IOWA CITY — Iowa linebacker Christian Kirksey and tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz have this ongoing competition in practice in which they keep score of which one can get the better of the other in blocking drills.
Kirksey figures he might be winning.
“But don’t tell C.J. I said that,’’ he quickly adds.
There's a barely discernible hint of fear in his voice.
In fact, it would seem the mere sight of Fiedorowicz is enough to elicit fear in almost anyone, especially opponents.
And it could get even scarier this season. Fiedorowicz occasionally may line up at a wide receiver position this fall, as he often did at Johnsburg (Ill.) High School. What could be more frightening than a 6-foot-7, 270-pound wideout?
“I don’t want to give away any of the offense, but yes, they’ll split me out at times this season,’’ Fiedorowicz revealed.
"Every guy likes to get out there and show them your stuff, show them the speed,'' he added. "I knew I was going to come here and play tight end and get my hand in the dirt. But it’s always fun to stand out there in a two-point stance and do your thing.’’
It has taken Fiedorowicz some time to fulfill the potential that made him the No. 1-rated tight end prospect in the country coming out of high school. There are signs that he may finally be ready to do more than just scare opponents, that he could take his place among the many great tight ends produced by the Hawkeyes.
Forgive Iowa's coaches if they're not quite ready yet to place Fiedorowicz's name on the same line as Dallas Clark and Marv Cook, or maybe even Tony Moeaki, Brandon Myers and Scott Chandler. But they see the possibilities.
“It's really up to him,'' coach Kirk Ferentz said at the team's preseason media day. "That's the great thing in life, if you can control your future that's a pretty good deal. He's got some tools.''
Offensive coordinator Greg Davis said Fiedorowicz has benefited from the playing time and practice time he has gotten the past few years.
"I see him playing with more confidence, playing a little faster,'' Davis said. "We expect him to be a really solid part of what we’re trying to do.’’
The coaches agree on one thing: Fiedorowicz is unlike almost any tight end they've ever been around because of his size.
All those other Iowa tight ends who went on to start in the NFL were smaller in stature. So were three NFL-bound tight ends that Davis coached at Texas — Jermichael Finley, David Thomas and Bo Scaife.
“They were all a little different style …'' Davis said. "They were all guys with a little slighter build that could play at the line but could really stretch the defense. I’ve not coached anybody with this kind of size and hands.’’
Because of that, Fiedorowicz is rated by CBSSports.com as the fourth-best tight end in the 2014 NFL Draft and the 77th-best prospect overall.
His college statistics don't exactly scream stardom, but the numbers did take a noticeable jump in the middle of last season.
Fiedorowicz played in every game as a freshman in 2010 but never caught a single pass. He started five games and caught 16 passes as a sophomore and caught 16 more in the first six games last year.
Then something seemingly clicked. In the last six games of the season, Fiedorowicz caught 29 passes. The two best games of his career statistically were the last two games of the season, against high quality opponents — Michigan and Nebraska.
"There’s nothing that changed,'' Fiedorowicz said. "I just happened to get the ball more often. I was catching four or five balls instead of two or three. We didn’t change the offense. It just happened to come my way more.’’
Davis said he thinks it was a combination of the way opponents defensed the Hawkeyes and a higher comfort level on the part of quarterback James Vandenberg that Fiedorowicz would be where he was supposed to be all the time.
Now, as a senior, Fiedorowicz feels he's really ready to blossom.
“I remember my first day of camp like it was yesterday,'' he said. "The word ‘senior’ just sounds crazy. I remember looking up to the seniors when I was a freshman and seeing that I’m in that spot now is just crazy.’’
He said that while he knows he needs to be more of a leader this season, he plans to just "come out here, have fun, make plays.’’
Ferentz, who was restrained in his pre-camp assessment of Fiedorowicz, has started to get more excited about the possibilities.
"C.J. has had a really good camp,'' Ferentz said last week. "Fiedorowicz has had a really good first two weeks. It’s always what you hope for from your upperclassmen, but it doesn’t always happen.’’