Tales of tight ends becoming glorified tackles

Flashback Friday Tales of tight ends becoming glorified tackles

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One of the most enduring images of the 2008 NFL season was last October’s blow-up between former all-world Terrapin tight end Vernon Davis and Mike Singletary in his Forty-Niner head-coaching debut. 


Flashback: Davis had just lost his cool and cost his team 15 yards.  Singletary pulled him, and sent him to the locker room. Afterwards he explained himself to reporters thusly, "I would rather play with 10 people and just get penalized all the way until we got to do something else, rather than play with 11 when I know that . . . person is not sold out. Cannot play with them. Cannot win with them. Cannot coach with them. Can’t do it."


It’s a quote that will live in the Pantheon of NFL coaching eruptions.  Right up there with, “The Bears are who we thought they were,” and “Playoffs?!”  


Many applauded Singletary’s tough-guy stand, but wondered how his players would react. Others wondered if the coach had simply flipped his lid. Still others speculated Vernon Davis’ act was already wearing thin on the coaching staff prior to the on-field incident that sparked such a strong reaction from Singletary.


Now we get Mike Martz’s take on Davis, from a recent NFL Network segment.  Martz, Davis’ offensive coordinator in San Francisco last year, called Davis one of the best pass blockers in the league, but suggested Davis is suited for little more.  Martz justified this stance by claiming Davis can’t read defenses and is seldom on the same page as his quarterback, often high-stepping it down field when he should be reacting to the blitz and running bail-out slants.


Niners’ faithful will try to ignore the departed Martz’s advice and instead hope new coordinator Jimmy Raye can do for Vernon what he did for future Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez in Kansas City. 


I doubt it.


Consider recent events in Owings Mills.  The expectation in 2008 was that coordinator Cam Cameron could do for Todd Heap what he did for Antonio Gates in San Diego. Instead, Heap was relegated to glorified tackle, just one notch above Haloti Ngata in Cam’s creative offensive scheme.


Was it because Todd’s skills had declined?  Was it his health?  Or was it his attitude toward his new head coach? Insiders have suggested that Heap isn’t exactly near the top of Harbaugh’s Christmas card list.


Maybe it was Cam’s lack of confidence in the right tackle position, now addressed in the person of Michael Oher?  Or could Heap’s decline in productivity be explained by pointing to Joe Flacco’s rookie deficiencies at connecting on short and intermediate routes in the middle of the field?


Whatever the reason, you have to wonder if Cam can make Todd productive again? 


Before you answer, consider this.  The Ravens signed pass-catching tight end LJ Smith in the offseason, a player who apparently is a Harbaugh guy given their years together in Philly. And let’s not forget that the team would have invested a first round pick in Oklahoma State tight end Brandon Pettigrew had Detroit not snatched him with the 20th pick in the draft despite needs on the offensive line and at wide receiver. The Ravens ultimately invested a fifth round pick in Davon Drew, another pass-catching tight end.


Add it all up and one might conclude that the organization’s level of optimism about Heap’s return to prominence isn’t very promising.


That said, at least there is a chance Todd Heap bounces back.  With Vernon Davis you have to question whether he has ever possessed the acumen it takes to succeed at anything more than glorified tackle in the NFL. 


It’s a shame, for a former sixth-overall pick.

It brings to mind another athletic specimen to come out of Maryland, picked seventh by the Raiders this April past.  Darrius Heyward-Bey’s doubters point to his weak route-running skills as reason enough to believe his NFL career trajectory will resemble Davis’.  


We shall see.


Here’s the lesson in all this:  NFL front offices should stop spending so much time measuring forty-times and bench presses, and spend more time finding football players. 


After all, isn’t that what fundamentalist, no-nonsense, hard-nosed coaches like Mike Singletary and John Harbaugh are trying to tell us?

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Steve Hasler

About Steve Hasler

March 29, 1984. Steve Häsler was attending college in Gambier, Ohio when the phone rang in his dorm room. His parents were calling with disturbing news – our beloved Colts had poured the entire organization into Mayflower vans and left town.

For the next four autumns, Steve was forced to watch football with Browns fans, unsympathetic to the plight of losing a hometown team. By 1987 he was back in Baltimore, working in advertising, and attending the Towson Fourth of July every year just to hear the Baltimore Colts Marching Band play the old fight song as they waddled by. It made his mother cry every year. And yes, he called his old Ohio roommates back in 1995 just to make sure they heard the news that he once again he was going to have a team to root for. Steve has been opining on all things Ravens pretty much since the invention of message boards. You may know him as Shas.

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