By TERESA M. WALKER – AP Pro Football Writer
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee tight end Chig Okonkwo has a really good reason not to team up with the Titans’ other rookies as they wrap up their offseason at team headquarters.
Okonkwo, the rookie who ran the fastest 40-yard dash among tight ends at the NFL Combine earlier this year, had to be better somewhere.
Tight End University, the equivalent of a master class at the rookie position.
“It’s just so amazing to be able to be here and do that…” Okonkwo said Thursday. “And it’s just great. We’re like 80 out here. …And there’s so many Pro Bowl boys, so many big contracts for the boys. It’s just really nice to be able to go out as a rookie in my first season.”
As he enters his first NFL season, Okonkwo is trying to be a sponge and soaking up everything he can, especially with seven-time Pro Bowl tightener Travis Kelce speaking of the Kansas City Chiefs.
“He showed me something I’ve never seen before,” Okonkwo said. “And I was like, ‘I think I should probably start working on that because he’s really good, he’s the best in the business.’ So just learn things like being able to take these little treats of different types easily.
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That was the whole reason for Tight End U – or TEU for short.
George Kittle, a three-time Pro Bowler for San Francisco, had already worked eight to ten tight ends in the offseason after moving to Nashville five years ago. He spoke to Kelce and three-time Pro Bowler Greg Olsen about expanding the group, and Olsen said to invite everyone.
They were expecting 20, including 50 as a senior in high school, where Kittle’s father, George, works as an assistant football coach for former NFL quarterback Trent Dilfer. The invite list grew so much for this week’s camp They had moved to Vanderbilt University and had at least 85 tight ends in attendance.
Kelce, Kittle and Olsen also had to say no to a bunch of young tight ends.
“We’re still expanding and trying to find space for everyone so everyone can come here because everyone sees what a turnout it is,” Kelce said. “And beyond that, when we hear the stories of the guys coming through and what they’ve learned, we know what a unique situation it is. We will keep trying to make it bigger and better every year.”
The tight ends spend camp solving problems like blocking 300-pound linemen to run routes against much faster players. They’ve picked the minds of veterans like Olsen in a classroom before taking to the field to hone the physical techniques needed to succeed in an NFL season.
Bringing so many people together costs money.
TEU has Bridgestone, Charmin, Gatorade, Levi’s and Bud Light as sponsors. The tight ends also brought in money for the Boys and Girls Club again. Buffalo’s Dawson Knox won the contest, Okonkwo came second, and they netted more than $131,000. Bridgestone raised $681,000 in another donation Thursday.
Further TEU expansion is likely in the future. Kelce said they’d like to bring in more tight ends, possibly tight end coaches and maybe even college tight ends.
Right now everyone who’s learned something goes, whether it’s a new take on a route, a blocking technique, or something off-tape.
“And everyone here is hungry and everyone here wants to be a great NFL tight end,” Kittle said. “And when you add all that hunger together, it’s just a big ole bad beast, and that’s what a tight ending is.”
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