Editor's note: The Iowa State Daily Sports Desk will have a spring preview of each position group for the Cyclones heading into the 2021 season. You can find other position group stories here.
It wouldn't be an exaggeration to say Iowa State's tight end room has taken a massive step forward from when Taylor Mouser, the Cyclones' new tight ends coach, first came to Ames.
When he first arrived on the scene in 2016 as a graduate assistant for the Cyclones, Mouser recalled in one of the first personnel meetings among the staff the tight end room for Iowa State had zero, count 'em, zero, scholarship tight ends on the roster.
But flash forward to this spring and all of the preseason hype surrounding the 2021 Cyclones, the upgrade isn't hard to find.
Proven, veteran playmakers Charlie Kolar and Chase Allen lead the room with their ability to act as pseudo-receivers more than traditional tight ends for Tom Manning and the Iowa State offense.
Kolar, a two-time First Team All-Big 12 tight end for the Cyclones (2019, 2020), returns for his senior season as one of Brock Purdy's most trusted targets with 1,425 receiving yards and 17 career touchdowns to back it up.
Allen will be back for his sixth season as a Cyclone thanks to the NCAA COVID-19 blanket eligibility waiver for seniors like himself. As a Second Team All-Big 12 tight end in 2020, Allen finished with 526 yards and four touchdowns.
Outside of the familiar names at the top of the depth chart, players like Easton Dean, Tyler Moore, DeShawn Hanika and Jared Rus are primed for bigger roles come this fall.
Mouser, Allen and Kolar spoke with the media Friday to share their perspective on the progress of the group and what the relationship between teammates and coaches has been like throughout the spring.
Strong relationships and a trust factor
Mouser's role as tight ends coach might be a new title and job description, but his connection with the tight end room is as strong as it gets.
Being a part of the program like he has for six years, Mouser's perspective and coaching style is about personal growth and conversation. He likes the details, including the precise foot angles his tight ends have on their routes.
Iowa State signed Allen and Dylan Soehner as part of its first true recruiting class, right when Mouser was joining the program.
Spring practice in 2021 seems like decades apart from then to now for Mouser, but he's been able to share memories of what the room was like with Allen, adding a unique layer to a coach-player relationship that some might not be able to show.
"I try to know everything about them outside of football," Mouser said. "I know who they're dating, what their grades look like, I know it all. So we got good relationships. I love them, they trust me and I trust them."
Allen said that trust is real and it's what made Mouser's changing role seem less like a job change and more like a title transition. Allen, Kolar and other tight ends have worked with Mouser in the past when it came to their route running, as Mouser spent many seasons with Cyclone wideouts.
Mouser and the whole room have worked in lockstep during the spring and Allen expects it to only get better once fall comes around.
With his experience in the program and his genuine connection with his players, Allen said the Cyclones have been pumped since day one.
“[Mouser]’s got all the tools to help us and we love playing for him,” Allen said.
'You can't replace Dylan Soehner'
Iowa State didn't face too much roster attrition after the 2020 season, but did lose five-year tight end Dylan Soehner after he declared for the 2021 NFL Draft.
Soehner's role within the tight end group wasn't as pass catching-focused as Kolar or Allen, but his impact as an extra blocker and big body in particular matchups made him an effective player in Iowa State's unique three tight end looks.
Now that he's gone, what will Iowa State look for in bringing a new third tight end into the mix? The first thing Mouser said is that this spring isn't about finding a replacement for Soehner because you just can't find one.
“Not necessarily trying to replace Dylan Soehner because you can’t replace Dylan Soehner," Mouser said.
During spring practice, Mouser intends to find guys with specific skills for certain situations and go with a plug-and-play approach, evaluating the variety of skillsets in the tight end room.
Redshirt sophomore Easton Dean is expected to be a strong contender to get a majority of the snaps at the third tight end position and so far this spring he's caught the eye of Mouser.
“[Easton]’s an impressive guy and he’s fun to watch," Mouser said.
Dean possesses a big toolbox of skills Mouser finds useful and with a full offseason with strength and conditioning coach Dave Andrews in the weight room, his growth could accelerate even more.
Mouser wasn't ready to declare Dean the official third tight end, but said with the amount of flair and quick changes Head Coach Matt Campbell and other offensive staff like to go with, pretty much everyone should be prepared for some sort of role.
Iowa State's been known across the Big 12 to dip into a creative bag of plays and personnel packages, so Mouser said his group has to be ready for anything.
And he means everything (sort of).
“I’m slowly getting the quarterback, the running back, the wideouts off the field and we’re just going to an all tight end offense," Mouser said jokingly. "I love having as many tight ends in a game as I possibly can."
Extra coaching help
For Allen, coaching almost acts as a birthright.
His dad, Terry Allen, and his grandfather, Robert Allen, both coached at the collegiate level and Allen said his family's occupational history has been able to creep into his work this spring.
“I’m a third-generation coach," Allen said.
Allen said it didn't get this way when him and Kolar became the elder statesmen of the room. Allen said they've been that way since they arrived and said Mouser has enjoyed their work alongside him.
Kolar would agree, adding that he and Allen have tried to ingrain in young guys the speed difference between the meeting room and the practice field and then eventually the practice field to the game. Both have tried to work through rep simulation and help younger guys gain confidence before their name is called.
"We try and pass down information and make it easy for them," Kolar said.
Mouser's established relationship with Kolar and Allen has allowed him to gain additional feedback on routes or play design from the veterans, leading to honest conversations that have made him a better coach already this spring.
“We pretty much have two extra tight end coaches on the staff with Chase and Charlie," Mouser said.