From the NFL, first up is the AFC and the NFC Notes come after the 'Jump.'
|FOR USE AS DESIRED|
NFL TIGHT ENDS ARE IN HIGH DEMAND
The days of an NFL tight end serving primarily as a blocker are long gone.
"It’s a position of importance now as scouting departments put teams together," says Houston Texans head coach GARY KUBIAK. "They are weapons now. Tight ends use to block and catch 35 balls a year, now these guys are catching 80 balls and gaining 1,000 receiving yards. It’s a premium position in football."
Baltimore Ravens general manager and executive vice president OZZIE NEWSOME is one of seven tight ends inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Newsome played 13 NFL seasons (1978-1990) and has great insight on the position.
"There are a number of reasons that tight ends are catching so many balls right now," says Newsome. "We are getting a lot of good, young tight ends who are ready to play because of the pro-style offenses colleges are running these days. These players have the right size. They’re 6-4 and weigh 260-270-pounds and they can run. They can line up tight and block, and you can split them out as a big receiver – and they do all of it well."
In 2009, tight ends are on pace to break the NFL season record for the most receptions, receiving yards and touchdown catches for the position. Through Week 8, tight ends have totaled 1,018 receptions, 11,280 receiving yards and 87 touchdown receptions.
A look at the most receptions, receiving yards and touchdown receptions in a season by tight ends and the 2009 record-breaking pace:
|MOST RECEPTIONS IN A SEASON||YEAR||RECEPTIONS THROUGH WEEK 8||2009 PACE|
|MOST RECEIVING YARDS IN A SEASON||YEAR||RECEIVING YARDS THROUGH WEEK 8||2009 PACE|
|MOST TOUCHDOWNS IN A SEASON||YEAR||TD RECEPTIONS THROUGH WEEK 8||2009 PACE|
* * *
THE EVOLUTION: ESPN analyst and Pro Football Hall of Fame tight end MIKE DITKA can relate to how the position has changed over the years. In 1964 with the Chicago Bears, Ditka set a then season record for a tight end with 75 receptions.
"In the old days the tight end lined up a yard and a half away from the offensive tackle," says Ditka. "That’s no more. They are not used to block as much as they were in the old days. They’re spreading people out. The job of the tight end is to find the open areas, whether in man coverage and you have to separate, or if you’re in zones, you’re going to have to find and sit down in the holes.
"You have the evolution of defenses too," Ditka continues. "You have a lot of ‘cover two.’ With cover two, the tight end should become a primary receiver because he’s working inside, working the seam area, and basically he’s working against linebackers."
CBS analyst and former NFL tight end SHANNON SHARPE, who enjoyed a 14-year career (1990-2003) and currently ranks second all-time at the position in receptions (815), receiving yards (10,060) and touchdown receptions (62) illustrated how a tight end can create mismatches through size when facing safeties and through against versus linebackers.
"When I first got to the league, everyone wanted a guy that could block and dominate the line of scrimmage," says Sharpe. "Now everybody wants that tight end that’s almost like a receiver. When I first got in the league, you never heard of a tight end having a 100-yard receiving day. Now, it’s common. He’s not going to dominate the line of scrimmage in blocking, but he is going to cause nightmares for guys trying to cover him down the football field."
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SAINTS LEADING NFL’S TOUCHDOWN BARRAGE
Through the first eight weeks of the 2009 NFL season, touchdowns are being scored at a furious pace. So far this year, the league has recorded 582 touchdowns, tied for the third-most through the first eight weeks of a season in NFL history.
Leading the charge are the 7-0 New Orleans Saints, the NFC’s lone unbeaten team. The Saints have scored an NFL-best 36 touchdowns, tied for the third-most through the first seven games in league history.
|2009 TD LEADERS||MOST TDs IN FIRST 7 GAMES, NFL HISTORY|
|New Orleans Saints||36||Los Angeles Rams||1950||40|
|Minnesota Vikings||29||St. Louis Rams||2000||37|
|Baltimore Ravens||25||New Orleans Saints||2009||36|
|Houston Texans||24||Chicago Bears||1941||36|
|Indianapolis Colts||24||Baltimore Colts||1958||36|
|New England Patriots||2007||36|
"The Saints have great balance in their football team," says NFL Network analyst STEVE MARIUCCI. "They’re capable of both running and passing the football."
On offense, 11 different Saints players have scored at least one rushing or receiving touchdown this season. Wide receiver MARQUES COLSTON leads the club with six receiving touchdowns while running backs REGGIE BUSH and PIERRE THOMAS each have a team-high four rushing scores.
|MOST PLAYERS WITH RUSHING/RECEIVING TD IN SEASON*|
|TEAM||YEAR||PLAYERS WITH TD|
|Los Angeles Rams||1950||16|
|Tampa Bay Buccaneers||2003||15|
*Does not include 1987 season (replacement players)
**Through Week 8
"In the passing game, they spread the ball around very well," says Mariucci. "They use multiple formations and they spread the ball around. Quarterback DREW BREES has a lot of weapons with Marques Colston, JEREMY SHOCKEY, DEVERY HENDERSON, ROBERT MEACHEM and even Reggie Bush when he lines up as a receiver."
The man that makes the offense go is Brees, who is tied for the NFL lead with 16 touchdown passes.
"He’s a precision passer," says ESPN analyst JON GRUDEN. "He’s deadly accurate and he has incredible timing and anticipation. He’s a football genius. He’s cool under pressure and he’s a leader. Nobody works harder than Drew Brees."
The Saints have also had success running the football, as the club leads the NFC averaging 153.3 rush yards per game.
"This team spreads the wealth," says Mariucci. "The running game has a lot of good backs – guys like Pierre Thomas, MIKE BELL and Reggie Bush – and there’s balance there too.
"The overall balance between run and pass is what makes this team so hard to stop. You cannot key on just one guy. There are too many weapons. This offense is hard to prepare for. Head coach SEAN PAYTON is very creative and he uses lots of formations and multiple sets and personnel groups. He likes it that way and he prefers to have some sophistication in his attack because it makes the offense less predictable."
After watching Brees and the Saints defeat the Atlanta Falcons on Monday Night Football this past week, Gruden left impressed.
"This team has so many weapons and so many ways to attack. This team has flawless execution. And Drew Brees is a great quarterback."