The Patriots were onto something when they drafted Rob Gronkowski and the now-disgraced Aaron Hernandez in 2010. Of course, for as great as the two were when working in tandem, it became all for naught due to Hernandez’s (alleged) awful character as a human being, culminating in his arrest for first-degree murder charges.
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But when the two players were on the same roster, they were a tough duo to defend in two-tight end sets. Gronkowski has been a beast all by himself when healthy, but the two of them together were matchup nightmares. Linebackers and safeties were forced to cover them, which were matchups easy to exploit. They could both line up on the line of scrimmage, or split out wide. They were a versatile bunch in certain packages, which helped out Tom Brady tremendously.
Similarly, Ravens offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak has generally been a tight end friendly coach, employing two-tight end sets regularly, more so later into his tenure with the Houston Texans. From 2009-2012, the Texans totaled over 1,000 yards each season at the tight end position (this does count James Casey’s stats with the club, who was a hybrid fullback/tight end in the offense). Thing is, Kubiak wasn’t exactly working with tight end tandems as talented on the field as Gronkowski and Hernandez were with New England.
But this year, Kubiak should have the best tight end tandem he’s ever worked with at one time. Owen Daniels is a former Pro Bowl tight end that knows everything inside and out when it comes to Kubiak’s offense. Dennis Pitta is one of the NFL’s better emerging receiving tight ends, though he was hampered by a fluke hip injury in training camp that sidelined him until December in 2013. Pitta can line up on the line, as a slot receiver and even as a pass-catcher out of the backfield. Daniels, too. Fullback Kyle Juszczyk could see his role increase in the way Kubiak’s Texans used Casey offensively.
Point is, don’t expect the Ravens to go with three receivers too often. I have a feeling anything more than that will be a rare occasion. Instead, there should be plenty of two-tight end sets with two receivers, though that will depend on the game situation. Two receivers and two tight ends should wind up being the base offensive set this season, much like it was in Houston for Kubiak.
That would lead you to believe that Baltimore’s top pass-catching options are going to be Torrey Smith, Steve Smith, Pitta and Daniels. Jacoby Jones, in this scenario, would be the first receiver off the bench for three-receiver sets — whether that means taking a tight end off the field or keeping Joe Flacco alone in the shotgun. This could also lead the Ravens to keeping just five receivers on the 53-man roster, since there wouldn’t be a need to rotate receiver groupings as much if the game plan is going to be to run first to set up the quick pass and/or deep play action.
Be ready to watch the receiver position closer in training camp.
When Kubiak’s had two healthy tight ends in his scheme, it’s worked to his liking. If both Pitta and Daniels can stay healthy, his offense should be able to click. With it being the best tandem he’s coached, there should be a lot these players can add within the confines of this scheme.
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