Spaeth Continues To Clear Hurdles

Minnesota tight end plans to prove he truly is one of the country's elite tight ends

April 22, 2007

By Mike Beacom

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Mike Beacom

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When doctors carefully examined the damage done to Minnesota tight end Matt Spaeth's shoulder after an October 21 collision against North Dakota State, the diagnosis wasn't good. Most of them informed the gifted Gopher that he would miss the rest of the season; one told him he had a 20 percent chance to make it back in time for the season finale.


Not willing to give in to the X-rays or give up on his teammates, Spaeth chose to go another route - he skipped the team's next game against Ohio State and re-joined Minnesota on November 4 to play Indiana.


"It would have been easy to pack it in just based on how our season was going," says Spaeth. His return helped the Gophers win their final three games and qualify for a bowl.


Spaeth originally injured the shoulder last August, but he chose to play with it. The hit he took in October elevated it from a third-degree AC separation to a fifth-degree. After offseason surgery, Spaeth is now almost back to full health, and ready to resume his playing career at the next level.


But, much like the shoulder was an obstacle, Spaeth must overcome outside opinions from NFL Draft analysts. Despite winning the Mackey Award, given to the country's top tight end, many argue that Spaeth does not stand out from what can be considered a deep, although not rich, 2007 tight end class.


NFL Network college football expert Charles Davis says that while he is not `down' on Spaeth, he sees nothing on film that overly excites him. NFL Draft Scout senior analyst Rob Rang believes Spaeth is a middle round prospect. "He's a good football player, but not an explosive player. Has good size, but he's not going to blow anybody away with his speed. And for a guy his size, he's not as good of a blocker as you'd expect him to be."


Most NFL scouts prefer Miami's Greg Olsen over every other prospect at the position, but after that opinions vary. Some prefer the attributes of Arizona State's Zach Miller. Some like Oregon State's Joe Newton. But Spaeth feels he offers a little of everything.


"You see two different styles of tight ends. There are undersized, route-running, big receiver types," says Spaeth, "and then there are the small offensive linemen blocking types.


"I consider myself a four-down guy. I don't have to come off the field, and I think you keep teams off-balanced when you're not always substituting guys and giving away what you're going to do."


Spaeth has been an integral part of the Gophers' attack the last few years. Former Minnesota head coach Glen Mason says Spaeth is "as competitive and tough a football player as I have ever coached," and added Spaeth was "the best team player I have ever been around."


Considering that Mason landed several offensive linemen in the NFL in recent years, including Indianapolis Colts tight end Ben Utecht, that's quite an endorsement. But scouts need more than a coach's word about a player, and Spaeth missed a large chunk of the pre-draft period due to the shoulder injury. He was still rehabilitating during the week of the Combine, so he was frustrated that he didn't have the opportunity to show what he could do in front of the league's decision makers.


"It was difficult for me because I had to sit back and watch everybody else perform," says Spaeth. Since then he has been cleared by his doctor and he says he's received positive feedback during numerous league medical evaluations.


On April 6, Spaeth finally got a chance to work out in front of scouts at the Gophers' indoor facility.


"I'm very pleased with how I did," says Spaeth, "especially considering the situation I was in having a month to prepare."


Now Spaeth is just waiting to overcome the next obstacle.


"No matter what team I'm on, I'm going into camp with the attitude that I'm going to play, and I'm going to contribute, and I'm going to do whatever it takes to be a factor.


"If you don't have that attitude, you're probably in the wrong profession."