Insider Blog: Wait and See

Posted Jun 2, 2010

Finding the right mix at tight end is important for the Chiefs offense

The position is one of true open competition. It’s made of a group of players that boast different skill sets. There is an incumbent, but there isn’t a clear front-runner for snaps on a down-to-down basis. It’s a position that’s underrated, yet vital to offensive success. It’s also a position group that Kansas Citians have been spoiled with for years and years.

These are the tight ends.

The years of Jason Dunn swallowing the edge on the line of scrimmage and Tony Gonzalez creating mismatch problems for opposing defenses were sights to see. Their roles were clear cut and didn’t leave much in the form of a grey area. One was a starter and he was zeroed in as a pass catcher. The other was the reserve and carried the role of a vicious blocker. Their playing rotation was a direct reflection of those roles.

Now, there’s a little greyer are with the group. Last season was a very real example of that as four different players drew starting assignments at the position.

“I think the tight end position is a critical position for the offense because when you have tight ends that are versatile, that can be strong in the run game and equally strong in the pass game – those complete tight ends so-to-speak, it puts the defense in a little bit of a bind because that tight end is somebody you have to deal with in the run game as a blocker and that affects somewhat defensively and then you have to deal with them in the pass game and that’s where some of the matchup issues come into play because if you have a tight end that you can move around a little, that’s good,” head coach Todd Haley said.

“If you can split them out, that’s good, but if at the same time they can be in-line and be a strong blocker for you, that’s a problem for the defense,” Haley continued. “The tight end position in our offense is a key position.”

Positional versatility is something that the Chiefs set out to add up and down the roster this off-season and the tight ends were no exception. Unfortunately, due to injuries, the position group has yet to show its full potential this spring. Right now the tight ends are operating near half capacity.

“The first thing is we want them all out there,” Haley said. “Once they’re all out there then we can do a little better job of evaluating and figure out what each has.”

Third-round pick Tony Moeaki is a player whose report card says can spread outside in a standup alignment or drop back behind the line of scrimmage as an h-back. Right now, outside of his impressive rookie camp showing, all we can go off are those collegiate scouting reports. The rookie has yet to take a snap with the veterans as he rehabs what Haley painted a few weeks ago as a minor injury.

Another player in the position group yet to rep this spring is Brad Cottam. Cottam is coming off a roller coaster 2009 season that began with summer expectations to grab hold of the starting role. He wouldn’t grab that position and expectations derailed into six games in which Cottam didn’t see an offensive snap. He’d work hard in practice and go on to rebound with two weeks of great promise that ultimately ended with a neck injury.

Cottam currently looks good moving around in sideline drills, but the training staff appears to be taking a cautious stance in returning Cottam to action.

“We obviously know a lot more about Cottam than we do about Tony but we need them all out there and they’re all working towards that,” Haley said. “I feel good about where we are with the group at this stage and the next step is coming here in training camp.”

The absence of 40% of the position group during OTAs has slowed down the overall evaluation process of the tight ends, but it’s also opened the door for the three players to see increased practice repetitions. Thus far, all three of the Chiefs tight ends participating in OTAs have had something to hang their hat on this spring.

The Chiefs seventh-rounder from a year ago, Jake O’Connell, has been able to align in those same types of positions that Moeaki is projected to compete for this season. He’s showing the versatility that Haley talks about.

The incumbent, Leonard Pope, has been able to showcase the benefits of his rare size as well as his experience as the group’s veteran presence. He’s generally thought of as the strongest blocker in the group, but has gotten more opportunities to show his downfield pass catching skills this spring. He had a nice jumping, juggling grab down the seam on Tuesday.

Undrafted rookie Leroy Banks has also been able to show his stuff, displaying nice hands and solid speed on routes – his leaping TD grab on Tuesday was highlight reel material.

For many position groups open for competition, sitting on the sidelines often results in a one-way ticket to the waiver wire. Availability is key. But with the tight ends, Haley seems to be taking a different approach; one that is almost a wait and see attitude; one that revolves around patience…at least until training camp begins.

“That’s another position not a lot different than the line, until the pads are on, it’s hard to make a real clear judgment or be for sure what you’re talking about,” Haley said.

The pads won’t start crashing until late July. As a result, the tight end competition probably won’t be decided until well into the summer.

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