Football 101 - Tightends (The Mostly Untapped Potential)

This is the fifth article in a series of articles where I will talk about the basics of Football 101.

In the last article we talked about the Defensive Secondary positions, and in this article we will deal with the basics of one of the positions on offense, the Tight End. On this article I won't talk about the techniques, I will leave that for another time, but I will discuss the origin and the role of the tight end in today's NFL.

It will also be a continuing look at one of my two favorite crusades of the last 10 years or so, and one of them is the value of the Tightend and how the untapped potential that almost all NFL teams have been missing for the most part. They essentially can't see the forest for the trees.

I posted a couple of articles dealing with this subject already but I have decided it is too important to not continue my crusade on this by going a little deeper into what is being over looked and why.

In my post from Oct 21st Tightends are a matchup Nightmare I went into the subject a little with why tight ends are doing so well because of match-up problems, Linebackers are not fast enough to cover them and safeties are too small.

In my post from Oct 22nd The Matchup Few Can See I continued with this theme showing how the concept of Height is the key factor in this situation and how speed and weight have been taken seriously by most teams, but the value of height has been largely overlooked.

Well, with the New Orleans Saints on Monday Night Football, and the unique talent of Jimmy Graham on display, the announcers mentioned something about the value of drafting Basketball players as tight-ends. "Really!" What a concept! This morning I was listening to Mike and Mike in the morning and more talk about drafting basketball players. They all mentioned Antonio Gates and Tony Gonzales, and then went to Jimmy Graham.

Finally, some people might just be starting to get what I have been on a crusade over for the last 10 years is all about and why this will be my third post on this subject. It is not just about Basketball Players, it is the height, vertical jump and wingspan that they possess.

First a little about the tight end and then a little background on the Tight End position.

From Wikipedia

"The tight end is often seen as a hybrid position with the characteristics and roles of both an offensive lineman and a wide receiver. Like offensive linemen, they are usually lined up on the offensive line and are large enough to be effective blockers. On the other hand, they are eligible receivers adept enough to warrant a defense's attention when running pass patterns.

Because of the hybrid nature of the position, the tight end's role in any given offense depends on the tactical preferences and philosophy of the head coach. In some systems, the tight end will merely act as a sixth offensive lineman rarely going out for passes. Other systems utilize the tight end primarily as a receiver, frequently taking advantage of the tight end's size to create mismatches in the defensive secondary. Many coaches will often have one tight end who specializes in blocking in running situations and while utilizing a better pass catching tight end in obvious passing situations.

Offensive formations may have between zero and three tight ends at one time. If a wide receiver is present in a formation, but outside the tight end, the wide receiver must be positioned behind the line of scrimmage (see figure to right). If two tight ends are on the same side of the line of scrimmage, the outside tight end must be behind the line of scrimmage."

"The advent of the tight end position is closely tied to the decline of the one-platoon system which happened in the 1940s and '50s. At one time, the game allowed limited substitutions- a rule derived from its evolution in other codes of football. Players had to be adept at playing on both sides of the ball and most offensive linemen were also defensive linemen or linebackers, while receivers tended to double as defensive backs. At that time, the receivers were known as either ends or flankers with the end lining up wide at the line of scrimmage and the flanker lining up slightly behind the line usually on the opposite side of the field. As the transition from one-platooning took place, it became possible for players who did not fit the mold of the traditional position to fill a niche. Players who were both good pass catchers and blockers, but were mediocre on defense were now seen as an asset instead of a liability; many of these players were too big to be receivers, yet too small to be offensive linemen, but there were those who saw the potential of having a larger receiver lined up inside. One of those was Paul Brown, the legendary coach of the Cleveland Browns. Among Brown's innovations were blocking techniques and passing schemes that utilized the unique attributes of the tight end position.

Greater use of the tight end as a receiver started in the '60s with the emergence of two players in particular, Mike Ditka and John Mackey. Until these two players, most teams considered the tight end position as almost a sixth offensive lineman, only rarely utilizing them as receivers. [1]In a 12-year career, Ditka caught 427 passes for over 5800 yards and 43 touchdowns.[1]Mackey added an entirely new dimension to the position as he had the breakaway speed of a wide receiver. In one season, 6 of his 9 touchdown passes were over 50 yards.[2]

The Coryell offense introduced the concept of a tight end that ran wide receiver-type routes with Kellen Winslow in 1980. Tight ends prior to Winslow were primarily blockers lined up next to an offensive lineman and ran short to medium drag routes.[3] Winslow was put in motion so he would not be jammed at the line, or he was lined up wide or in the slot against a smaller cornerback.[4] Former Chargers assistant coach Al Saunders said Winslow was "a wide receiver in an offensive lineman's body."[3] Back then, defenses would cover Winslow with a strong safety or a linebacker, as zone defenses were not as popular.[5] Strong safeties in those times were almost like another linebacker, a run defender who could not cover a tight end as fast as Winslow. Providing another defender to help the strong safety opened up other holes.[6] Former head coach Jon Gruden called Winslow the first "joker" in the NFL. He could line up unpredictably in any formation from a three-point stance as a blocker to a two-point stance or being in motion as a receiver.[7] Head coach Bill Belichick notes that the pass-catching tight ends that get paid the most money are "all direct descendants of Kellen Winslow" and there are fewer tight ends now that can block on the line.[7]

In the 90's, Shannon Sharpe helped the position evolve to the point where the tight end was integral to a teams success and changed the way tight ends where utilized by teams, evidenced by him becoming the first tight end in NFL history with over 10.000 career receiving yards. Since Sharpe, Antonio Gates & Tony Gonzalez are the only tight ends to surpass his records, both having scored more touchdowns than Sharpe, and Gonzalez having recorded more yards and catches as well."

And now for more on the reason why I believe you will eventually see more tight ends on an NFL team, and more Safeties or Linebackers that are Tight End size that can play safety or Linebacker (Bruce Carter, anyone).

Follow me here for a moment.

Back to the matchup problems that tight ends cause. There is a belief that a guy that is 6 feet tall will normally have a slightly bigger "Wing Span", say maybe 6 foot 3 inch wing span. Well there are basketball players that have wing spans that are 10 -12 inches and greater when comparing their wing span to their height. For example a guy that is 6' 6" might have a wing span of 7' 6", a 12 inch difference.

The reason for me bringing this up should be obvious. When the QB is looking for a safety valve, he doesn't normally want to have a 6" window to fit it in, he would like as big a window as possible. Now when you have a guy that is 6' 6" and has a 7' 6" wingspan, he has a huge window to throw to compared to a guy who is covering him that might be a 6 foot safety who has a 6' 3" wing span, which may be typical in the NFL.

So, when New England lines up with it's"jumbo" or "12" package, the defense has to set up as if it is a run. If Brady sees what he likes he will audible to send one or both TE's out into the pass routes and the results for those two TE's are there for all to see.

Bill Walsh built his West Coast Offense off the concept that he would have all 5 skill people be available to be receivers and then each game plan was designed to exploit each opponents match up weaknesses.

Suppose you had all of your receivers on the team be at least 6' 8" or taller, do you think you would have any problem in marching down the field every single time you had the ball, and would just have to have the ball be thrown up with enough of an arch so that every pass was almost like a jump ball in basketball.

Calvin Johnson is almost like a tight end. He has a 6-10 wingspan and a 42½-inch vertical jump. You can double cover him in the end zone and it doesn't matter....both of those 6' 0" guys are going to be out jumped, assuming their vertical jump is about normal.

Imagine Dirk Nowitzki and a jump ball with a 6' point guard like Allen Iverson, would Dirk have any problem? Not at 7 feet tall and a 7' 4" wing span. What if that ball was a Football? Well, as long as the guy can catch.....

So, If the NFL front office folks catch on like they should, you will see the offense become even more of a passing league because of the increase in using the tight end mismatch, and the defense will as usual have to respond. And the only way I can see them responding will be to match the height on offense, with the same height player on defense.

It happened with the speedy wide receivers being covered with speedy corners, and with the big hitter safety types like Roy Williams getting beat like a drum because of his lack of cover skills, you are starting to see more and more safeties becoming less of the big hitter types and more like bigger corners and perhaps linebackers being more like tight ends. Well if my crystal ball is in good working order, we will continue to see the Tight End dominate in next years draft even more so than it did this year.

So, if you think teams are looking for "taller corners" now, just wait, they will have to have tall safeties or linebackers to cover the tall receivers and tight ends, and shorter, super fast corners to cover the smaller and quicker Deshan Jackson type receivers unless they go to all 6' 6" tall or taller receivers all the way around.

I just wonder what took them so long.....nah, it is easy, it is the "not invented here syndrome", and the "that is the way we always did it" answer.

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