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.
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
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