Stanford tight end Austin Hooper a quick study when it comes to Steelers
February 26, 2016 12:00 AM
Darron Cummings/Associated Press
Stanford tight end Austin Hooper answers a question Thursday at the NFL combine in Indianapolis.
By Gerry Dulac / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
INDIANAPOLIS — As a student at Stanford, tight end Austin Hooper always knew to do his homework. He has certainly done it as he prepares to embark on his pro football career.
“I mean, I’d be lying to you if I said I didn’t study teams who need them,” Hooper said Thursday at the NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. “I take a look at teams who release tight ends, teams that let other guys go, not just cut them, but allow them to hit the free-agent market; and other teams that have multiple tight ends.”
Hooper was asked if he was aware Heath Miller retired from the Steelers.
“Yes, I noticed that,” Hooper said quickly. Then, to show just how much he pays attention, he quickly added, “And Rob Blanchflower is no longer part of the Steelers I believe, too.”
Now that’s really doing your homework.
“Oh yeah,” Hooper said. “Got to do my Stanford thing.”
Part of doing the Stanford thing also is upholding the school’s tight-end tradition, something Hooper has done following in the big footsteps of Coby Fleener, Levine Toilolo and Zach Ertz.
Hooper is one of the top tight ends at the combine — draft analyst Mike Mayock of the NFL Network has him rated No. 2 behind Hunter Henry of Arkansas — and, as such, has commanded the attention of the Steelers, who will be looking for someone to help ease Miller’s retirement.
The Steelers were among the teams with whom Hooper was officially scheduled to interview Thursday night. Hooper already had met Steelers tight end coach James Daniel the other night.
“Great organization,” Hooper said. “Coach J.D. seems like a real knowledgeable guy, so hopefully I can pick his brain a little bit later.”
Hooper, who measured at 6 feet 4¾, 254 pounds, can move away from the line of scrimmage, something that many teams desire for spread formations. But he said he also is big enough and strong enough to be a good in-line blocker. That combination is something the Steelers desire in their tight ends.
“I’m very physical,” Hooper said. “I grew up playing defensive line my whole life until I came to college, so the physical side of the game of football isn’t something that scares me in the slightest. I feel confident with my abilities and, hopefully, a team does, too.”
Hooper isn’t concerned that he’s not the tallest of the top tight ends in the draft class. Both Henry and Ohio State’s Nick Vannett, another top prospect in what is considered a weak class of tight ends, are 6-6. Hooper said he makes up for that with ability.
“My blocking ability, my route-running ability, my catching ability,” he said, “And if a team doesn’t like me because I’m a quarter-inch too small, then it is what it is. Hopefully, another team will.”
Gerry Dulac: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @gerrydulac.
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