This place used to be called TE University. For years Washington produced NFL tight ends almost every single season then it suddenly stopped doing it after Rick Neuheisel was fired. They stopped winning games too but that is a different story.
A couple of factors contributed to the demise of the TE at Washington. First of all Washington hasn't recruited the position very well under Gilbertson and Willingham. Second of all the spread offense calls for as many as five receivers at a time which kept the TE's we did have on the bench during passing situations. The TE at Washington basically became an extra blocker for the most part when they were in the game.
Things will be changing this season because Washington will be running a pro style offense that will utilize the TE position as an offensive weapon once again.
Michael Gottleib who has started the past three years graduated this fall. Gottleib was a solid player who walked on and won a scholarship. He wasn't flashy but he was known as a good blocker and team leader.
I don't want to knock Gottleib too much because he made a great contribution to the team while he was here. In most years though pre Willingham he would have been at best a third string TE at UW. He simply wasn't much of a pass catching threat and he was booed quite a bit last year after dropping very catchable passes.
Kavario Middleton starts the spring as Washington's number one TE. Middleton looked sensational as a receiver in the early going before a knee injury and the return of Gottleib curtailed his playing time for the rest of the season.
Like all the freshmen who played last season he was not physically ready to take the pounding. He also wasn't ready to block effectively either and whenever he was in the game the QB's took a beating.
Willingham made a desperate mistake last season by lining him up exclusively as a TE. I think he would have done much better starting off in the slot where the blocking responsibilities were limited. Middleton is an athletic specimen and what he needs more than anything else is a year in the weight room and heavy instruction in blocking techniques.
Chris Izbicki spent the entire season in Ty Willingham's doghouse after being arrested for being drunk, disorderly, and underaged at a concert at the White River Amphitheatre. The incident made the papers and made Willingham look bad. If there is one thing you don't want to do as a player it is make Willingham look bad. The molder of men doesn't like anyone messing with his squeeky clean reputation.
Izbicki had a few good moments in the spring game and it was thought that the former HS All American would get some decent playing time in 2008. Mike Gottleib started the season injured so most thought he would get his shot but Ty never let him on the playing field.
The insiders report on Izbicki is that he hasn't worked hard enough since arriving on campus. He has good tools and potential but he needs to grow up before he will be a contributor. If anyone is in a position to benefit from a clean slate in 2009 it will be Izbicki.
Dorson Boyce from Allan Hancock JC could end up being the starter by the time spring ball winds up. He has size, strength, experience and most importantly he can block and catch the ball. Most of us have penciled in Middleton as the starting TE but he is really going to have to pick up some srength and blocking technique between now and this fall to be able to hold off Boyce.
Kimo Makaula from Punahou HS is the type of athlete you can slide in at QB, FB, DE, and TE. He can even the punt the ball possibly better than anyone Washington currently has on the roster. Kimo is currently 6'3 240 pounds which makes him a good fit at TE or DE. He will likely redshirt this season so the coaches will have plenty of time to figure out what his best position is.
Marlion Bennett was a Willingham recruit who chose the school and not the coach. Rated as the 13th best TE in the country by Scout he will need to spend a year in the weight room to see where he actually ends up. I could see him at TE, DE, or even LB in the future depending on how he grows. Sarkisian considers him more of a big receiver or H-Back at this point.