IOWA CITY — George Kittle opened a few eyes with his work earlier this year at the NFL Combine.
Now, the Iowa tight end’s position coach is filling the ears of NFL coaches and scouts with as much information as he can about a player he believes will be the next Hawkeye tight end to play on Sundays.
“I think George has a very bright future in the NFL, a very bright future,’’ Iowa assistant LeVar Woods said. “A lot of people have been calling and asking about him, coaches and scouts, and I think he has a bright future ahead of him.’’
Woods said the foot injury Kittle suffered in the Hawkeyes’ seventh game last fall, late in the first half of an Oct. 15 game at Purdue, initially impacted the attention Kittle received from scouts.
Kittle attempted to play through the injury, eventually missing two games, but recorded 17 of his 22 receptions for 280 of the 314 yards he gained in 11 games before heading to the training room at Ross-Ade Stadium.
Once healthy, Kittle turned heads at the NFL Combine.
His time of 4.52 seconds in the 40-yard dash and an 11-foot broad jump both ranked third among tight ends at the Combine. He also recorded a respectable 35-inch vertical jump.
“I was not surprised,’’ Woods said. “George is a great athlete. He can run. He can jump, all those things.’’
That’s why Woods believes Kittle will add his name to the list of Hawkeye tight ends who have taken their game to the next level, with the first step coming during the three-day NFL draft which begins on April 27.
Three former Iowa players — C.J. Fiedorowicz of Houston, Brandon Myers of Tampa Bay and Henry Krieger Coble of Denver — saw NFL action last season.
The 6-foot-4, 250-pound Kittle developed abilities as a blocking tight end at Iowa, pairing that with the ability to run that makes him a somewhat unique commodity among draft-eligible tight ends.
“Jake (Duzey) and Henry are two guys I really looked up to when I got here,’’ Kittle said. “The way they worked was something I tried to follow and it helped me become a better overall player. I’ve been able to make a lot of strides in my blocking and that’s helping me a lot now.’’
That development has been an ongoing process for Kittle, the last player to be offered a scholarship as part of Iowa’s 2012 recruiting class and an honorable mention all-Big Ten selection last fall.
“My goal when I got here was to put in the work every single day, just find a way to get a little bit better from one day to the next,’’ Kittle said. “Going through 9-on-7 drills, learning through that, that helped me keep my nose to the grindstone. It all helped me get ready to do what was I was able to get done at the Combine.’’
Mostly, it felt good to be healthy again.
“The second half of last year was tough. It’s your senior year, you want to be on the field and you want to be healthy but that didn’t happen,’’ Kittle said. “I couldn’t let that define me. I put a lot of effort into getting back to full health and to go to Indy and do what I did, that was a good way for me to show the teams and the scouts what I’m capable of when I’m at full strength.’’
Kittle believes the steady upward progress he made throughout his career are Iowa is also attracting the attention of scouts.
He said the program’s history of tight ends successfully transitioning to the NFL is something that benefits all Hawkeye tight ends as they work toward draft day.
“This is a program that develops tight ends and in talking with the guys that have come through here before me, that allows NFL teams to know what they’re getting,’’ Kittle said. “I’ve worked hard to get to this point, but the work continues. That’s who I am and what I’m about. I don’t plan to change that now.’’