SENIOR BOWL: Spotlight is on the tight ends

The South team practicing in Fairhope, Ala. on Monday. (D. Orlando Ledbetter/Dledbetter@ajc.com)

The South team practicing in Fairhope, Ala. on Monday. (D. Orlando Ledbetter/Dledbetter@ajc.com)

MOBILE — The diversified play of tight ends in the NFL playoffs has put the spotlight on the group of six players at that position who are getting ready for the 63rd annual Senior Bowl.

While the practice sessions were moved inside Thursday because of rain, the tight ends continued to be closely scrutinized. The game is set for 4 p.m. Saturday at Ladd-Peebles Stadium.

During the NFL playoffs, New Orleans’ Jimmy Graham (6-foot-7, 260 pounds), San Francisco’s Vernon Davis (6-3, 250) and New England’s Rob Gronkowski (6-6, 265) and Aaron Hernandez (6-2, 250) all made some spectacular plays in the passing game. Hernandez even ran out of the backfield as a running back.

North coach Leslie Frazier. (D. Orlando Ledbetter/DLedbetter@ajc.com)

North coach Leslie Frazier. (D. Orlando Ledbetter/DLedbetter@ajc.com)

Tight ends with a combination of size and speed are difficult to defend with a linebacker, who is usually too slow, or a safety, who may not be rugged enough to out-battle them for the ball. With more teams likely to try to emulate that high-level of tight-end play, scouts are watching every move of the tight ends.

Missouri’s Michael Egnew (6-5, 251), Massachusetts’ Emil Igwenagu (6-1, 245) and Michigan State’s Brian Linthicum (6-3, 249) are the tight ends for the North.

LSU’s DeAngelo Peterson (6-2, 230) Alabama’s Brad Smelley (6-1, 233) and Louisiana-Lafayette’s LaDarius Green (6-5, 237) are the tight ends for the South.

“The tight end group has been doing well,” South coach Mike Shanahan said. “The one thing you don’t see until game day is, can they do it when the pressure is on? Can they block? Can they catch? Can they beat the linebackers? We have some good looking tight ends.”

Green, who played at Louisiana-Lafayette, has created the most buzz. He’ll have to add some weight in the NFL and not lose his speed.

“I’ve been watching the tight ends in the playoffs a lot,” Green said. “It has opened some doors for me. They are a little bit bigger than me. I still have to put on some pounds.”

Green caught 149 passes over his college career and averaged 18 yards per catch as a junior. He had 22 career touchdown catches.

Egnew played in a spread offense at Missouri and has had trouble adjusting to being an in-line blocker. On

South coach Mike Shanahan. (D. Orlando Ledbetter/Dledbetter@ajc.com)

South coach Mike Shanahan. (D. Orlando Ledbetter/Dledbetter@ajc.com)

 film of practice, he has not shown the eagerness to block and has been compared with recent Missouri tight ends Chase Coffman and Martin Rucker.

Rucker was drafted in the fourth round of the 2008 draft by the Cleveland Browns, and Coffman was drafted in the third round of the 2009 draft by the Cincinnati Bengals. Both are out of the league.

“There are always questions,” Shanahan said. “Usually a guy is known for being a blocker or a catcher. Very seldom, at the collegiate level, are they known for both. That’s what you’re looking for at the pro level, guys that can do both. If you do find one, you’ve got a valuable asset.”

North coach Leslie Frazier, Minnesota’s head coach and formerly a defensive coordinator, looks at the position from another perspective. He wants to find players to stop those explosive tight ends.

“Most teams look for a hybrid type safety, not just a guy who can play an eight-man front and be in the box as a tackling safety,” Frazier said. “But he must have the ability to go out and matchup on a tight end like the Jimmy Grahams of the NFL. But he also must have the ability to matchup on some of the faster halfbacks that come out of the backfield as well.”

–D. Orlando Ledbetter, The Atlanta Falcons beat blog

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29 comments Add your comment

Truth Teller

January 26th, 2012
8:37 pm

Green is a beast. Line him up with Tony G in a 2 TE set and the offense becomes lethal. Just need to add a physical run lineman or two via the draft or free agency and it’s go time.

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waynester

January 26th, 2012
10:52 pm

Frazier makes an awesome point in the closing paragraph. We have the same problem at Safety, particularly FS…..

Ichabod

January 26th, 2012
10:58 pm

It is being said that any more, with the game being played as it is, you can’t have too many Tight Ends

ernisTbass

January 26th, 2012
11:20 pm

Dan Reeves was way ahead of his time, you could never fault him for a shortage of tight ends, 1st round, second round, trade a few picks, always had to draft at least two a year

Joshua malavenda

January 26th, 2012
11:33 pm

The only problem with green is that he has durablity concerns. I think the Falcons should focus on Ol and fixing their defense in the draft but they should sign a unsigned free agent like Chase ford to eventually replace gonzo.

Samuel

January 27th, 2012
6:43 am

They’ll have to find someone who can replace Tony Gonzales, a speedy tight end with good blocking skills. An offensive lineman would be good and a ball hawk safety with range like a young Ed Reed. Also a quarterback who can come in and push Matt Ryan. A defensive lineman who can push the middle and get after the quarterback. Damn we need everything!!

teamguy

January 27th, 2012
8:33 am

I’m still bummed that the Birds gave Tony G $7 mil for one more year. Too much for his production. Love to see that cat from Clemson play TE for us.

rm

January 27th, 2012
8:50 am

Birds need to dump Decoud and get the type of Safety that Frazier is talking about. Graham killed them the last 2 years. Decoud gotta go!

True Falcon Fan

January 27th, 2012
9:19 am

People, “Graham”, killed or burned everybody (all opponents) this past season! That said, it doesn’t mean we could be better to replace DeCoud, “maybe”…. The coaches must prepare these players better and we need better players at certain positions that’s for sure. Dumping DeCoud ain’t the answer!
So moron, who do you recommend they replace DeCoud with??? Jus go ahead send you moronic opinion to TD, he will get right on it…………

Die Hard Falcon

January 27th, 2012
10:19 am

While I’d love to get the next great TE, I think we have more glaring needs. OL and DL should be our first priority, build from the inside out, if we control the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, we’ll improve.
Plus, I think with this being the “en vogue” thing to go after, some teams might reach, TD needs to stay true to the board and learn a thing or 2 from packers Ted Thompson, don’t only draft for need, but take the best player available, and worst problem you’ll have is depth.
I believe this ship can be “righted” and we can step up from perennial playoff appearance, to playoff victories w/ good decisions this offseason.
Go Falcons!

Hose

January 27th, 2012
10:42 am

Hey D-led, whats the status of our tight ends? I thought Michael Palmer was heir to Tony G?

Sid

January 27th, 2012
11:42 am

DLwed, don’t go gettin’ Dimitroff all fired up about tight ends or he’ll trade the house away before lettin’ one get away.

Marcus

January 27th, 2012
12:21 pm

:D

DOL ………… my wish list is coming to LIFE..

Unfortunately, we don’t have the picks to snag Green, as he is a luxury pick because we really need OL and DE help, and probably DB help too. All depends on free agency.

PMC

January 27th, 2012
12:36 pm

These mock drafts coming out are depressing. Everyone we like, everyone we could use in the 50’s may sneak into the first round.

Love Julio, but they overrated the freaking heck out of our offensive line.

PMC

January 27th, 2012
12:37 pm

Got a center guard or tackle you like? We aren’t getting them.

Jack

January 27th, 2012
1:16 pm

I agree that our needs are too great elsewhere – OL, DL, DBs. I still want to see what Palmer can do, believe he will be a hell of player in the Jason Whitten-type mold.

Joshua Malavenda

January 27th, 2012
3:25 pm

the good thing about the hiring of Mike Nolan is that he puts high priorty on a good seconday unlike Van Gorder. I am pretty sure decoup is gone and I think even grimes is gone too because he decided to sit out in the playoffs so he wouldnt further injury himself which would stop him from his free agency pay day. I think they will keep Dunta as much I want them to trade him because he will do good in nolans defense. They also get rid of that baby soft zone this year .

Senior Bowl information - Page 11

January 27th, 2012
3:48 pm

[...] SENIOR BOWL: Spotlight is on the tight ends | Atlanta Falcons [...]

mock1

January 27th, 2012
8:01 pm

That baby soft zone is hopefully gone,bring back The Gritz Blitz type of defense! We need a HOG in the middle on that D-line and taller more athletic corners,with head hunter safties,but most of all we need guys who could constantly pressure & sack quarterbacks!!!

Jen

January 28th, 2012
2:57 am

Get Orson Charles and put all of the focus on the DEFENSE!!!!……geeeeeze!!!!!!!!!

We will still suck though…the new OC!!!!…lmao!!!!!!!!!!!!!

FAILCANTS will always be a joke

January 28th, 2012
9:22 am

It doesn’t matter who you draft or sign, your team will always be inferior…you have no identity, heart, passion or momentum for a fan base to follow…most soulless team in the league….fact….

Ed

January 28th, 2012
10:56 am

While getting a TE would add another weapon for Matt Ryan the offensive line is in dire need of repair, I know TD will likely address some of those concerns in free agency but Cordy Glenn and Phillip Blake need to be front and center on the Falcons wish list. They also need a corner. Orson Charles is probably the best TE for his value in the draft.

Ueeediot

January 28th, 2012
11:10 am

a TE? Really?

Imagine having an OC who doesnt act like a child when he doesnt get what he wanted in the draft and actually finds ways to use the weapons he HAS…..JJ and J Rodgers were under used last year because of a childish and stubborn OC who couldnt coach the bad news bears.

From section 322 it looks to me that you go get free agent (pro bowl) LT Nicks and draft defense. #28 is playing well, but obviously is out of his league. Mike Nolan will not run that ignorant soft zone on EVERY 3rd down play.
Then you drive by morons who want everyone on the team traded will see that it is all about the scheme. #23 is a good corner who was in a bad scheme being forced to play 15 yards off the line on 3rd and 8.

JSS

January 28th, 2012
3:18 pm

Somebody sounds like Defense Secretary McNamara defending something that cannot be defended. DeCoud cannot defend TEs, slots, or RBs coming out the backfield. He’s a gambler without the skills to recover when he bites (Go watch the 10 Philly game and the Nicks TD). Well, keep supporting underachievers, the rest of the league will just keep beating that rented mule!

JSS

January 28th, 2012
3:22 pm

Watch at the 3 second who blows the inside responsibility on the crossing route and then runs in and past Nicks… DeCoud
http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=dvT8-LNWJCA

Bird Dawg Country

January 28th, 2012
4:29 pm

Orson Charles would look good in a Falcons uniform while learning from Tony G.

The Real Falcon

January 28th, 2012
5:01 pm

Falcons could lose Lofton, Grimes and Douglas in free agency
You lose the three guys and we have no way of making the playoffs in 2012!

Sid

January 28th, 2012
7:01 pm

DOL:
MOBILE — Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff is gearing up for free agency.

With no lockout this offseason, there will be a return to normalcy in the NFL. Free agency will come first, followed by the draft.

After last year’s labor dispute was settled, a frenzied free-agency signing period began in late August. The Falcons, who are projected to be about $28 million under the salary cap when it’s announced this week at the Super Bowl, are working on a few contract extensions that could keep some of their 17 unrestricted free agents off the market when it opens March 13.
“That’s going to be important for us to really analyze what’s in free agency and really dig into where we are with the draft,” Dimitroff said in an interview with the NFL Network. “It just allows us to be a little bit more creative; whether if we want to make moves and how we are going to approach things.”
Dimitroff’s main offseason focus is to improve the offensive and defensive lines. All of the positions on the offensive line will be open for competition, and the defense could lose the team’s top pass-rusher in John Abraham, who’s set to turn 34 in May. “We need to continue to establish ourselves on both fronts,” Dimitroff said. “That’s very, very important for us going into this year. That’s not the only thing we’re focused on, believe me, we have a lot that we are looking into. We’ve talked very openly about looking at every aspect of our football operations.” Here’s an analysis of where the Falcons’ prospective unrestricted free agents stand:

John Abraham, DE: After an early-season groin injury, the Falcons placed Abraham on a play-count for most of the season. They increased his number of plays late in the season and for the playoffs.
He had a base salary of $8 million and led the team with 9.5 sacks. He essentially was the team’s pass rush. If he returns, it likely will be at a reduced salary and as a designated pass-rush specialist.
Kroy Biermann, DE: He has been solid while playing in the rotation at defensive end. The Falcons will want to pay him as a rotational player. If he gets to the open market, some 3-4 teams may covet him as a stand-up linebacker because of his athleticism.
Kirk Chambers, OT: He likely will not be re-signed.
Thomas DeCoud, FS: He’s a strong candidate for an extension and may not hit the open market. The Falcons would like for him to take charge of the defense so that strong safety William Moore can be free to attack the ball and become a menacing force.
Harry Douglas, WR: This one could get tricky because some teams may view Douglas as a No. 2 receiver. With the Falcons, he’s the No. 3 and will remain that as long as Roddy White can keep rolling along and Julio Jones keeps developing. If he gets a lucrative offer, Douglas could leave for another team. Eric Weems would then be elevated to the No. 3 position. A wide receiver-starved team such as Cleveland or Jacksonville could swoop in and sign Douglas.
Brent Grimes, CB: Grimes arguably has been the team’s best corner over the past two seasons.
He’ll point to the six-year, $57 million contract that the Falcons gave Dunta Robinson in March 2010. Robinson was 27 at the time. Grimes is set to turn 29 in July, so the team likely would want to do a four-year deal.
They could keep Grimes from the open market by using the franchise tag, which would guarantee him about $10.2 million for one season.
Kelvin Hayden, CB: A serious turf-toe injury ended his season. He could be brought back at a reasonable price if healthy.
Reggie Kelly, TE: He likely won’t be re-signed. The Falcons like their young tight ends Michael Palmer and Ryan Winterswyk and probably will draft a tight end.
Curtis Lofton, MLB: Lofton’s camp probably will point to the four-year, $36-million deal that inside linebacker David Harris signed with the New York Jets in August.
While Lofton has played on third downs, the Falcons may consider him a first- and second-down linebacker. The Falcons were tied for 29th in the NFL on third-down conversions (93-of-211) last season.Since being selected in the second round of the 2008 draft, Lofton has made more than 100 tackles in each of his four seasons.
Todd McClure, C: The veteran wants to return for at least two more seasons. He’ll have to compete to retain his starting spot, and the Falcons will have to consider how he would handle a reserve role if he gets beat out. McClure has been a mainstay on the line since making the team as a seventh-round draft pick in 1999.
Mike Peterson, LB: He ended the season on injured reserve. Before that he provided some quality depth and could return.
Chris Redman, QB: He wants to return, and the team likely will work out a reasonable deal.
Brett Romberg, C/G: He likely will not be re-signed.
James Sanders, S: He was a solid backup and likely will return with a reasonable deal.
Jason Snelling, RB: He will look for a deal elsewhere as his opportunities were reduced last season, and the team wants to get Jacquizz Rodgers more involved in the offense.
Eric Weems, WR: He’s a valuable special-teams player who could step up as the third receiver.
Joe Zelenka, LS: He likely will be re-signed.