NFL Draft Profile: Daniel Barker, Tight End, Illinois Fighting Illini

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — When asked a question about his expectations for an increasingly stagnant offense, 

Bret Bielema followed a winding path through his entire offense. The Illinois head coach's words provided a bookmark at the tight end position.

An important thing to note is that when Bielema talks about tight ends, it’s worth listening. He’s developed six into NFL Draft picks, including

Hunter Henry , who just signed a three-year, $37.5 million deal with the New England Patriots. So as he got to describing

Luke Ford , who in 2018 was the No. 1 recruit in the entire state of Illinois and has the 6-foot-6, 260-pound profile to be a mammoth at the position, his effusive praise was enough for anyone to make a mental (or physical) note.

Luke Ford probably just played the most complete game as a tight end since I’ve been with him,” Bielema said on Monday after Illinois’ 13-9 loss to Purdue where the offense was held out of the end zone. “Also, I’ve had a lot of good tight ends in the past, this kid is playing some pretty good football right now. Unfortunately, it’s not a win. But people that watch and understand that position, when you watch 82 play, you’re going to be like, ‘OK, I get it.’ And it’s been a process between he and I to get to where we are.”

Ford had one catch for 18 yards against Purdue and has three grabs for 27 yards in his last four games. It stands to reason that he could help ignite a stagnant offense, but he’s been targeted just nine times this season and has six catches for 57 yards and a touchdown.

What Bielema was likely talking about was Ford’s blocking ability, a trait that stood out when he was a highly-coveted recruit out of Carterville (Ill.) High School — and committed to Bielema at Arkansas before decommitting and heading to Georgia. On Saturday against Purdue, Ford was part of a collective effort to slow down lodestar defensive end

George Karlaftis  from wrecking the game like a bulldozer through a straw house. Ford held his own against Karlaftis and helped keep him in check (one strip-sack) to at least give the Illini (1-4, 1-2 Big Ten) a hope and a prayer to muster enough offense to snap what was once a three-game losing streak that has ballooned to four.

“Just a lot of preparation during the week,” Ford said. “I had a lot of pressure on me to be able to maintain him, block him. It just shows that coaches trusted me to go out there and do that. I believe that having that pressure is a privilege. I just had a good week and mentally prepared for him and went out there and gave it my all against him. He’s a helluva player and he’s going to be really great in the league next year.”

If Ford has any frustration about his role as a pass-catcher in the offense, he’s not showing or saying it. Instead, he’s leaning into Bielema and the coaching staff and completing the task at hand; on Saturday, that was primarily as a blocker.

“That’s my role right now,” Ford said. “I’ve got to just accept that. Whatever they ask me to do, I’m going to do it. I’m going to give it my all doing that and whatever that be, receiving or blocking, whichever one that is, I’m going to go out there and do my job.”

After an offseason of plenty of expectations to get the tight ends involved, Illinois’ two primary players at the position, Ford and

Daniel Barker , have combined for 14 catches, 147 yards and three touchdowns in five games this season, though offensive coordinator

Tony Petersen has at times tried to scheme plays for his playmakers at the position that have been blown up by opposing defense.

Ford, understandably, has garnered a lot of attention because of his stature as a recruit and physical gifts. But tight ends, though they can be prolific pass catchers and the NFL has high-profile tight ends who are electric in the passing game, can impact a team more than as a receiver.

Ford pointed to his former Georgia teammate

Charlie Woerner , who had 34 catches for 376 yards and one touchdowns in four years as a Bulldog but has parlayed that into now his second season with the San Francisco 49ers.

“He’s playing for the 49ers and he’s been playing for a long time blocking,” Ford said. “People don’t see that. People saw

Isaac Nauta (68 catches, 905 yards, 8 TDs at Georgia) who got all the catches and stuff like that.

Charlie Woerner is still in the league. He’s blocking and he’s killing it right now for the 49ers and he’s catching balls too there. He’s caught more balls for the 49ers than he did there. Just because people don’t see it out on the field doesn’t mean that … (it’s not successful). …

“I trust Coach B. I love Coach B. He’s a great coach. All around, just the football knowledge. He’s coached many successful tight ends in the past. To have a compliment from him saying that he saw me playing good and he’s seen a lot of really good tight ends and that means the world to me. People might see success differently, but I see success as what helps the team.”

Ford seems to be staying the course and putting his full faith in the coaching staff, not only in his own development but in turning the tide on a disappointing five-game start to the season. The chance to snap a four-game skid comes at 11 a.m. Saturday against Conference USA opponent Charlotte (3-1).

The offense will need to be kickstarted for the Illini to flip a season around, or at least take some of these losses — three of four have been by seven points or less — and turn them into wins.

“We just have to do our job,” Ford said of the tight ends. "Whatever our role is, whatever the coaches ask us, we’ve got to do our job. There’s a lot of frustration because we’re within one score within four of these games. The fans feel it, we feel it. It’s tough out there. They’re building something here. These coaches are building something here that once we start to be able to turn the corner and win, they’re building something that can be sustainable and not just little pops of wins and stuff like that. We’re competitive. Right now, we’re focused on Charlotte and we’re trying to get there and get the best game plan that we can for them.

“We believe in their vision. These coaches push us harder than we’ve ever been pushed and we trust them. I’ve learned more football under these coaches than I have any of my other coaches in the past. This staff is just … it’s going to set up for sustained success over time. Right now, we’ve got to go through the growing pains of it. They just inspire hard work and working for them.”

Source :

Luke Ford doing whatever Illini need to find a win: I see success as what helps the team

Source:247 Sports

Luke Ford doing whatever Illini need to find a win: I see success as what helps the team

Watch now: Tight end Luke Ford willing to do whatever they ask to help Illinois succeed

Source:The Pantagraph

Watch now: Tight end Luke Ford willing to do whatever they ask to help Illinois succeed