You know J.P. Holtz is a true tight end when you ask him about his favorite moment from the 2012 season.
It wasn't starting 10 games as a freshman. It wasn't any of his three touchdowns catches, which included a 9-yarder at Notre Dame. It wasn't even getting his first taste of big-time college football with wins over ranked opponents Virginia Tech and Rutgers.
It was much simpler than that.
"Definitely the knock out hit on the Syracuse play," Holtz said.
Holtz delivered a trucking blow to Shamarko Thomas that sent the Syracuse safety's helmet flying and left him lying on the turf. Make no mistake: Holtz wasn't trying to hurt Thomas. But for a tight end who has never shied away from contact, running through a projected second- or third-round pick in the NFL draft was pretty satisfying.
"He's a really good player," Holtz said of Thomas. "I watched him in the combine, and he killed it in the combine. Hopefully, all goes well for him."
Holtz is hoping for more moments like that as he moves into his sophomore year. Although he has plenty of experience from last season, Holtz understands the bar is raised this year and more will be expected of him as the full-time starting tight end.
"I'm more experienced this year," Holtz said. "I was a freshman last year, but I'm not a freshman any more. I have to take a lot more leadership in the offense and be a better contributor on the field."
Holtz still contributed a lot as a freshman. He finished the season with 13 catches for 173 yards to go along with those three touchdowns. His highlight performance came against Notre Dame with three catches for 54 yards and a score.
He also provided much-needed durability for a depleted tight end corps. The injuries to then-senior Hubie Graham required former receiver Mike Shanahan and fullback Mark Giubilato to line up as tight ends. However, Holtz was able to play in all 13 games.
Despite having another year under his belt, offensive coordinator and tight ends coach Joe Rudolph doesn't believe anything has changed for Holtz, but he needs to focus on continuing to get better this season.
"He'll be the first to tell you he's got a ton to learn, and a ton to get better at," Rudolph said. "He's got great confidence, great toughness and great pride in what he does. Now it's tying all the rest of it together.
"It's being consistent. It's expanding your knowledge of the game. It's being able to handle a little bit more. He's doing a good job of it. He's working his tail off, and his expectations of himself can't be anything different. He's got to earn every last opportunity that he has. I expect that out of him. His expectations will be the same."
Although the expectations might not have changed, the dynamic in the tight end room definitely has.
Along with returners Holtz and Drew Carswell, transfer Mannaseh Garner and incoming freshman Scott Orndoff have added more depth to the tight end position. There is also more versatility with Holtz and Orndoff filling the traditional tight end role while Carswell and Garner bring more flexibility in the mold of H-backs.
Having both depth and versatility should allow the tight ends to have a bigger role in the offense than last season. Rudolph said he's comfortable putting any tight end pairing on the field and likes the different attributes each guy brings to the table.
All these factors should mean more opportunities for the tight ends - specifically Holtz - to make an impact. The sophomore-to-be is excited to get the opportunity.
"We have to block first," said Holtz, who said his blocking has improved most this off season. "We have to get that job done first, then hopefully the catches come our way. We have a lot more depth this year with Scotty and Mannaseh coming in with me and Drew. We have a lot more depth than we did last year, so we should be able to do a lot more things.
"That's just how this offense is. The tight ends are factors in it, and we're going to get open plays because they're going to key on our receivers like Street. So that will open up plays for us."
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