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Bear Insider Video: Cal Portal Transfer TEs Alberding and Byrne

March 21, 2023

The Bears picked up a pair of experienced tight ends in the portal in December from 6-4/255 North Texas TE Asher Alberding‍ and 6-5/250 Oregon State TE JT Byrne‍. So far, the adjustment’s been smooth for both players.

"Man, it's been it's been phenomenal," Alberding said. "I mean, the adjustment, honestly, the weather the past couple weeks, I feel like I'm back in Houston. It's cold and rainy so it's not been a big transition there. But man, it's beautiful and I'm treated so well here. The facilities are obviously phenomenal. I couldn't be more excited with the staff and everybody that is here. And obviously, Coach Bloesch coming out here is a smooth transition for me personally. It's beautiful."

"Yeah, coming off what Asher said, I think I, unfortunately, brought a little bit of rain with me. But hopefully it's gonna start warming up a little bit. And living in California my whole life, it's just nice to be back home. And obviously, the staff is phenomenal. They're taking care of us, they got us in here super easily. We came in at the same time so it was an easy transition. We got right to work, which was awesome. And the coaches were super eager to start working. And now that we're in the thick of spring balls is awesome, being out playing football and yeah, pretty smooth transition.”

Both players are getting a different perspective at their position being coached by former Boise State and UC Davis offensive coordinator Tim Plough and they’re relishing the opportunity to master their position at a higher level with the additional knowledge a former OC brings to the position.

"It's awesome having three coordinators on the offensive staff," Alberding said. "It's absolutely insane. I mean, Coach Plough is so knowledgeable in all positions, especially at tight end. We have to know the run game, the past game, what the quarterback's thinking, what the O-line's thinking. Having that big picture from that entire thing is perfect for the tight end position. We have to know everything already. So knowing different concepts, knowing the run game entirely, it just helps us to be a better player and help us kind of lead the offense in a way. So we know everybody where everybody's supposed to be and then correct someone if they're doing something wrong.”

"Yeah, I think that perspective is great," Byrne agreed. "And I think Coach Plough, he just has a really good understanding of fronts. For us that's a big thing as tight ends. You have to identify fronts, identify keys with what the linebackers are doing. As a quarterback and coaching quarterbacks, you can tell when you see pressure, what's going on from a safety perspective. And I think for us, being able to recognize this will help us in the run game. And then also help get us open the pass game. He was a receivers coach for a little while, too. So that's really nice in the pass game for us just to have that perspective from him, where he truly coached receivers for a long time. So that's exciting.”

“I think they're really talented players,” offensive coordinator Jake Spavital said of the tight end unit. “I think with Asher Alberding and JT Byrne and Jeffrey Johnson and Mojo (Elijah Mojarro) and (Jack) Endries. Endries has been playing unbelievable lately.  They're doing well.

“When I was here in '16, I didn't have the tight end. I had Malik McMorris and he was awesome for me. Then when I got to West Virginia, I had an NFL tight end and I utilized him every single snap, because he was just a talented player. And I do think that these guys are talented just from an athletic standpoint, like they can do it at a high level. So you're gonna see us utilize the tight end."

Both Byrne and Alberding have shown good physicality in the block and run game and often function as essentially an extension of the offensive line, adding to the Bears’ physical presence on the field after replacing a pair of tight ends in portal transfers Jermaine Terry and Keleki Latu who often struggled with their blocking assignments.

"They are, they are and they have to be," Spavital said. "Right now I'm splitting them out. So right now I'm doing extremes when I'm calling plays. I'm either condensed and they're blocking people or I'm just gonna spread them out far wide, seeing that so we can get evaluations on what they can do, from route running ability, but then also just what is their blocking ability.

“Coach Plough has done a great job with those guys. He brings some good energy. Those guys are probably the hardest workers. They're blue collar, they line up, they're not afraid to go stick their face in there and go fight somebody, but then I always laugh when you get them out in space and have them run vertical routes and how you just get to see what they're capable of doing. So you're gonna see those guys a lot in the rotation." 

The big-picture mentality and knowledge base taught by a tight end coach who’s also been an offensive coordinator has also allowed the tight ends to play faster and without hesitation in knowing what they’re seeing from the defense.

"Absolutely," Byrne said. "I think kind of going off that is you want to play fast, but he's really emphasizing technique as well. And we understand that we're not going to be the best guys on the field and we're gonna use our strengths to the best of our ability. And he understands that too, which is really great. The technique is gonna put us ahead of people who may be faster, but use our technique to win reps."

"Yeah, absolutely," Alberding said. "In the run game, especially because we can know okay, the guard attacked us with a combo here, we know the gap might fit there, depending on what the defense is playing. When we know on the offensive side the line's assignment, that helps us with the run game exponentially and we can just kind of fly through things pretty easily."

Having the opportunity to occasionally flex out and be more integrated into the passing game is music to the ears of a position group that often are unsung heroes doing the dirty work in the trenches.

"Oh, no doubt," said Byrne with a smile. "I think coming from a pro-style offense, I'm like, whoa, 2-point stagger here, this is awesome. So, getting back in the swing of that, I did that a lot in high school. So it's kind of a smooth transition coming back. But being able to do that, go inline or slice across and all that good stuff, it's really gonna make it hard to defend. And with an emphasis on the run game, especially the tight end, I think that's really exciting because we can play stuff off that. You've got to establish the run game first and I think that's super exciting.”

Byrne was a jack of all trades in high school at Carmel High, playing multiple positions on both sides of the field so he relishes the opportunity to contribute at a higher level on offense.

"It was it was a cool experience," Byrne said. "I went to a really small school so I was able to get some linebacker in, tight end, receiver, quarterback. I was kind of like that third and short guy where it's a quarterback power or throwing a quick slant. My dad played quarterback in college so that was kind of always the dream but then I realized, okay I'm 6'5, 6'6, I've got to play tight end. But it was a really cool experience and having that perspective of seeing the defense (as a QB) or playing defense, I think that was super helpful. So I really enjoyed it but also loved transitioning to tight end."

Alberding had a similar experience as a prep at Clear Lake High School in Houston.

"My first year on varsity, I was actually a safety at 200 pounds," Alberding said. "I had three interceptions that year. It was a learning experience for me, especially and so it was awesome. My dad was my defensive coordinator and I actually played tight end one year my junior year and senior year played D-end and linebacker. Sophomore year I played safety." 

Alberding has one of the more unique names on the roster and noted its origins.

"It comes from obviously my dad's side and they're Dutch and German," Alberding said. "My grandma's dad came over from Ellis Island in New York. I'm really close to my dad's side of the family. I personally really like my name as well."

As for expectations for this season, the transfer tight ends see a lot of potential around them.

"I think we're starting to just keep rolling as an offense," said Byrne. "And we understand that you've just got to take it one day at a time and that fall is super far away, but we're making tremendous strides already. I think we're really establishing the run game, and then being able to drop back and take some shots, which is the name of the game of our offense. I think that sounds really exciting and we're continuing to grow, and we've got a lot of guys who are working really hard. Keep putting that work in, and coaches are gonna keep drawing up stuff for us to succeed. And it's gonna be really exciting. I think it's going to be super explosive." 

"Yeah, like just he was saying, we're developing chemistry," Alberding said. It's a new offense for almost everybody. And we've got some really talented guys that came in and that running back room is stacked. Obviously, skill positions are stacked. We have extremely talented players all across the board on offense. We're developing that chemistry. But what's awesome is that we get to play against one of the best defenses in the Pac-12 every single day. So being able to compare ourselves to that and keep working for it. And when we have those winning days, knowing how to stack and to keep growing from that because it is one of the best defenses in the Pac-12."

With the addition of several experienced DBs in portal transfers Nohl Williams and Kaylin Moore and JC transfer Matt Littlejohn along with transfer LBs David Reese and Serio Allen, defensive coordinator Peter Sirmon has been able to play a more aggressive defense and provide different looks to challenge the offense so far this spring.

'Yeah they're starting to figure out some of the stuff and they're coming out with some new looks," Byrne said. "So it's awesome for us because then we get to go back and make some adjustments ourselves, give them some new wrinkles, which is really exciting."


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