Countdown to The Draft
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By Tony Grossi
The Morning Kickoff …
The overlooked need: Rob Chudzinski played tight end and coached tight ends. As an offensive coordinator, he made tight ends integral players, if not stars, in his offense.
Now as head coach of the Browns, Chudzinski views the tight end as an even more crucial element in NFL offenses.
“I think the position has grown in importance over the last 10 years,” Chudzinski said last week at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis. “You look at the type of guys that are coming out in college and you’re seeing so many more guys who are athletic, receiver types. So the game’s evolved in that way. You want those versatile type guys who can do everything.”
Atlanta coach Mike Smith, who is waiting with bated breath for future Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez to postpone retirement one last year, put the position in a different perspective.
“It’s like in a chess game,” Smith said. “The tight end position is becoming like the queen. You can move it all around the board and you can use it to your advantage. It’s not like a rook or a bishop. You get a lot of great matchups with the athleticism of the tight ends. It creates concerns for defenses in terms of who you’re going to put on them.”
Both Super Bowl teams – Baltimore and San Francisco – used two tight ends as integral players in their offenses. New England has tailored its offense to the position the past couple seasons because of the emergence of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.
The Browns? Chudzinski looks at his roster and sees only one tight end under contract, Jordan Cameron. Ben Watson and Alex Smith are free agents and unlikely to be re-signed.
Chudzinski has to load up on tight ends. It is the No. 1 position of need on the Browns’ offense.
A refresher: Remember the year Kellen Winslow Jr. had when Rob Chudzinski was Browns offensive coordinator in 2007?
It was the only great season of Winslow’s career: 82 receptions, 1,106 yards and five touchdowns. Winslow made the trip to the Pro Bowl after San Diego’s Antonio Gates withdrew because of injury.
That was the fourth of eight consecutive Pro Bowl berths for Gates. Gates already had established himself as the premier AFC tight end of his time when Norv Turner became San Diego head coach in 2007. Turner, now the Browns offensive coordinator, worked Gates for an average of 62 catches and eight touchdowns over the next six seasons.
Yes, the tight end position will see a resurgence under the Chudzinski/Turner regime.
One of Chudzinski’s under-radar hirings to his coaching staff was Jon Embree as tight ends coach. Embree coached the position with the Chiefs and Redskins before returning to his alma mater, University of Colorado, as head coach.
When you handicap where the Browns might look to replenish their stock at tight end, you have to start with Embree.
“College coaches have some insight on guys they’ve coached, guys they’ve played against and guys they’ve recruited, so certainly in the grand scheme it’s another piece of the puzzle. It’s a bonus,” Chudzinski said of Embree.
Remember the name: Nick Kasa was a heavily recruited, high school Parade All-American defensive end when he signed to play at Colorado. He struggled for three years on defense and asked Embree for a new position midway through his junior year. Embree switched him to tight end.
Prior to his senior season, Kasa became the project of CU tight ends coach J.D. Brookhart, the former University of Akron head coach.
“I watched a lot of film of (Rob) Gronkowski with Coach Brookhart,” Kasa said at the combine.
In his first season as a tight end, Kasa had 25 catches for 391 yards and a team-high 15.6 yards per catch. It earned him an invitation to the Senior Bowl, which led to an invite to the NFL combine.
There, the 6-6, 269-pounder turned in a respectable clocking of 4.71 in the 40. That showing was fifth-best among the record 19 tight ends at the combine, and kept Kasa’s stock on the rise. His in-line blocking was a strength at CU, but Kasa’ 40 time reinforced what Embree already knew – Kasa can be a downfield receiver, as well.
“I had no idea this was coming,” Kasa said. “A year ago when I was playing on defense still I was almost planning to finish up my college career and be done with football. The switch to tight end really opened the doors to me and it brought back the love of the game to me. It was kind of a revelation.
“My size and that ability in the run game really helps me with the things I can do. And the speed I can maintain at that size. The league is changing. The tight end is becoming more important in offenses.”
Without a second-round pick, the Browns probably can’t get around to picking a tight end until the middle rounds. Before the combine, Kasa was projected for the fourth or fifth round. At the combine, he renewed acquaintenances with Embree. They didn’t have to exchange cell phone numbers.
|Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com. |
He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 46 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Email your “Hey Tony” questions to email@example.comFollow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi
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