Craig Stevens is a dying breed. While once representative of the prototypical tight end, the game has changed so much (dramatically in the last ten years) that tight ends are now looked at as simply another receiving option. It wasn’t that long ago that the best tight ends in the league were considered so an account of their versatility. TE’s rarely split out, instead standing foot-to-foot with the tackles on either side of the ball. They were asked to drive a defender down-field far more often than they were asked to run a seam. Teams also ran I-formations and utilized fullbacks; “the times, they are-a becoming quite different”, as a character from the greatest show of all time once said.
Lest you think blocking abilities have been de-valued by staffs among the league, I present to you Craig Stevens. Stevens is the type of TE that coaches love; he hearkens back to an era when tight ends sought out contact and identified more as trench guys than skills guys. Now, this is not to take anything away from the athleticism of an Antonio Gates and the play-making ability of a Rob Gronkowski, rather, it is to illustrate that blocking is typically not factored in these days when it comes to most pundits ranking the top TE’s in the game. Coaches, however, know the true value of blocking TE’s and what they bring to the game.
“You look at the college game right now, and no one is really having a tight end that’s blocking,” Titans offensive coordinator Chris Palmer said. “They’re all split out and they’re all standing up. It’s easy to find a receiving tight end, but I think that’s why a lot of coaches now are hiring former offensive line coaches to coach the tight ends — so they can help them with their blocking.”
While Jared Cook and rookie Taylor Thompson, along with Cameron Graham (a practice squad player that is hoping to make the cut this season) all have a great deal of athleticism, they have very little experience with the more offensive line-like aspects of the position. John Glennon of The Tennessean even reports that Cook, “readily admits that [his] shortcomings as a blocker kept him from getting more playing time during his first three years.”
“Craig’s a beast of a blocker. He’s good at keeping his balance and staying low, and he has good leg drive and upper-body strength to finish a guy. He’s really good at finishing a play and staying on his feet, so that’s what I’ve learned from him. Coming out of Coach Spurrier’s offense, we didn’t do a whole lot of blocking (as tight ends), so just talking to Craig and (former Titans tight end Daniel Graham), and especially watching Craig, has been a real help.” – Jared Cook
Interestingly, Coach Munchak thinks that Thompson may have an easier time than most at picking up that side of the game. If you recall, Thompson is a converted defensive end out of SMU, who may follow the recent trend of fostering size and athleticism to create mismatches at the tight end position. Antonio Gates and Jimmy Graham were both former basketball stars who followed this trend.
“He’s a little different because he has played the defensive line and he’s been in the trenches,” Munchak said. “He’s not some basketball guy that doesn’t understand what it is like to play in the offensive line or defensive line. He understands that world, so that is a huge plus, I think, with his blocking.”
Wait, was that a shot from coach? Coach Munch? I don’t think it was intended that way, but it is interesting to note that, as an old school guy, he probably doesn’t much care for the more, dare I say, pure aspects of the game being reduced, and as a Hall of Fame guard, you know he wants to instill the toughness that goes along with that position in his guys. Thankfully, Craig Stevens is exactly the type of guy to help achieve that.
For more on this story, head to The Tennessean here.
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