MOBILE, Ala. — It is difficult to declare someone the “winner” of the media portion of the Senior Bowl. Not only are there some new faces being introduced to the world, such as OL Ben Bartch from Division III school St. John’s (more on him later in the week), but with so many different players to get to know, there are many that stand out.
However, TE Adam Trautman from the University of Dayton might be a contender for the "winner" of media day.
His is a fascinating story, a self-described “late bloomer” who was originally recruited as a quarterback late in the recruiting process, due to his high school running a veer option offense for his first three seasons. That did not exactly bring recruiters to the stands, but when his high school switched to more of a passing attack his senior year and he added some size (bulking up to 215 pounds from 175), that opened some doors for him. One was Dayton.
Trautman moved to tight end as a redshirt freshman in 2016, and began rewriting record books for the Flyers. He set school records for receptions in a season (70), touchdown catches in a season (14), career touchdown catches (31) and career receptions (178).
But this week is about football, and removing that asterisk that has been next to his name. He recently spoke to the Dayton Daily News about that “asterisk,” telling reporters that “I also had the same asterisk I have now, like the competition I played in northern Michigan was not very great obviously so they don’t really want to take a chance on that, and no one wants to go up there and really recruit.”
That is an asterisk he carries with him to this day. As he told the media members on Tuesday morning: “I’m just here to put on a show and to get rid of that asterisk regarding the level of competition that is next to my name.”
If that didn’t make you excited about him yet, then this quote that he used to close out his media session might. When talking about his affinity for George Kittle and how he blocks, Trautman stated: “I’ve told scouts that I’d rather put a dude on his back against his will than catch a touchdown. That’s the best feeling as a tight end.”
We will start with the South group of tight ends, with a few intriguing names to watch. I remain fascinated by Stephen Sullivan from LSU. He originally came to campus as a wide receiver and then transitioned to tight end, but for a few different reasons he was not relied upon in that offense. With the depth at both spots, Sullivan did not play consistently, and given that the Tigers were almost exclusively an "11 personnel" team, there were not many chances for him to see the field alongside fellow tight end Thaddeus Moss.
But with his size (6-5, 245) and athleticism, Sullivan could be a matchup problem for NFL defenses. He had a very good curl route from a wing alignment during the team portion, and later in that session he aligned in the slot and showed great footwork and a solid release against press alignment from the defender.
There are obviously two ways to think about him. One is that if LSU could not find a way to get him on the field and use him, then perhaps an NFL team might struggle as well. But for teams that like to use a lot of "12" and even "13" personnel, it might make sense to take a chance on Sullivan and his athleticism.
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In 2018, the Bears used "12 personnel" on 17 percent of their snaps. That number dipped to just 11 a season ago, given some of the injuries at the position, but it is something to keep in mind.
Another interesting tight end on the South roster is Harrison Bryant, the Mackey Award winner from Florida Atlantic. Bryant was used all over the field for FAU, and that continued into Tuesday’s practice. He had a beautiful wheel route from a wing alignment working against man coverage, and on a sit route versus zone coverage he displayed soft hands and a very quick turn upfield after the catch. He also showed off some good blocking in the team portion of practice, both backside against a linebacker on a zone running play as well as playside on another zone play, where he relied on upper body strength to turn his defender away from the crease.
Another tight end to keep in mind is Jared Pinkney from Vanderbilt. Pinkney was an All-SEC performer two years ago, and measured in very well at the weigh-in portion of the day. While I did not see him contribute a ton in the passing game, he certainly flashed as a blocker on Tuesday. He had a great playside block on an outside zone run, blocking his edge defender and then flowing well to the second level to take on a safety in the box.
We will have more on Trautman in a moment, but I do want to start with another tight end from this group, Michigan’s Sean McKeon. He has a bit of an advantage during this Senior Bowl week, as his quarterback in college is now one of his QBs down in Mobile, Shea Patterson. But as someone who did not do a ton of advance scouting on McKeon, I was impressed with what I saw from him during this practice. He showed great hands and the ability to adjust to a low throw on a stick route early on, and ran two beautiful post routes for big gains. The first came during the 7 on 7 portion, when Patterson found him working over the middle, and the second came during the team portion. He also worked himself free on a shallow crossing route on one of the many ... many ... play-action boot designs the Detroit Lions coaches called during Tuesday afternoon.
One of the best parts of a week like this is finding a player that makes you want to go back and watch their tape. That happened with me today seeing McKeon.
Another tight end that flashed was Brycen Hopkins from Purdue University. Hopkins was a very fun study over the past season, showing the ability to work from a number of alignments and to potentially be a true threat in the passing game, and in particular down in the red zone. Hopkins had some very good moments Tuesday, such as early in the practice on some stick and dig routes, and then later in the team portion running a “slam” route, where he blocks down on the defender and then releases away from him to the flat on a, you guessed it, boot-action design. During the team portion he ran a beautiful post route on the backside of a passing design and was wide open, but the quarterback forced a throw into coverage on the other side of the field.
As a blocker, Hopkins fared pretty well. He had a pretty good rep on the playside edge of an outside zone running play, as well as on the edge on an inside zone design. Perhaps that description has you wanting to go back and watch Hopkins, as McKeon’s day left me.
Now we can end things with Trautman. I think he fits the part, and more than demonstrated that - at least today - he has the potential to remove that asterisk. He seemed more than capable of handling the blocking at the next level and perhaps that was to be expected. He was solid during the inside run portion, showing good upper body strength and the ability to twist and turn defenders away from the hole. He also showed some quickness when on the backside of zone running plays, with the ability to make that reach block on the inside defender and seal them off from the play.
As a receiver, while he did have a tough drop on a curl route early in practice, he was solid as well. He showed good footwork off the line and getting into and out of his breaks, and he seems athletic enough to pose problems for defenders, whether linebackers or safeties.
Maybe he’ll get rid of that asterisk for good over the next few months.
This article originally ran on profootballweekly.com.