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Cosell Talks: The Tight End Factor


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#1 Faust

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Posted 02 March 2012 - 02:08 PM

Great article!


Cosell Talks: The Tight End Factor

by Greg Cosell

I just returned from my 13th consecutive journey to the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. It is probably my favorite road trip. I get a chance to talk football with coaches, scouts, personnel executives and writers. It’s a phenomenal learning opportunity. You can’t focus on everything when you watch coaching tape, and hearing different perspectives and points of view was really rewarding.

One thing that kept coming up was the tight end position and its impact on the game. The tight end is now a movable chess piece, a gifted athlete who can align anywhere in the formation. We have come a long way since the 1995 draft, when the two tight ends taken in the first round, Kyle Brady with the ninth overall pick and Mark Bruener with the 27th, were primarily blockers in the run game. As we move toward the 2012 season, the tight end has evolved into a dynamic receiving threat who can threaten all levels of the defense and cause all kinds of coverage problems.

So the question, in this constantly changing NFL world, is how do defenses match up to the likes of Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Jimmy Graham, and Vernon Davis? They represent the new frontier of offensive football, and it is only in its infancy. The defensive coaches I spoke with all addressed this issue, and they did so voluntarily.

One common theme was the increased importance of the safety position — more specifically, the need to find safeties who can cover man-to-man. In the not-too-distant past, safeties were rarely viewed as players to be chosen in the first or even second round of a draft, unless they were believed to be truly special athletes. The conventional wisdom was you could always find a quality safety in the third or fourth round, like a Chris Hope, chosen in the third round in 2002. Hope has been an eight-year starter with Pittsburgh and Tennessee with a Pro Bowl season in his tool kit.

The reason behind that thinking made sense. Safeties predominantly fit into two categories: physical box safeties and rangy deep safeties. When teams played “Cover 2,” with the deep part of the field cut in half, the need for speed and range was somewhat minimized. A great example of this Cover 2 fit was John Lynch, a nine-time Pro Bowl safety on the Bucs’ great defenses of the late 1990s and early 2000s. By the way, Lynch also was a third-round pick.

As good as Lynch was, and he was terrific, would he be a dinosaur in today’s NFL? If you play in the AFC East against Gronkowski and Hernandez, or the NFC South against Graham, or the NFC West against Davis, you need safeties who can cover or you will have matchup issues. Offenses are so good with their use of personnel and formations that if you have a coverage weakness at safety, they will find it and exploit it. Remember the NFC playoff game between San Francisco and New Orleans? Late in the fourth quarter, Davis split wide left as a wide receiver. He ran right by Malcolm Jenkins and caught a 37-yard fade route.

You will not win the AFC East if you cannot at least minimize the impact of Gronkowski. And that doesn’t even address Hernandez, who really needs to be treated as a wide receiver. The point is clear: a cover safety is at a premium in 2012. The working model the past number of years had always been that quarterbacks, left tackles, pass rushers and corners were the most highly valued players. You may want to add cover safety to the short list.


Edited by Faust, 02 March 2012 - 02:12 PM.




#2 JohnnyU

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Posted 02 March 2012 - 02:48 PM

The TEs mentioned in the article and Dallas Clark before them, defenses will eventually solve the modern TE just like offenses solved the 46 defense, then the Cover 2. The league is constantly evolving. That's what I love about it, with the exception of not allowing defense to lay good hits on QBs and WRs.

Hopes that were high in the heat of September ... can wilt and die in the chill of November. November can be cold and grey, November can be surly with bitter rain upon the world and winter coming early.
- John Facenda



 


#3 wiscstlatlmia

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Posted 02 March 2012 - 05:21 PM

The TEs mentioned in the article and Dallas Clark before them, defenses will eventually solve the modern TE just like offenses solved the 46 defense, then the Cover 2. The league is constantly evolving. That's what I love about it, with the exception of not allowing defense to lay good hits on QBs and WRs.

:thumbup: Totally agree

#4 Faust

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Posted 25 March 2012 - 09:04 AM

Notre Dame's Smith looks to fill NFL need at safety

Posted March 25, 2012 @ 8:24 a.m. ET
By Kevin Fishbain

You need to watch only one highlight of Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski to realize how desperate some teams are for a versatile safety a player who can have the coverage skills to stick with the new breed of tight ends while also having the ability to be physical and stop the run in the box.

Harrison Smith thinks he can be that player.

The former Notre Dame safety is expected to be a late first- or early second-round pick in April's draft. He played some linebacker earlier in his college career and believes he can be the solution teams are looking for at the position.

"Safety's definitely where I've felt the most comfortable because you can see everything so well, " Smith told PFW. "You can see the whole formation and where everyone is on offense and defense. You can come down and play the run and also be involved in the pass game.

"It's an area where you can impact so much, even pre-snap, because you're the one making the calls and adjustments."

Smith first moved to safety in Pee Wee football around the age of 10 in his hometown of Knoxville, Tenn. He had been playing corner and running back, but wanted to play linebacker like University of Tennessee LB Raynoch Thompson of the hometown Volunteers. "I thought he was the best," Smith said. Instead, Smith's coach told him to watch another Volunteer Deon Grant.

"I started paying attention to (Grant). He made a lot of interceptions and plays. He was fun to watch," Smith said.

Chuck Martin will be the Fighting Irish's offensive coordinator in 2012, but he was the defensive backs coach the past two seasons, focusing on Smith and the safeties in 2011. Smith had bounced from safety to linebacker and was coming off a rough sophomore season when Martin joined the staff.

"He did not have a great sophomore year. I think that's an understatement," Martin said. "I don't think he was really ever comfortable at either spot, but he played a lot because he was a talented kid."

When Martin first saw Smith on the practice field, though, he knew there was plenty to work with.

"The first day in practice I saw the incredible things he could do on the field. His athleticism, length and toughness," Martin said. "Three practices into my first spring, I told him, 'If you're not a first-, second- or third-round draft choice, I know nothing about football.' His response was, 'did you watch any of my tape from last year, Coach?' I said, 'Yeah, I've watched your tape. I'm telling you that you have every tool and then some to be an incredible safety.' "

As a junior in 2010, Smith made 91 tackles and hauled in seven interceptions. He had 90 tackles and a forced fumble in his senior season in '11.

Playing for Notre Dame, Smith had the pleasure and challenge of going up against elite tight ends in practice. First, it was Kyle Rudolph, who just finished his rookie season with the Vikings. Last season, he had to try to man up against Tyler Eifert, who had 63 catches for 803 yards and five touchdowns. Smith doesn't have to look far for experience in covering athletic tight ends, like the ones NFL teams are desperately trying to stop.

"That's something that when I started playing safety, I never thought about it. With all the tight ends that are just freaks, monsters they're fast and athletic with great hands there's really a need for safeties that can match up better with those guys than putting a smaller defensive back on him," Smith said.

Martin is confident that Smith has the skill set to run with and cover the Gronkowskis of the NFL.

"He's not as big as those tight ends but he's big for a safety. He's a long-limbed kid," Martin said. Smith measured 6-1 7/8, 213 pounds with a wingspan of more than 76 inches at the NFL Scouting Combine.

"He has long arms, long range and incredible running ability," Martin continued. "He can run with any of them. Some guys are straight-line fast, but Harrison has body control. He's going to be athletic enough to twist and torque and try to make some plays from positions where you're behind a guy or on his back shoulder. He's used to covering 6-foot-5 guys that can run."

When pressed on Smith's weaknesses, though, Martin didn't have a whole lot to offer, and neither did the scouts he has talked to.

"The feedback I'm getting from guys I've known a while that are high up on NFL brass as far as drafting say, 'we don't know what the kid doesn't have,' " Martin said. "Scouts are telling me, 'what are we missing?' I said, 'you're not missing anything.' And (Smith) has done nothing but help himself with the Combine and interviews."

In PFW's 2012 Draft Guide, Nolan Nawrocki wrote that Smith left his feet to make hits too often. Smith had an opportunity to respond to the report.

"Obviously, a competitor is going to disagree on the negatives. Early in my career, I left my feet to make a lot of tackles. If you watch this most recent season, my tackling and technique are much improved," he said. "I don't leave my feet unless I'm going to make the tackle. I didn't miss too many tackles this past year."

Smith then discussed another knock on him that he absorbs too much.

"When I watch a football game and a running back goes up the middle and the safety brings him down, but the safety gets knocked back, they say he got run over," Smith explained. "To me, that doesn't make sense (laughs). At the end of the day, he tackled him. I don't think I get overpowered on the field. Sometimes I need to give more to get the ballcarriers down instead of going in there recklessly and throwing your body around.

"There's always room to improve. I'm not going to say I'm flawless."

Smith, 23, was a vocal leader at Notre Dame and has the qualities to "wow" an NFL team with his personality.

"Once you meet him and interview him, you'll like him 10 times more," Martin said. "(Teams) will say 'holy cow, he's everything you said.' That's how God made him. Very gifted, very genuine."

Smith's time at Notre Dame was atypical. The Fighting Irish went through two head coaches in his time in South Bend and not as many wins as the program was used to. Smith discussed what he learned from the experience.

"No matter what, I control what I do. Maybe you don't win as many games as you want or things don't quite go your way, but at the end of the day you can only control yourself," he said. "I was ready to be a leader on the team, where guys looked to me for an example, a word of advice, anything really.

"That whole process, the ups and downs, made me really appreciate the ups and fight through the downs, which at the end of the day makes you a better player and a more confident player."

Smith already might speak like a veteran, or even a coach, and Martin told an anecdote where Smith shined in an opportunity to coach on the flag football field.

Martin asked Smith to coach his son's 11-year-old flag football team last winter. "I knew he'd do a great job and the kids would love him," Martin said. But the team's opponent that week had previously beaten Martin's team 66-0.

"I called him after the game and said, 'sorry, didn't mean to do that to you. I appreciate you helping me out when I'm on the road.' They lost 13-4," Martin said with a laugh. "I come home the next week, and they all wanted Harrison to coach them."



#5 Run It Up

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Posted 25 March 2012 - 09:13 AM

The TEs mentioned in the article and Dallas Clark before them, defenses will eventually solve the modern TE just like offenses solved the 46 defense, then the Cover 2. The league is constantly evolving. That's what I love about it, with the exception of not allowing defense to lay good hits on QBs and WRs.

This isnt the wildcat, this isnt some formation. Its a single player that plays multiple roles. You cant do anything to stop it without compromising your defenses integrity. I realize that just because someone hasnt yet, doesnt mean its impossible to stop. But seriously think about it, what are you gonna do? Start drafting 6 feet tall CBs, Safeties and LBs? Then what? Teach em to be faster and stronger? Makes me think about Canadian Football except instead of having a bunch of CBs on defense you have a bunch of TEs (that cant stop the run or anyone but TEs).

Edited by Run It Up, 25 March 2012 - 09:25 AM.

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#6 Joe Bryant

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Posted 25 March 2012 - 10:14 AM

Love this kind of FB discussion. :thumbup: J
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#7 BigTex

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Posted 25 March 2012 - 11:48 AM


The TEs mentioned in the article and Dallas Clark before them, defenses will eventually solve the modern TE just like offenses solved the 46 defense, then the Cover 2. The league is constantly evolving. That's what I love about it, with the exception of not allowing defense to lay good hits on QBs and WRs.

This isnt the wildcat, this isnt some formation.

Its a single player that plays multiple roles. You cant do anything to stop it without compromising your defenses integrity.

I realize that just because someone hasnt yet, doesnt mean its impossible to stop. But seriously think about it, what are you gonna do? Start drafting 6 feet tall CBs, Safeties and LBs? Then what? Teach em to be faster and stronger?

Makes me think about Canadian Football except instead of having a bunch of CBs on defense you have a bunch of TEs (that cant stop the run or anyone but TEs).

The Denver Broncos won a superbowl with Atwater 6'3, Fletcher 6'5, Romanoski 6'4, and Cadrez 6'3. Granted the CBs weren't that big but the LBs and FS was big enough to cover and hit like monsters so the idea is not too far fetched!!
"Football is my religion... the Shark Pool, my temple...the Draft Dominator, my tools of prayer and fear is not an option."

"I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain..."

#8 fridayfrenzy

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Posted 07 April 2012 - 09:17 AM


The TEs mentioned in the article and Dallas Clark before them, defenses will eventually solve the modern TE just like offenses solved the 46 defense, then the Cover 2. The league is constantly evolving. That's what I love about it, with the exception of not allowing defense to lay good hits on QBs and WRs.

This isnt the wildcat, this isnt some formation.

Its a single player that plays multiple roles. You cant do anything to stop it without compromising your defenses integrity.

I realize that just because someone hasnt yet, doesnt mean its impossible to stop. But seriously think about it, what are you gonna do? Start drafting 6 feet tall CBs, Safeties and LBs? Then what? Teach em to be faster and stronger?

Seattle has done this.

Brandon Browner - 6 feet 4 inches - 221 lbs
Richard Sherman - 6 feet 2 inches - 194 lbs
Kam Chancellor - 6 feet 3 inches - 232 lbs
KJ Wright - 6 feet 4 inches - 246 lbs

Thanks for the update, I was just wondering how your team was doing.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>


#9 RavenLunatic

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Posted 07 April 2012 - 08:42 PM

Another reason to love the Patriot TEs. They free each other because you can't stop both. And even if you had the personel in to match in coverage, they can line Hernandez in the backfield as a tailback and run it against a weak run D formation. Stack the box and Brady hits Gronk or Welker over the middle. And now he can hit Lloyd deep too!!!

#10 Matt Waldman

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Posted 08 April 2012 - 11:59 AM

I'll add to the Cosell discussion with one I had with himbefore the season.

"Greg Cosell is the co-author of The Games That Changed the Game with former Eagles quarterback and ESPN analyst Ron Jaworski. The senior producer has watched decades of NFL coaches tape the all-22 angle that very few people gain consistent access. In Part I of this conversation, Cosell graciously undergoes a voir dire of his knowledge of nearly two-dozen current players. In this portion of our conversation, Cosell supplies his take on the Patriots duo of second-year tight ends, quarterbacking in different eras of the pro game, and his thoughts on several rookies from the 2011 Draft class.

Waldman: Tell me what you observe with the Patriots offense and its use of Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski. Do you feel they will compete for opportunities or do you think they complement each other? Or maybe a better way to ask this question is how do you see each player best used to attack opposing defenses?

Cosell: I think Gronkowski is an all-around tight end who can do everything. I think hes a better Jason Witten because hes a little more athletic. Im a big fan of him based on what Ive seen and I saw a lot of him last year. I think hes better on the line of scrimmage.

Hernandez is a Joker, thats a term I use for a guy that lines up all over the formation. Hes more of a wide receiver in the way he moves. My guess is that youll rarely see him lined up on the line of scrimmage in a traditional tight end formation.

I really liked Hernandez coming out and I was surprised...[link to rest]

#11 Tackling Dummies

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Posted 08 April 2012 - 12:10 PM


The TEs mentioned in the article and Dallas Clark before them, defenses will eventually solve the modern TE just like offenses solved the 46 defense, then the Cover 2. The league is constantly evolving. That's what I love about it, with the exception of not allowing defense to lay good hits on QBs and WRs.

This isnt the wildcat, this isnt some formation.

Its a single player that plays multiple roles. You cant do anything to stop it without compromising your defenses integrity.

I realize that just because someone hasnt yet, doesnt mean its impossible to stop. But seriously think about it, what are you gonna do? Start drafting 6 feet tall CBs, Safeties and LBs? Then what? Teach em to be faster and stronger?

Makes me think about Canadian Football except instead of having a bunch of CBs on defense you have a bunch of TEs (that cant stop the run or anyone but TEs).

^This in a big way. Teams will start doubling up on athletic TEs, making pre snap reads impossible and lining up w/ a stacked secondary formation for a different play.

#12 Grid71

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Posted 08 April 2012 - 03:49 PM

Definitely an interesting article. The evolution of the NFL game has been fun to watch over the years. One of the beautiful parts about featuring 2 freak TEs is they should come cheaper than elite WR. It's a hard offense to duplicate, so defenses will tend to be slow to react. The AFC East should be among the first group to react defensively.

#13 Steed

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Posted 08 April 2012 - 04:17 PM

Did anyone solve the enigmas that were Shannon Sharpe, Antonio Gates, and Tony Gonzalez? Stud players ball out. Same as it ever was.

#14 eric rymer

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Posted 09 April 2012 - 04:49 AM

Did anyone solve the enigmas that were Shannon Sharpe, Antonio Gates, and Tony Gonzalez? Stud players ball out. Same as it ever was.

Denver used to handle Tony G by lining Champ Bailey over him. But KC didn't really have the "other" weapons like Hernandez, Welker and Lloyd.

I'll never understand the "answer mine and I'll answer yours" angle.

If you can't answer your own questions, why would I be comfortable with you answering mine?


#15 Holy Schneikes

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Posted 09 April 2012 - 05:26 AM

It's the schemes, not the players. Yeah, these guys are very athletic, but they aren't head and shoulders above their peers in that department over the past 10 years or so. How they are being used and featured is really helping them put up the eye-popping numbers. Vernon Davis is probably the most athletically imposing TE in the league, but he hasn't put up monster numbers because he hasn't played in an offense designed for that to happen. I don't want to take anything away from Gronk, because he is an excellent player and receiver, but his physical traits alone just don't account for his production. In fact at draft time many questioned his ability to stretch the field and his overall elusiveness. Obviously, those things aren't hurting him, but if you put him on a different team, he MAY well be just another solid productive guy. Having a TE that is a lot bigger than corners and sometimes faster than LBs is NOT something new. That's been the case for many many years. Certain teams are just taking better advantage of it at the moment. Since I believe it is the scheme, I also believe it could go away at any time as teams adjust. Don't know if or when, just believe it could. We've seen a lot of of unstoppable forces that were basically figured out and stopped.

#16 Caveman_Nick

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Posted 09 April 2012 - 05:55 AM

I have been having a conversation about this for a few years with some of my friends. I think the answer for NFL teams might lie in trying to convert some of these TEs to safety. One big, fast, dominant guy in the secondary could make a world of difference. A guy that's a bit more of a blocker than a pass catcher, mainly because he has all the tools but the hands to be a guy like Hernandez.

#17 Holy Schneikes

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Posted 09 April 2012 - 07:16 AM

Gronk would get eaten alive at safety. Almost all of the other TEs would as well. The reason you don't see 6'5" guys at safety is that the vast majority wouldn't be able to handle the range requirements of the (either) safety position. Hell, a lot of the 6'1" guys can't cover (movement-wise) well enough as it is. It's always better to have bigger, faster guys at every position in theory. A 350 lb lineman who runs a 4.4 would be pretty sweet just like a 350 lb WR who runs a 4.4 would be. But in reality, the positions have evolved to the average sizes they have for a reason (not to say they can't or won't change). The league will always have a use for size/speed ratio freaks, but there will be certain "minimum" requirements for each at a given position (not a hard cutoff, but a vague requirement for linemen to be big and corners etc to be fast). Davis is a guy that could probably play a lot of positions effectively, and there are probably others. But I just don't buy the implication that these "new" TEs are all of the sudden the end-all be-all of physical specimens. Some are, some aren't, but in general they are just bigger guys who are relatively quick/fast for their size. I don't pretend to know what Belichick and co. are doing to make the TEs so outrageously effective (I'd throw Graham in there too, but by all accounts the guy is more of an overgrown WR than a real TE, hardly ever blocking, and lining up in the slot or at an outside receiver spot as often as not), but I strongly suspect that several other TEs around the league could do nearly as well in that same system.

#18 jurb26

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Posted 09 April 2012 - 07:31 AM

Gronk would get eaten alive at safety. Almost all of the other TEs would as well. The reason you don't see 6'5" guys at safety is that the vast majority wouldn't be able to handle the range requirements of the (either) safety position. Hell, a lot of the 6'1" guys can't cover (movement-wise) well enough as it is. It's always better to have bigger, faster guys at every position in theory. A 350 lb lineman who runs a 4.4 would be pretty sweet just like a 350 lb WR who runs a 4.4 would be. But in reality, the positions have evolved to the average sizes they have for a reason (not to say they can't or won't change). The league will always have a use for size/speed ratio freaks, but there will be certain "minimum" requirements for each at a given position (not a hard cutoff, but a vague requirement for linemen to be big and corners etc to be fast). Davis is a guy that could probably play a lot of positions effectively, and there are probably others. But I just don't buy the implication that these "new" TEs are all of the sudden the end-all be-all of physical specimens. Some are, some aren't, but in general they are just bigger guys who are relatively quick/fast for their size. I don't pretend to know what Belichick and co. are doing to make the TEs so outrageously effective (I'd throw Graham in there too, but by all accounts the guy is more of an overgrown WR than a real TE, hardly ever blocking, and lining up in the slot or at an outside receiver spot as often as not), but I strongly suspect that several other TEs around the league could do nearly as well in that same system.

It's not just that some teams have great schemes for opening up their TEs, see NE as you pointed out. It's also that the modern rules have skewed towards the favor of offense, WRs and perhaps most of all TEs. The rules that have gone into effect have reduced the physicallity with which DBs are able to play. IMO, this is a huge advantge for big and athletic TEs because they often times reliy upon their own phsicallity to get open. They also, unlike WRs, nearly always have to break away from a man at the LOS to get into their route as they are lined up in the box. Well, at least they used to have to break away at the LOS. With more and more flags for illegal contact and holding on the deffensive players, the NFL has limited the ability of defensese to be able to slow these TEs down at the snap and off the ball. In years past, these TEs would be mauled as they tried to release. Now, it's almost an open door policy or else there is a flag. The best way to contain a TE is to not allow him into his route. This used to be much easier than it is now. On top of that, I know this may sound odd but, it is also best to play big athletic TEs physically as often as possible. Smaller and quicker DBs can always reliy upon their better overall athletic ability to recover even if they "miss" when being physical with a TE. That is now largely mitigated. On top of this, there is the move, or should I say forced move, of NFL defenses to more zone coverage schemes. Particularly cover 2. Cover 2 is notoriusly bad at leaving the middle of the field open in the gap between the safeties, yet beyond the LBs drop. Add this in with the free release TEs now get and you can see how this problem compounds itself. There is more and more I could go into, but this IMO is the basic jist of why TEs are becoming more and more productive. It is a combination of elements and coaches like BB have caught on faster than most to manipulate the modern rules in their favor.

#19 bengalbuck

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Posted 09 April 2012 - 08:01 AM

Gronk would get eaten alive at safety. Almost all of the other TEs would as well. The reason you don't see 6'5" guys at safety is that the vast majority wouldn't be able to handle the range requirements of the (either) safety position. Hell, a lot of the 6'1" guys can't cover (movement-wise) well enough as it is. It's always better to have bigger, faster guys at every position in theory. A 350 lb lineman who runs a 4.4 would be pretty sweet just like a 350 lb WR who runs a 4.4 would be. But in reality, the positions have evolved to the average sizes they have for a reason (not to say they can't or won't change). The league will always have a use for size/speed ratio freaks, but there will be certain "minimum" requirements for each at a given position (not a hard cutoff, but a vague requirement for linemen to be big and corners etc to be fast). Davis is a guy that could probably play a lot of positions effectively, and there are probably others. But I just don't buy the implication that these "new" TEs are all of the sudden the end-all be-all of physical specimens. Some are, some aren't, but in general they are just bigger guys who are relatively quick/fast for their size. I don't pretend to know what Belichick and co. are doing to make the TEs so outrageously effective (I'd throw Graham in there too, but by all accounts the guy is more of an overgrown WR than a real TE, hardly ever blocking, and lining up in the slot or at an outside receiver spot as often as not), but I strongly suspect that several other TEs around the league could do nearly as well in that same system.

It's not just that some teams have great schemes for opening up their TEs, see NE as you pointed out. It's also that the modern rules have skewed towards the favor of offense, WRs and perhaps most of all TEs. The rules that have gone into effect have reduced the physicallity with which DBs are able to play. IMO, this is a huge advantge for big and athletic TEs because they often times reliy upon their own phsicallity to get open. They also, unlike WRs, nearly always have to break away from a man at the LOS to get into their route as they are lined up in the box. Well, at least they used to have to break away at the LOS. With more and more flags for illegal contact and holding on the deffensive players, the NFL has limited the ability of defensese to be able to slow these TEs down at the snap and off the ball. In years past, these TEs would be mauled as they tried to release. Now, it's almost an open door policy or else there is a flag. The best way to contain a TE is to not allow him into his route. This used to be much easier than it is now. On top of that, I know this may sound odd but, it is also best to play big athletic TEs physically as often as possible. Smaller and quicker DBs can always reliy upon their better overall athletic ability to recover even if they "miss" when being physical with a TE. That is now largely mitigated. On top of this, there is the move, or should I say forced move, of NFL defenses to more zone coverage schemes. Particularly cover 2. Cover 2 is notoriusly bad at leaving the middle of the field open in the gap between the safeties, yet beyond the LBs drop. Add this in with the free release TEs now get and you can see how this problem compounds itself. There is more and more I could go into, but this IMO is the basic jist of why TEs are becoming more and more productive. It is a combination of elements and coaches like BB have caught on faster than most to manipulate the modern rules in their favor.

I think what you mention here is a huge part of it. Probably the biggest part. I also think that the 2 TE formation has become more popular as a way to deal with the 3-4 and zone blitz that has become much more prevalent over the past decade or so. We are starting to see a shift back to towards the 4-3, but it had gotten to the point a couple years ago where 3-4 was arguably the most common defense. I think the double TE is a response to that shift and part of the reason we are seeing many teams deciding to move back to the 4-3 is the trouble the formation causes. The capability to go 7 wide on the line is a real challenge to 3-4 schemes and in some ways it is the offensive equivalent of a zone blitz because Ds don't know who is going to stay in and block and who is going to go downfield. Makes it harder to bring some of those Dick Lebeau style blitzes that had come to dominate the game for a period of time because often those players who could come hard on blitzes now have increased coverage responsibilities and can be hurt much worse when a speedy guy like Hernandez gets the ball in space. It also has become more popular due to the reduced role of the FB. In some ways, guys like Hernandez are almost a 21st century FB but with way more skills obviously. Especially when you look at how the Pats use him in motion and along the line of scrimmage sometimes. The increase in 1 back sets has led directly to the increased use of that 2nd TE as a "joker" type player. The decreased use of the FB kind of gave OCs an "extra" spot to play around with in their formations and the 2nd TE as joker has been one of the successful methods they've devised to use that extra spot.

#20 Holy Schneikes

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Posted 09 April 2012 - 08:15 AM

It's not just that some teams have great schemes for opening up their TEs, see NE as you pointed out. It's also that the modern rules have skewed towards the favor of offense, WRs and perhaps most of all TEs. The rules that have gone into effect have reduced the physicallity with which DBs are able to play. IMO, this is a huge advantge for big and athletic TEs because they often times reliy upon their own phsicallity to get open. They also, unlike WRs, nearly always have to break away from a man at the LOS to get into their route as they are lined up in the box. Well, at least they used to have to break away at the LOS. With more and more flags for illegal contact and holding on the deffensive players, the NFL has limited the ability of defensese to be able to slow these TEs down at the snap and off the ball. In years past, these TEs would be mauled as they tried to release. Now, it's almost an open door policy or else there is a flag. The best way to contain a TE is to not allow him into his route. This used to be much easier than it is now. On top of that, I know this may sound odd but, it is also best to play big athletic TEs physically as often as possible. Smaller and quicker DBs can always reliy upon their better overall athletic ability to recover even if they "miss" when being physical with a TE. That is now largely mitigated. On top of this, there is the move, or should I say forced move, of NFL defenses to more zone coverage schemes. Particularly cover 2. Cover 2 is notoriusly bad at leaving the middle of the field open in the gap between the safeties, yet beyond the LBs drop. Add this in with the free release TEs now get and you can see how this problem compounds itself. There is more and more I could go into, but this IMO is the basic jist of why TEs are becoming more and more productive. It is a combination of elements and coaches like BB have caught on faster than most to manipulate the modern rules in their favor.

That makes a ton of sense. I just didn't think it was really about the players themselves, which is what you see in the news more often than not. If anyone was going to do some ground-breaking from a physical perspective, it was going to be a guy like Davis, not a guy like Gronkowski. That said, I thought the defense still got five yards to basically do whatever they always have at the line? I thought the rule changes (and changes in emphasis) were more about the down the field stuff. It also seems that a lot of teams still more or less ignore the pass catching TE option, and if the rules are that skewed, I wonder why more schemes aren't taking advantage (more and more are of course, but there were still only 3 TEs in the top 30 receivers last year, and as mentioned, one of them basically plays receiver anyway).

#21 Jeff Pasquino

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Posted 09 April 2012 - 08:26 AM

It's the schemes, not the players. Yeah, these guys are very athletic, but they aren't head and shoulders above their peers in that department over the past 10 years or so. How they are being used and featured is really helping them put up the eye-popping numbers. Vernon Davis is probably the most athletically imposing TE in the league, but he hasn't put up monster numbers because he hasn't played in an offense designed for that to happen. I don't want to take anything away from Gronk, because he is an excellent player and receiver, but his physical traits alone just don't account for his production. In fact at draft time many questioned his ability to stretch the field and his overall elusiveness. Obviously, those things aren't hurting him, but if you put him on a different team, he MAY well be just another solid productive guy.

It certainly doesn't hurt to play with Tom Brady instead of Alex Smith.

#22 Run It Up

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Posted 09 April 2012 - 10:02 AM

It's the schemes, not the players. Yeah, these guys are very athletic, but they aren't head and shoulders above their peers in that department over the past 10 years or so. How they are being used and featured is really helping them put up the eye-popping numbers. Vernon Davis is probably the most athletically imposing TE in the league, but he hasn't put up monster numbers because he hasn't played in an offense designed for that to happen. I don't want to take anything away from Gronk, because he is an excellent player and receiver, but his physical traits alone just don't account for his production. In fact at draft time many questioned his ability to stretch the field and his overall elusiveness. Obviously, those things aren't hurting him, but if you put him on a different team, he MAY well be just another solid productive guy. Having a TE that is a lot bigger than corners and sometimes faster than LBs is NOT something new. That's been the case for many many years. Certain teams are just taking better advantage of it at the moment. Since I believe it is the scheme, I also believe it could go away at any time as teams adjust. Don't know if or when, just believe it could. We've seen a lot of of unstoppable forces that were basically figured out and stopped.

I agree with a lot of this and disagree with some as well. I know some will agree (including me) I think Vernon Davis is the best receiving TE in the NFL, possibly ever. He simply hasnt had the opportunities others have had. But I disagree that Gronk isnt an elite talent/athelete, I think they are two sides of the same coin both (gronk/davis) being great blockers and receivers one is a better receiver and the other a blocker but both capable of putting up TE1 numbers. This isnt a new concept but its certainly a new execution of it and unless the rules change in the NFL I dont see defenses being able to stop it any time soon, if ever.

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#23 Leroy Hoard

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Posted 09 April 2012 - 11:04 AM

Coaching defense is a reactionary thing, something beats it long enough those coaches will come up with something to counter and everyone in the league will copy it. However, between the concussion injury lawsuits & the pushing of fantasy by the NFL the offenses do get a positive push from the league via rule changes limiting how physical defenses can get.
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#24 Holy Schneikes

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Posted 09 April 2012 - 07:36 PM

I know some will agree (including me) I think Vernon Davis is the best receiving TE in the NFL, possibly ever. He simply hasnt had the opportunities others have had. But I disagree that Gronk isnt an elite talent/athelete, I think they are two sides of the same coin both (gronk/davis) being great blockers and receivers one is a better receiver and the other a blocker but both capable of putting up TE1 numbers.

I never said Gronk wasn't an elite talent. But as for "athlete", that depends HEAVILY on your definitions of both elite and athlete. And I can say with some certainty that you'd get a lot of very different definitions for both on this board. But I did imply Gronk isn't the "athlete" Davis is, which in my mind is reasonably easy to defend. Davis is an off the charts physical freak. Gronk is just not. I KNOW combine/pro day measurables are not at all fool proof but that's really the only independent comparable data we have to go on so.... Gronkowski, at his PRO DAY (where great numbers are typically easier to attain than at the combine) weighed in at 258, ran about a 4.7 40, had a 33 1/2" vert, a 9' 11" broad jump, a 4.5 short shuttle and a 7.2 three-cone drill. He did 23 reps. Davis, at the COMBINE, was a few inches shorter, but weighed in in the same range of 254 pounds. And he ran 4.4 40 (rounding up ;)), had a 42" vert, a 10' 8" broad, 4.2 short shuttle, and a 7.0 three cone. He also did 33 reps. Sick numbers to say the least. Gronk's measurables, BY THEMSELVES, are nothing all that extraordinary. Again, on the field the guy has what it takes, and brings toughness, agility, great hands etc. that are much harder to measure. But a lot of folks specifically mention size and speed as the reason for the new dominance of the TE position, and usually list Gronk among the "new breed" when in fact from a generic speed standpoint he's probably just a bit above average. At RB or WR the 40 difference alone would be the difference between an extreme strong point in a guy's favor (at 4.4) to making him borderline undraftable (at 4.7). Same with vert and the other measurables. What I am saying is that if it was all about explosiveness and speed, there are a lot of very fast guys you could point to over the last 10 years or so at TE that would have made the position dominant WAY before now and Gronk isn't a guy to point to on that front. Something ELSE is going on, whether it's rules differences, scheme differences or whatever.

#25 Run It Up

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Posted 09 April 2012 - 10:00 PM

I know some will agree (including me) I think Vernon Davis is the best receiving TE in the NFL, possibly ever. He simply hasnt had the opportunities others have had. But I disagree that Gronk isnt an elite talent/athelete, I think they are two sides of the same coin both (gronk/davis) being great blockers and receivers one is a better receiver and the other a blocker but both capable of putting up TE1 numbers.

I never said Gronk wasn't an elite talent. But as for "athlete", that depends HEAVILY on your definitions of both elite and athlete. And I can say with some certainty that you'd get a lot of very different definitions for both on this board. But I did imply Gronk isn't the "athlete" Davis is, which in my mind is reasonably easy to defend. Davis is an off the charts physical freak. Gronk is just not. I KNOW combine/pro day measurables are not at all fool proof but that's really the only independent comparable data we have to go on so.... Gronkowski, at his PRO DAY (where great numbers are typically easier to attain than at the combine) weighed in at 258, ran about a 4.7 40, had a 33 1/2" vert, a 9' 11" broad jump, a 4.5 short shuttle and a 7.2 three-cone drill. He did 23 reps. Davis, at the COMBINE, was a few inches shorter, but weighed in in the same range of 254 pounds. And he ran 4.4 40 (rounding up ;)), had a 42" vert, a 10' 8" broad, 4.2 short shuttle, and a 7.0 three cone. He also did 33 reps. Sick numbers to say the least. Gronk's measurables, BY THEMSELVES, are nothing all that extraordinary. Again, on the field the guy has what it takes, and brings toughness, agility, great hands etc. that are much harder to measure. But a lot of folks specifically mention size and speed as the reason for the new dominance of the TE position, and usually list Gronk among the "new breed" when in fact from a generic speed standpoint he's probably just a bit above average. At RB or WR the 40 difference alone would be the difference between an extreme strong point in a guy's favor (at 4.4) to making him borderline undraftable (at 4.7). Same with vert and the other measurables. What I am saying is that if it was all about explosiveness and speed, there are a lot of very fast guys you could point to over the last 10 years or so at TE that would have made the position dominant WAY before now and Gronk isn't a guy to point to on that front. Something ELSE is going on, whether it's rules differences, scheme differences or whatever.

I wont deny that the Patriots system benefits their players greatly (being a patriots fan I love it) and I definitely wont deny the current rules in the NFL making it increasingly easier for offenses to take advantage of defenses. But I stand by my opinion different kinds of athletes, different kinds of TE both dominant players in both regards. I certainly wouldnt turn down Vernon Davis coming to NE (make it happen BB, give em Hernandez and a first, just do it).

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#26 az_prof

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Posted 10 April 2012 - 02:07 PM

Gronk would get eaten alive at safety. Almost all of the other TEs would as well. The reason you don't see 6'5" guys at safety is that the vast majority wouldn't be able to handle the range requirements of the (either) safety position. Hell, a lot of the 6'1" guys can't cover (movement-wise) well enough as it is. It's always better to have bigger, faster guys at every position in theory. A 350 lb lineman who runs a 4.4 would be pretty sweet just like a 350 lb WR who runs a 4.4 would be. But in reality, the positions have evolved to the average sizes they have for a reason (not to say they can't or won't change). The league will always have a use for size/speed ratio freaks, but there will be certain "minimum" requirements for each at a given position (not a hard cutoff, but a vague requirement for linemen to be big and corners etc to be fast). Davis is a guy that could probably play a lot of positions effectively, and there are probably others. But I just don't buy the implication that these "new" TEs are all of the sudden the end-all be-all of physical specimens. Some are, some aren't, but in general they are just bigger guys who are relatively quick/fast for their size. I don't pretend to know what Belichick and co. are doing to make the TEs so outrageously effective (I'd throw Graham in there too, but by all accounts the guy is more of an overgrown WR than a real TE, hardly ever blocking, and lining up in the slot or at an outside receiver spot as often as not), but I strongly suspect that several other TEs around the league could do nearly as well in that same system.

It's not just that some teams have great schemes for opening up their TEs, see NE as you pointed out. It's also that the modern rules have skewed towards the favor of offense, WRs and perhaps most of all TEs. The rules that have gone into effect have reduced the physicallity with which DBs are able to play. IMO, this is a huge advantge for big and athletic TEs because they often times reliy upon their own phsicallity to get open. They also, unlike WRs, nearly always have to break away from a man at the LOS to get into their route as they are lined up in the box. Well, at least they used to have to break away at the LOS. With more and more flags for illegal contact and holding on the deffensive players, the NFL has limited the ability of defensese to be able to slow these TEs down at the snap and off the ball. In years past, these TEs would be mauled as they tried to release. Now, it's almost an open door policy or else there is a flag. The best way to contain a TE is to not allow him into his route. This used to be much easier than it is now. On top of that, I know this may sound odd but, it is also best to play big athletic TEs physically as often as possible. Smaller and quicker DBs can always reliy upon their better overall athletic ability to recover even if they "miss" when being physical with a TE. That is now largely mitigated. On top of this, there is the move, or should I say forced move, of NFL defenses to more zone coverage schemes. Particularly cover 2. Cover 2 is notoriusly bad at leaving the middle of the field open in the gap between the safeties, yet beyond the LBs drop. Add this in with the free release TEs now get and you can see how this problem compounds itself. There is more and more I could go into, but this IMO is the basic jist of why TEs are becoming more and more productive. It is a combination of elements and coaches like BB have caught on faster than most to manipulate the modern rules in their favor.

Great post! This explains WHY teams are all trying to find a talented TE. It also explains the rising importance of TEs in general.
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#27 az_prof

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Posted 10 April 2012 - 02:09 PM

I know some will agree (including me) I think Vernon Davis is the best receiving TE in the NFL, possibly ever. He simply hasnt had the opportunities others have had. But I disagree that Gronk isnt an elite talent/athelete, I think they are two sides of the same coin both (gronk/davis) being great blockers and receivers one is a better receiver and the other a blocker but both capable of putting up TE1 numbers.

I never said Gronk wasn't an elite talent. But as for "athlete", that depends HEAVILY on your definitions of both elite and athlete. And I can say with some certainty that you'd get a lot of very different definitions for both on this board. But I did imply Gronk isn't the "athlete" Davis is, which in my mind is reasonably easy to defend. Davis is an off the charts physical freak. Gronk is just not. I KNOW combine/pro day measurables are not at all fool proof but that's really the only independent comparable data we have to go on so.... Gronkowski, at his PRO DAY (where great numbers are typically easier to attain than at the combine) weighed in at 258, ran about a 4.7 40, had a 33 1/2" vert, a 9' 11" broad jump, a 4.5 short shuttle and a 7.2 three-cone drill. He did 23 reps. Davis, at the COMBINE, was a few inches shorter, but weighed in in the same range of 254 pounds. And he ran 4.4 40 (rounding up ;)), had a 42" vert, a 10' 8" broad, 4.2 short shuttle, and a 7.0 three cone. He also did 33 reps. Sick numbers to say the least. Gronk's measurables, BY THEMSELVES, are nothing all that extraordinary. Again, on the field the guy has what it takes, and brings toughness, agility, great hands etc. that are much harder to measure. But a lot of folks specifically mention size and speed as the reason for the new dominance of the TE position, and usually list Gronk among the "new breed" when in fact from a generic speed standpoint he's probably just a bit above average. At RB or WR the 40 difference alone would be the difference between an extreme strong point in a guy's favor (at 4.4) to making him borderline undraftable (at 4.7). Same with vert and the other measurables. What I am saying is that if it was all about explosiveness and speed, there are a lot of very fast guys you could point to over the last 10 years or so at TE that would have made the position dominant WAY before now and Gronk isn't a guy to point to on that front. Something ELSE is going on, whether it's rules differences, scheme differences or whatever.

I agree that Gronk is not as physically talented as Vernon Davis, and this is one of the reasons why I worry that last year may be Gronk's career best. I think he will continue to be very good as long as he is in NE, but not convinced he will be the clear cut #1 guy going forward. On the other hand, the reason Davis is NOT the #1 TE is not simply scheme--he has not shown the motivation or attitude necessary to be the best, at least not until recently. The guy is not a hard worker, and that counts for something too.
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