IOWA CITY — When Iowa was recruiting T.J. Hockenson, tight ends coach LeVar Woods had plenty of film at his disposal to evaluate Hockenson's pass-catching and route-running skills.
After all, Hockenson was one of the top receivers statistically to come through Iowa's high school ranks with 3,560 yards and 49 touchdowns in a storied four-year career at Chariton.
Woods, though, had one question about Hockenson's skill set that did not show up frequently on the game film.
"I wanted to know when he came to our camp if he could block somebody or be physical because I had never seen that," Woods said. "He came in, and he was awesome.
"From the day he's been here, he has improved dramatically in that area."
After redshirting as a true freshman, Hockenson already has climbed his way to the top of the depth chart at tight end, a position where the Hawkeyes lack experience but not bodies, talent or versatility.
With Iowa expected to use multiple tight ends in various spots on the field, and their limited experience at receiver, it allows Hockenson and sophomore Noah Fant to be significant contributors in the passing attack.
Fant caught nine passes for 70 yards and a touchdown in 11 games last fall as a freshman. Hockenson was a bright spot in the spring game with four receptions.
Both are big targets at 6-foot-5. Both have added nearly 20 pounds since arriving in the program and are listed between 240 and 245 pounds.
The biggest learning curve has been moving inside and adjusting to the blocking schemes along the line of scrimmage. Fant and Hockenson were each split out as receivers in high school.
"I have a lot of room to improve, but blocking is about throwing yourself out there and doing what you can," Hockenson said. "It was a big challenge at first, and I didn't know how it would show out in the first year.
"I've gotten a little more comfortable being down on the line and in a three-point stance. It has been fun."
Iowa has 10 tight ends in its program as it works toward a Sept. 2 opener against Wyoming. To illustrate how important the position will be in offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz's system, the Hawkeyes have more tight ends on scholarship than receivers.
The New England Patriots thrived with multiple tight end sets while Ferentz was on their coaching staff.
There is no Rob Gronkowski or Aaron Hernandez in Iowa's collection yet, but some of the concepts New England's offense used to incorporate tight ends could trickle into Iowa's attack.
"Our tight ends are asked to be in different spots and different positions a bit more than we have in the past," Woods said. "I think that will benefit us because we've got some very talented guys that can do some great things."
Fant is the only one among the group with more than one college reception. He had his lone touchdown catch in the victory at Purdue.
"There's no doubt we've got some young guys, but we've all come into the program together at a similar time so we're familiar with each other," Fant said. "We've had a chance to establish those friendships."
Fant and Hockenson are listed as the starters, but Woods anticipates Peter Pekar (who has made eight starts), Nate Wieting and Jon Wisnieski, all seniors, to play a significant role.
That position group also features a pair of former Iowa high school all-staters in Cedar Rapids Kennedy's Shaun Beyer and Iowa City Regina's Drew Cook along with sophomore Nate Vejvoda and freshmen Jacob Coons and Tommy Kujawa.
Hockenson called the spring a "game changer" for his development. Now with a summer in the weight room, he's eager to put that added strength with his knowledge and confidence instilled from the spring.
"We're a very close-knit group, all competitors," Hockenson said. "The thing I like about our (tight end) group is we're all different and we're all so versatile.
"We all have something a little different we bring to the mix."