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Welcome to the newest trend in football: Tight ends as weapons, difference-makers

BERRY TRAMEL COMMENTARY — More and more, tight ends are being called on to catch footballs, not block for those carrying one.
by Berry Tramel Published: January 21, 2012

New England didn't invent the two tight end concept. In fact, Bajema estimates that while he played for the 49ers and Rams, both used two tight ends 50 percent of the time.

Jones pointed out that OU's remarkable 2008 offensive explosiveness was due in part to the use of two tight ends – Jermaine Gresham (who with the Bengals is in line to reach weapon status among tight ends) and Brody Eldridge (now an Indianapolis Colts tight end).

“You line up, all of a sudden, you make Gresham a wideout,” Jones said. “Indy does some of that with Dallas Clark. New England, they've expanded it even more.”

* * *

Time was, every end was a tight end. Four players in the backfield, with two ends, both lined up right next to the tackle.

Don Hutson and Bill Hewitt were early-day end stars. At OU, Jim Owens and Max Boydston were all-American ends for Bud Wilkinson. At OSU, Neill Armstrong was an all-American end in the 1940s and went on to become head coach of the Chicago Bears.

But in the 1950s, the early stages of the spread formation began seeping into mainstream football. One or both ends were split out and came to be called split ends. The end who remained right next to the tackle became known as a tight end.

Tight ends have been slow to gain respect. Not until 1988 (Dikta) was a modern tight end inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Seven others have joined him there: Mackey (1992), Jackie Smith (1994), Winslow (1995), Newsome (1999), Casper (1999), Sanders (2007) and Sharpe (2011).

Of course, tight end now is the wrong description. Big end is more like it. Gronkowski and Davis and Graham still line up tight on occasion, but they also can be found most anywhere when the ball is snapped, even in the backfield, ala Hernandez.

And the prototypical tight end – a weapon and a big blocker – is harder and harder to find. The Detroit Lions' Brandon Pettigrew, who starred at OSU, fits the bill. But few others do.

“A good receiver, but also an in-line blocker,” Monken said. “But high schools don't even run those offenses. That's why Brandon Pettigrew was such a novelty. At most high schools, Brandon Pettigrew doesn't even play where he's playing. He's playing defensive end.

“It's hard to find those guys. If they don't exist, you're not recruiting ‘em.”

* * *

All those touchdowns in NFL playoff games last week? Some were big plays. Davis scored on a 49-yard play; Graham from 66.

But the value of tight ends goes up inside the 20-yard line. When speed becomes less important and grit moreso, tight ends thrive.

“Those smaller guys shrink as you get down close,” said Monken. “The windows get tighter.”

That's why OSU has a renewed interest in tight ends. With Dana Holgorsen's arrival in 2010 as offensive coordinator, tight ends went unneeded on the Cowboy roster. But they are returning under Monken, not necessarily lining up as tight ends, but lining up as big slot receivers, much like Tracy Moore in 2011.

And near the goal line, size becomes more valued than speed or quickness. Monken said, “Even if they (a tight end) get matched up on a corner(back), they have such a size advantage, there's a comfort level for the quarterback, throwing to a bigger target.

Lot more room for error.”

Lot more room for tight ends to become marquee players, both Sunday in the conference championship games and in the college and pro seasons to come.

Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including AM-640 and FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at

by Berry Tramel
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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