Archer: What makes the Patriots' use of the two-tight end package work so well?
Reiss: It starts with the unique talents of the tight ends themselves. Rob Gronkowski (6-foot-6, 265) is obviously a very tough matchup for a linebacker or safety. He's more likely to be aligned closest to the offensive tackle, but because he runs so well, the Patriots will also split him out wide. He's equally as effective as a blocker or pass-catcher, making him a true "combination" tight end. Aaron Hernandez (6-foot-1, 245) is a nice complement to Gronkowski.
He is more receiver-like and thus is split out wide more often, or on the move, although he does align close to the tackle on occasion and is competitive as an in-line blocker even though it's not his forte. We've seen the Patriots run the same offense with different tight ends and it hasn't been as effective (e.g. last year's playoffs when Gronkowski was out with injury), so I think the first key is to acknowledge that it's more about the players than the scheme when it comes to the Patriots' two-tight end package and its success.
The part that stuck out most to me is this "so I think the first key is to acknowledge that it's more about the players than the scheme when it comes to the Patriots' two-tight end package and its success."
I believe this explains a big deal as to why the previous 2 attempts to install this as a base offense has failed. Lets backtrack a little.
In 2006 Dallas drafted TE Anthony Fasano with the intentions of being that second TE. Keep in mind this was still under the Parcells regime. Fasano was and has been an average receiving TE, he fit the mold of what we now call a RKG but once Parcells left Garret was not enamored with his play.
- Fasano topped out in 2008 in Miami with 450+ yds and 7tds
- He's never compiled more than 528 yds
- Last season was his career high in catches at 41 as well as targets at 69
In attempt to replace Fasano, Dallas went back into the 2nd round in 2008 to draft Martellus Bennett. Bennett was a freak athletically and was brought in to be a receiving threat opposite Witten. Keep in mind this was under the Phillips regime where RKG was not priority. Guys such as TO, Tank Johnson, Adam Jones were all on the team. But this also marked the 2nd season in which Garret was the OC.
Bennett is an interesting case because in his first season we actually saw a glimpse of what Garret wanted to do in the 12 set. Marty B, as he would go on to be called, had a solid season.
- 20 rec on 28 targets, 14.2 yds per catch, 4 TDs mostly in the RED ZONE
But, of course there is a but, as we would go on to see Bennett was never a RKG by JGs standards and his production declined grossly. Dropped passes were regular, odd off field behavior was frequent, and he had basically became a glorified blocking TE. One can say we never used him right evident in his better season in New York but obviously he wasnt thought of highly there either as they let him walk.
If at first you dont succeed try try again right? Well thats what Jason and Co. are attempting to do with Gavin Escobar. But I sense a different feel than before. Yes we do have Hanna and I do like his potential and growth, but lets not forget his is a 6th round pick who had what 8 catches last season? Again I do like him but I believe the coaches believe Escobar is already more polished and ready than Hanna.
Escobar has been touted by scouts as having the best hands in the draft of the TEs and even heard best hands period in the draft among all players. Here is a list of his strengths:
- Excellent route runner
- Good at finding holes in the zone
- Great hands
- Deadly red zone option
At 6'6 250+ its easy to see why he would be a great red zone option. That is a welcoming sight here in big D where red zone struggles are frequent year in and year out. Ah, but the whole "he cant block" thing right?
"I think just putting more weight on and adding more bulk will help me in the run game. That’s something that’s been overlooked. I have the ability to run block. I just wasn’t utilized in that way as much in college, so I think some people overlook that part of my game." - Gavin Escobar
Now thats not to say he will be a world beater in the run game or even as good as Bennett was, but guess what? He wont be asked to! The whole he cant block thing, or we dont have a blocking TE thing is tired and old. Bottom line is the 2nd TE in the 12 set is not there to block. The only reason Bennett became the designated 3rd tackle if you will is because he flat out flamed out as a receiving option.
In New England Aaron Hernandez is not in to be a "blocking TE" at 6'1 245 he wouldn't even be at an advantage and its not even his forte. The true "combination" TE Mike Reiss of ESPN Boston speaks of is that Jason Witten. Why is Escobar different you ask? Well mainly because the timing of his arrival.
We all know of the "process" and "RKGs" that Garret is instilling here in Dallas. Where he differs from Fasano and Bennett is his combination of talent and personality makeup. Escobar gives you an excellent 6'6 receiving option but from all accounts brings you a great work ethic and willingness to get better and do what he has to do to win games.
Its been reported Romo reviewed tape of Escobar and loved the kid. I bet that has alot to do with utilizing his skill set. Defenses are going to have to account for Dez, Miles, Witten and Murrary when in the set. That leaves the 6'6 250+lb sure handed TE mostly 1 on 1 with smaller LBs and Safeties, I bet Romo was licking his chops. Just look a little closer, he's different.