Q&A with tight ends and special teams coach Eric Link

Coach of tight ends and special teams Eric Link talks about what tight ends need to do better in 2023, what Ryan Hoerstkamp brings to the position, what Luther Burden III needs to improve as a punt returner and more.

– How does it feel to be back for another year of spring football?

“It feels good. It seems like it’s going faster and faster every year. Then once you’re on the court and you start rolling, it’s always nice to get back out on the grass with the guys, that’s for sure.”

– Through a handful of workouts, what tight ends have stood out to you so far?

“Honestly, I think they’ve all done a good job collectively. I think we’ve definitely made progress in the right direction. I would say Max Whisner is a young lad who you can say has really capitalized on and took advantage of his red shirt. season. Physically, he’s more advanced than he should be. He’s been here a calendar year, so he’s a guy for sure. I think Tyler Stephens did some really good things. I think Ryan Hoerstkamp 一 they all did a good job just having consistency. Day after day, keep taking steps forward rather than steps back.

– Defensive line coach Al Davis said he wants his group to have two players to get a spot and work in tandem instead of having one guy playing all the snaps in that spot. Is that a pattern you want to follow for tight end #1 and tight end #2 or something like that?

“I mean, ideally you’d like to have the diversity within an individual to play multiple tight end positions. But, everyone has strengths and weaknesses, so trying to build on those strengths and fortify those weaknesses is really what you’re trying to So a guy’s skills 一 maybe he comes across as a more talented receiver than a blocker Well we have to make sure we keep developing those skills We have to make sure we’re not asking him to do things he’s not good at yet. So to answer your question, we want to have the diversity and the ability with our guys to be able to do multiple things. But at the end of the day, some guys have certain skills and that’s really what we’re going to build on.”

– What did you see kicker Blake Craig?

“It was really positive. There’s no doubt we were really excited to have Blake here. He’s an extremely talented kicker. He’s done a really good job in four practices and he’s brand new. He should still being a senior in high school, but he’s definitely making strides in the right direction. He’s done a really good job and we’re thankful and thankful that he’s here for sure.

– What do you expect from Luther Burden in second year as a punt returner?

“I think the #1 thing with Luther is that we know he’s talented. I think he’s one of the most gifted running backs on our team in any position. But I would say that one of his main weaknesses was just decision-making. That’s a huge quality that you have to have in this position and that comes with experience and putting yourself in these situations to make these decisions and understanding that you don’t you don’t necessarily have to force it. You can let the game come to you and when you get a chance take the chance, but the #1 goal of the kick return team and kick team sending is to make sure we give the ball to the attack. Obviously we want to be explosive. We want to be dynamic. We want to have the ability to create returns, but at the end of the day we have to make sure that the attack recovers the ball.”

– When he made those first-year mistakes, how do you approach that as a coach?

“You have to train him and correct him. You have to train him and you try to educate about these situations really before they happen as much as possible. But there’s probably no better teacher in any sport. , but certainly in football, that experience. You go back and you look at Luther in high school, he had I don’t know 10-12 punt returns for touchdowns in particular. You go back and look at him and I think that every 10 is at least nine out of 10 were the ball touching the ground.

“So it’s just different 一 you’re going to catch a lot more balls in the air at this level than you catch one on the ground. I say that and against Abilene Christian, on his first touch the ball hits the ground一 and that’s when I knew we were cooking with grease because I knew that’s what this guy is used to but you have to fix it. You have to coach him and keep educating these guys on these situations as they arise.”

– Hoesrtkamp flashed during the New Mexico State game. If he reaches his potential, what can he be for this offense?

“Ryan was a guy who came out of high school as a catcher probably. He played more on the perimeter than in the core. So the biggest adjustment for Ryan, I think, is just learning to play the full position. tight end. He’s got really good ball skills and the ability to make plays. But just becoming an all-around player to be able to run as a blocker but also make plays as a receiver that we want him to do.

“Ryan is focused on improving every day and I know that might sound cliché, but that has to be our whole focus. I think he has the ability to make plays. I think he brings a lot to the game. table, but Ryan is working on becoming a complete tight end. Sometimes that takes time and some maturation both physically and mentally.

– Does that include Ryan growing in size due to the nature of the position?

“Yeah, I mean, I don’t think Ryan will ever become a 260-pound guy. I think right now he’s as heavy as he’s ever been. I think he weighed l ‘other day at 245 or 246 pounds. There’s a fine line between getting too big and losing a bit of athleticism or speed, but you’re absolutely right. You’re going to play in the core within the formation of the Southeastern Conference 一 there are grown men so you better have the ability to play physically and withstand the physicality of the game.”

– To see the tight ends room take a step forward next season, what’s the biggest thing you want to see right now with this group?

“Just consistency. I talked to another person about this earlier, but there’s no better teacher than experience. This group that came in last year was really inexperienced. There was very few shots played in that position. So I think we’ve gained a lot of experience, both good and bad. So that’s been a great teacher for us. But just the consistency of our game. In all the stages.

I mean the tight end position is one of the hardest positions to play in my opinion and to assess because we ask them so much to do. They must block not only on the perimeter but in the core. They need to protect passes, they need to be able to run routes and they need to have good ball skills to make plays on the ball. So they really have to master a lot of skills and it just takes time. These guys work really hard and keep developing this, but I think day-to-day consistency in play is really what we’re looking for. »

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