Jumping into the tight end arms race

Posted Jun 1, 2012

Two-tight end sets are changing the NFL and the Chiefs are looking to put their own spin on a copycat trend

Tony Moeaki and Kevin Boss (pictured) won’t have much issue dividing snaps next season if the Chiefs continue the frequency of two-tight end sets they’ve utilized during the first two weeks of Organized Team Activities (OTAs).

The first offensive snap of the Brian Daboll era came out of a two-tight end formation in last week’s opening OTA session and the Chiefs have continued to dial up multiple tight end formations as OTAs have progressed.

It’s an approach that Boss and Moeaki are both excited about.

“Obviously I like the more tight ends the better,” Moeaki said. “Having multiple tight ends is a good balance. Every team you see is using tight ends, so hopefully me and Boss can contribute to that.”

“He’s a young kid with a lot of talent and it’s going to be good for us to push each other,” Boss added. “Just the position alone, it’s exciting to be part of it and to play with Tony. I’m looking forward to seeing him get healthy and us being on the field at the same time.”

The Chiefs currently have six tight ends competing for what will likely be three roster positions.

Of course, Boss and Moeaki have yet to work together as Moeaki continues his rehabilitation from left ACL surgery in September.

Boss is working with the starters while veterans Jake O’Connell and Martin Rucker trade reps working as the second tight end in two-tight end sets. Undrafted rookie Tim Biere is seeing time with the reserves alongside Steve Maneri, a converted offensive tackle.

“We’ve got the depth and the talent, it’s just a matter of going out there and making the plays if Coach Daboll continues to call those (two-tight end) sets,” said Boss.

Daboll found success utilizing two-tight end formations last season in Miami.

After beginning the year primarily as a three-receiver team, the Dolphins gradually progressed to more two-tight end formations pairing versatile rookie Charles Clay with well-rounded veteran Anthony Fasano.

Miami averaged 24.7 points per game following its 0-7 start to the season, posting a 6-3 record and finishing as a top-10 scoring offense over the final nine games of the season. Frequenting two-tight end sets became an important part of the Dolphins offensive success during that timeframe.

“This is a copycat league and you look around at other teams trying to emulate what the Patriots have done with (Rob) Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez and the success that they have had,” Boss said. “You see the Seahawks go out there and get Kellen Winslow to pair with Zach Miller for another great duo.

“Like I said, I’m just looking forward to Tony getting healthy and us getting on the field together.”

If the tight ends are talented enough, the offense is going to win the matchup against smaller defensive backs or slower linebackers. Just as offenses are scrambling to find a potent two-tight end attack, defenses are searching for hybrid players capable of defending tall, elite pass-catchers running the seam.

Kansas City witnessed Tony Gonzalez revolutionize the position in the early 2000s and division matchups against San Diego’s Antonio Gates previewed what would become the basis of change for NFL offenses.

But one isn’t enough anymore. Teams want two pass-catchers at the position, even if neither player has quite the receiving capability as Gonzalez or Gates.

 Baltimore went to the AFC Championship Game last season behind an effective, yet underrated tight end duo of Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson. The pair totaled 94 catches for 933 yards and eight touchdowns during the regular season.

The Chiefs have tried to jump into the tight end arms race, but the overall structure of the group probably needs to resemble Baltimore more than it does New England. Like the Ravens, Kansas City’s offensive success begins with a successful rushing attack.

“The tight end position is critical in every offense, especially in ours, not only in the run game, but also in the pass game,” said QB Matt Cassel. “You can create mismatches with those guys, we’ve got a great competition going on with those guys right now.”

Finding a solid blocker who can also serve as an effective receiver is a challenge, but the Chiefs believe they’ve found one in Boss. The buzz around Arrowhead is that he runs better routes than most had anticipated.

Boss was known as a solid blocker during his days with the Giants and, when healthy, Moeaki’s hands and athleticism are rivaled by few tight ends in the game.

Add in a blocking specialist like Maneri ,another receiving option like Rucker or a veteran with flexibility to work out of the backfield like O’Connell and the battle for the third tight end job could come down to positional preference.

This group of tight ends has the potential for a nice mix if Moeaki can make a healthy return. If not, the position is still much better off than it was entering the 2011 regular season.

“I’m just happy to be here and it’s a good change for me,” Boss said. “It’s been a blessing in disguise to be released from (Oakland) and land in a spot like this.”

The Chiefs would probably say the same thing.

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