After former Raven QB and NFL star Steve McNair was laid to rest Saturday, I say it's time to let the man rest in peace and move on to re-focusing on the game itself. BaltimoreRavens.com did an interesting story written by Geoff Peckham, on the competition between the tight ends. Check out the story by clicking here.
I thought this would be a great topic to debate, especially the chances of who will step up other than starter Todd Heap. Heap is coming off of a downyear, but many people withhold blaming it on him, instead making the case that he was forced to stay in on passing downs to provide additional protection for rookie QB Joe Flacco. That should change this season, as the offensive line made great strides last year and looks to be one of the strong points of this year's offense. However, I'm somewhat skeptical of that reasoning, as he did seem to drop a few passes that he normally does hold onto. At the same time, the incredible catch he made in traffic in Tennessee towards the end of the game winning drive that culminated in Matt Stover's 43 yard FG to put us in the AFC Championship Game was classic Heap.
So who represents the next best option after Heap, or in addition to him?
The Ravens second string tight end the past few years, Daniel Wilcox is now gone. Quinn Sypniewski was thought to move into the backup slot and was a solid blocker and surprisingly decent pass catcher. However, Sypniewski has been injury prone and while it looked like he was on his way to recovery and starting the season as the team's second string TE, he was forced to undergo another surgery that could either sideline him a good portion of the 2009 season or even cause him to miss it entirely.
That was the main reason the Ravens went out and signed former Philadelphia Eagle LJ Smith to a contract in the off season. Smith, who was Eagles' QB Donovan McNabb's main target at the tight end position, is very athletic for the position, with good speed but suspect hands. According to many Eagles' fans, he'll make the tough grabs but drop the balls that hit him in the hands in the key situations, which frustrated fans enough to say they won't miss him in 2009. The Eagles "trash" could be the Ravens "treasure," as they plan to use Smith in two TE sets as well in multiple passing formations and expect him to contribute right away.
Drafted in the 5th round in this year's NFL Draft, Davon Drew (East Carolina) poses some interesting options for the Ravens. He has good size (6'4", 260 lbs.) and good enough hands (43 receptions for 695 yards in 2008) to be named All Conference USA honors his final two years in school. Drew could be an excellent insurance policy for Sypniewski if his recovery is delayed or interrupted.
The Ravens moved LB/DE Edgar Jones around last year, based on their needs each game. Some were at his natural position on the defensive side of the ball, but other times, he was forced onto the offensive side as a reserve tight end. Although he only caught one pass last year, he proved his versatility by playing defense and Special Teams and will continue to be a valuable Wild Card in 2009 wherever he is utilized.
Finally, there is little known about Isaac Smolko, who was an undrafted free agent in 2008 out of Penn State University. At 6'5", 258 lbs., Smolko is a big target but did not have any receptions in his rookie year last season, with minimal playing. For him to make the team, it will be due to his play on Special Teams, as he is buried deep on the TE depth chart.
The Ravens report to Training Camp in Westminster, Maryland in less than three weeks and the TE position will be closely watched by all to see how they stack up to play in the 2009 season that is finally getting closer and closer.