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Leading up to the start of training camp, 24×7 will preview the 2007 Baltimore Ravens position-by-position. Today we will analyze the tight ends.
Under former offensive coordinator Jim Fassel, the offensive attack was structured around the use of multiple tight end sets. The results were mixed; backup Daniel Wilcox became a viable weapon, while two-time Pro Bowl performer Todd Heap started slow. Moreover, tailback Jamal Lewis had trouble adapting to running the ball out of a two-tight alignment.
After Fassel was let go midway through the season, the offense reverted back to its more conventional two-back base offense to accommodate Lewis. While the backup tight ends were still a staple in the offense, their snaps were cut in half in favor of fullback Ovie Mugelli, especially on first-down.
With Mughelli and Lewis gone, the use of two and even three-tight formations should be more prevalent this season.
Starter(s): The offensive tempo is established through Heap. If heâ€™s on top of his game, the Ravens are a tough team to slow down. If heâ€™s struggling, the offense usually flutters.
Statistics backup how vital Heapâ€™s performance correlates to Baltimoreâ€™s offensive efficiency. In the five games in which Heap gained less than 40 yards receiving, the offense averaged just 14.6 points.
Heap is key to the offense because he is the go-to target in so many situations, whether in the red zone, downfield, or as a move-the-chains guy on third-down.
He is at his best when he lines up in the slot. Heap has the speed to run by most linebackers that check him inside, and the size and leaping ability to out-maneuver a safety in the deeper portion of the field.
Although Heap had a solid season last year, he was not as much of a big-play threat as he had been in previous seasons. Heap caught just seven passes that covered 20 yards or more, as opposed to 12 in â€˜05, and 13 in â€˜02 and â€˜03 respectively. In order to expand the passing game, Heapâ€™s pass routes need to be stretched vertically.
Backups: It will be hard for the coaches to divide the minutes of playing time between Wilcox and Quinn Sypniewski, the promising second-year player from Colorado.
The biggest selling point for playing Sypniewski is that with him in the lineup to serve as an extra blocker up front, Heap is freed up to run patterns in the open field.
The 6-foot-6, 270 pound giant is essentially a sixth offensive lineman for the team. Once Sypniewski is able to establish his base, it is almost impossible for a blitzing linebacker or defensive back to get past him. That said, Sypniewski would need to improve his technique as a run blocker if he wants to log more playing time.
Wilcox serves as more an H-back, with the ability to impact in the intermediate passing game. While Wilcox lacks the height and length of most tight ends, he possesses deceptive speed, is a precise route runner and has a knack for gaining yards after contact.