JACKSONVILLE – Chris Manhertz wasn't going to play power forward in the NBA.
Manhertz, a tight end who signed with the Jaguars as an unrestricted free agent this past March, averaged just over six points and just under seven rebounds per game playing for the Canisius College's men's basketball team from 2010-2014.
He was thinking about life after college when the Buffalo Bills offered a chance.
"Why not?" Manhertz said with a smile Friday after Day 8 practice of Jaguars 2021 Training Camp at the Dream Finders Homes Practice Complex. "It was a hell of an opportunity that was presented to me, and I tried it and liked it and it's safe to say it's one of the best bets I ever made, and it's been great."
Manhertz had seen other basketball players make the transition from college to the NFL, including players such as Antonio Gates and Marcus Pollard – the latter of whom is now director of player development and youth football for the Jaguars.
Manhertz moved from Buffalo to New Orleans, spending the 2015 season on the Saints practice squad. He made another jump in 2016 – to the Saints' active roster. From there, he moved to Carolina – where he fine-tuned his craft.
"We feel like he is one of the best blocking tight ends in the NFL," Panthers head coach Matt Rhule said.
Jaguars Head Coach Urban Meyer moved quickly during free agency this past offseason, making Manhertz a priority as he began to build a team that could run with power.
"I take a lot of pride in that," Manhertz said Friday. "We know the tight end position is not only receiving – and I think it's easy to see all the highlights and stuff – but this is a very gritty, Swiss Army type of position. You're asked to run routes, you're asked to block and get your hand in the dirt and try and put a six-technique on his back. So, you have to embrace all those things to be a well-rounded tight end."
Manhertz has had a nice camp, showing the ability to run routes and be a factor in the passing game in the first week. He considers himself a player who can do both and is working every day to be ready when the next opportunity presents itself.
"If you're a tight end, you're a tight end," he said. "Depending on what coaching staff you have, they'll ask you to do certain things. But as a tight end, you're expected to make a play when the quarterback throws it to you, and you're expected to make a play in the running game when the back is running to your side. You have to embrace both to be a good tight end in this league."
Manhertz caught up with longtime Jaguars tight end Marcedes Lewis this summer at Tight End University, where several top tight ends gathered to work together. Manhertz said Lewis was "a great guy whose style of play is something I have studied." Lewis has been considered one of the best blocking tight ends since coming into the NFL 16 seasons ago. "There's a reason why he's been playing as long as he has," Manhertz said of Lewis, who also played basketball at UCLA. "Being somebody who is similar to him in terms of style of play, it was great to have the chance to have him there and learning from him."
Much has been made about Meyer's transition from Hall of Fame college coach to first-year NFL head coach. So far, the results are promising, and longtime NFL defensive coach Joe Cullen isn't surprised. "Some guys ask and never listen," Cullen, the Jaguars' defensive coordinator, said. "Coach listens and if he asks you then he is really deeply going to think about it and it could be any number of things from how long you're going to practice to what you do in certain situations. There's a lot of different things and he is interested in them all."
Cullen on outside linebacker/defensive end K'Lavon Chaisson: "We expect more from him. We're just trying to fine tune some of his technique." Chaisson appeared improved Friday, going one-on-one against offensive tackle Will Richardson Jr. and winning some battles. Chaisson struggled at times in that drill early this week against rookie tackle Walker Little, who has shined thus far in camp.
Offensive guard Andrew Norwell worked on the side during Friday's practice. That gave second-year offensive lineman Ben Bartch the chance to run with the first-team offensive line. The offensive line as a whole played well on Friday; the first two plays of run-period team drills were explosive runs from running backs James Robinson and Carlos Hyde.
Quarterback Gardner Minshew II on training camp under Meyer: "It's a big difference from really any camp I've been in. Some of the stuff he talks about … building a culture … it's not just words on the wall. He means it. He means everything he says. He's giving us different tools, different mental skills, different edges, to help us win."