run game. When you have players who can make plays, it’s up to us to put them in good position to make plays,” Charlton said.
Redshirt freshman Shawn Bowman, a 6-foot-5, 241-pounder from Bear, Delaware, has won the starting job. Redshirt sophomore Ori Jean-Charles (6-2, 225), a transfer who played safety at the University of Louisville, is developing rapidly as he learns his new position.
“They work at it and complement each other. It’s exciting to see them grow into those roles together,” Charlton said.
Charlton also said 6-6 redshirt senior Kevin Falaki, a transfer from Division II Assumption College, will get some game time, and there are others in the picture.
Ferguson said Bowman and Jean-Charles both have been demonstrating growth.
“They can both move very well. They’re running all kinds of different routes. And that’s the big thing, they’re versatile,” Ferguson said.
Bowman said spring football was a good transition from last season because he was learning from two seniors. He was an all-state football and all-conference basketball player at Howard High School in Delaware.
Bowman said he learned a lot from Belcher last year.
“I watched him, saw how he prepared and things, and that helped me a lot,” he said.
Jean-Charles was a dual-threat quarterback at Spring Valley High School in New York where he threw for 1,429 yards and rushed for 1,009 yards his junior year. He was moved to safety at Louisville and saw special-teams action in two games.
He said moving from defense to tight end required a big adjustment but has been helped by his teammates.
“There is a lot of attention to detail in making that transition as smooth as possible,” Jean-Charles said. “At times, it’s a real technical position. [On some plays], you’ve got your hand down [in a three-point stance] working with the [interior] linemen, and other times you’ve got to be able to split out and work with the receivers. You’ve also got to know the run game and the route concepts.”
Jean-Charles did not give it a second thought when Charlton and offensive coordinator Andrew Dressner approached him about making the positional switch.
“They believed in me. They thought I could do it, so I was ready to take the challenge,” Jean-Charles said.
“I’m excited about using my athletic abilities to make plays,” he said.
Bowman and Jean-Charles enjoy the fact their position is multifaceted.
“It’s fun when you’re catching passes, but when you’re blocking at the end and you spring the running back all the way down the field, it’s a good feeling,” Bowman said.
Both said Ferguson has spent considerable time with them going over their assignments and watching videotape, and they said all the tight ends are close-knit and willing to help each other out.
“We want to be the best group we can to help the team,” Jean-Charles said.
“We all want to see each other win,” Bowman said.