LEWISBURG, Pa. – On the first play of August 15's red zone period, Matt Muh hit Andrew Podbielski in stride for a 20-yard touchdown, sending the Bucknell offense storming on to the field in celebration.
“It was a play we just put in so we wanted to run it during today's red zone period,” Podbielski said after practice. “We switched things up on the defense, and it was wide open.”
Throughout camp, Podbielski has looked sharp, and it's clear he's poised to have a strong senior season. Head coach Joe Susan said he expects the 6-foot-4 tight end to play an even larger role in the Bison offense in 2017.
“Andrew has the opportunity to be one of the better tight ends in the Patriot League,” Susan said. “He’s very athletic, and we’ll use him in a lot of different ways. He’s also one of the hardest workers on our team in terms of how he applies himself during practice and within games.”
Podbielski, who has started 20-straight games dating back to 2015, is a reliable blocker who also finished in the team’s top five with 161 receiving yards a year ago. With a young offensive line, Podbielski said he's focused on helping out as much as he can as both a blocker and mentor.
"I take pride in my blocking," Podbielski said. "I consider myself a blocking tight end. We have a very young line, and I'm helping out the tackles, making calls for tight end/tackle combos. I'm trying to help them out as much as I can since I've been around and know the offense."
Backing up Podbielski is fellow senior Jared Morse, who came to Bucknell as a safety and has become a valuable reserve and member of special teams.
“We found a place for him at the tight end position,” Susan said. “He does a great job getting down the field because he has good straight-line speed.”
John Reedy will give Susan another option at tight end. In 2016, he was one of three freshmen who appeared in all 11 games. While most of his reps came on special teams, he could take on an expanded role at tight end in 2017.
In recent years, the Bison have moved away from utilizing a true fullback because they typically line up with two tight ends, two wide receivers and a running back.
“We play a fullback with a tight-end body type,” Susan said. “The fullback is comparable to the tight end position in what we ask it to do, and there will be guys from the tight end corps who end up playing fullback.”
Andrew Owers, a hybrid fullback/tight end, has made 14 starts over the past two campaigns. As a freshman in 2015, he made an immediate impact, finishing third on the team in receiving yards (386) and catching at least one pass in all 10 of his appearances. Before losing the 2016 season to an injury suffered at No. 9 Charleston Southern, he totaled 142 receiving yards.
“Andrew is one of the better receivers we have,” Susan said. “He makes excellent adjustments to catch the ball in traffic, and that’s important whether he’s being used out of the backfield, on the line of scrimmage or in the slot.”
Added Podbielski: "When we have Andrew on the field, we're a different offense. We're able to do a lot more things because of his athleticism and blocking."
In the end, Susan is confident in all of Bucknell's options at tight end and fullback.
“This position group is more talented and varied than any we’ve had,” Susan said. “We have plenty of options, and that’s partially because the fullback and tight end positions are interchangeable in our minds.”
NOTES: Bucknell has five true tight ends on the roster: two seniors, one junior, one sophomore and one freshman ... Owers is listed as a hybrid tight end/fullback while Cinjun Erskine is the lone true fullback on the roster ... Susan is set to work with the Bison tight ends and fullbacks this season ... Marcus Ademilola moved to tight end from wide receiver while Erskine shifted to fullback from running back ... Owers and cornerback Bryan Marine (15) are the only juniors on the roster who have started at least 10 games ... During August 14's make-up scrimmage, Owers caught touchdown passes from both Muh and John Chiarolanzio ... Among current players, Podbielski stands third with 21 career starts, behind only defensive end Abdullah Anderson (33) and linebacker Ben Richard (23) ... Podbielski is one of Bucknell's two returning CoSIDA Academic All-District II honorees, joining wide receiver Jack Horan ... Near the end of August 15's red zone period, Podbielski scored his second touchdown; in traffic, he leapt to make the catch and came down just in bounds ... Reedy and Morse have looked strong on special teams ... Asked about the Bison quarterback battle, Podbielski said he's confident in both Muh and Chiarolanzio: "Who will start is still very much up in the air, and they're battling hard out here. I know we have two good quarterbacks, and whoever coach puts out on the field will give us a good chance to win."
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