A Scout’s Take on How a Dual Threat at Tight End Can Help Open Up an Offense

Keith Jackson II

Keith Jackson

In late March of 1995, general manager Ron Wolf made a bold trade, when he acquired tight end Keith Jackson from the Miami Dolphins for a second round draft pick.

The trade was bold because at first, Jackson was adamant about not playing in Green Bay. But after some reflection and after talking with his former teammate and friend Reggie White, who had been with the Packers since 1993, Jackson agreed to join the Packers seven games into the 1995 season.

The addition of Jackson really opened up the offense of the Packers, as they also had another tight end who was starting to blossom in the NFL. That player was Mark Chmura.

That duo threat at tight end helped to propel the Packers into two straight NFC title games over the next two seasons, which also included a trip to Super Bowl XXXI, as the Pack beat the New England Patriots 35-21.

In 1995, Jackson only played in nine games because of his holdout, but together he and Chmura combined for 67 receptions for 821 yards and eight touchdowns in the regular season.

Chmura was also named to the NFC Pro Bowl squad.

Then in the postseason, the two combined 18 catches for 273 yards and four touchdowns in three games.

In 1996, Jackson and Chmura combined for 68 catches for 875 yards and 10 touchdowns, while Jackson was named to the NFC Pro Bowl squad.

In the 1996 postseason, the two combined for just eight catches for 72 yards and no scores, although Chmura caught a pass for a two-point conversion in Super Bowl XXXI.

You may ask why did the production in the postseason drop off a bit? Mostly because the opposing defenses were keying on the tight end position, which ultimately allowed the Packers to exploit other areas both in the passing game and the running game.

In the Divisional Round game versus the San Francisco 49ers at Lambeau Field, the game was played in quagmire conditions, as Desmond Howard dominated the game with his punt returning ability, with two returns for 177 yards and one score.

The Packers rushed for 139 yards in the muddy and sloppy conditions while quarterback Brett Favre only threw for 79 yards and one touchdown, which was thrown to Andre Rison.

In the NFC title game the next weekend again at Lambeau versus the Carolina Panthers, the contest was played in frigid conditions, with a temperature of just 3 degrees.

The Packers rushed for 201 yards in the game, as the safeties could not play up in the box, not with the threatening presence of Jackson and Chmura at tight end.

Favre threw for 292 yards in the game, but he used mostly his wide receivers and his running back as weapons. Antonio Freeman had four catches for 43 yards and a touchdown, while halfback Dorsey Levens had five receptions for 117 yards and a score.

In Super Bowl XXXI versus the Pats, the Packers exploited the safeties once again in the game. Favre threw for 246 yards in the game, including two long touchdown passes, when in both cases the safeties were late in getting over in coverage.

Why? The threat of the Green Bay tight ends in the middle of the field.

Mark Chmura

Mark Chmura

The Packers also rushed for 115 yards in the game.

The result? The Packers won their first Super Bowl in 29 years.

It’s one thing to have one great tight end threat on your roster, but having two makes an offense even more dangerous. The Packers proved that in 1995 and 1996.

Head coach Bill Belichick, who was the defensive coordinator for the Patriots in Super Bowl XXXI, has also utilized the tight end position recently with dual threat players. More on that later.

This takes us to this recent offseason and how teams like the Packers and Buccaneers have added to the tight end position.

In free agency, the Packers wanted to re-sign Jared Cook, who made a big difference in the Green Bay offense down the stretch of the 2016 regular season and in the playoffs, but after talks broke down, the team signed both Martellus Bennett and Lance Kendricks.

Add those two together with tight end Richard Rodgers of the Packers and you essentially have a triple threat. Just look at the numbers these three put up in 2016.

Bennett caught 55 passes for 701 yards (12.7 average) and seven touchdowns for the Patriots, while he was sometimes teamed with Rob Gronkowski (25-540-3), who only played in eight games because of injury.

Kendricks caught 50 passes for 499 yards and two touchdowns for the Los Angeles Rams.

Meanwhile, Rodgers had 30 receptions for 271 yards and two touchdowns in 2016, which was coming off a 2015 season when No. 82 had 58 catches for 510 yards and eight touchdowns.

The Bucs also added some weapons to the tight end position, as they drafted the top one in the draft when they selected O.J. Howard of Alabama. Tampa Bay can now team Howard with tight end Cameron Brate, who had 57 catches for 660 yards and eight touchdowns last season.

I wanted to get the opinion from one of the best in the business about how having a dual threat at tight end will help open up an offense for a particular team.

I had that opportunity this past week, as I was able to talk with NFL scout Chris Landry on 620 WDAE’s Steve Duemig Show.

I talked about the situation regarding the Jackson/Chmura combination for the Packers at tight end, plus mentioned how the Packers and Bucs had added to the tight end position this offseason, as I asked Landry to comment about how a dual threat at that position can open off an offense.

“It’s huge,” Landry said. “I’ve always been a big proponent and I think it’s the Patriots affect with what Bill Belichick has done with tight ends. They had Gronk and of course the tragic situation with Aaron Hernandez, and let’s not forget that with him they had something special.

“They have moved on with different tight ends. But having two guys who they work as big slots, or an inline Y with one guy flexed out, is very difficult to defend. It’s tough, because when you have the type of size, or when you bring in all small guys, you become a little too small to run.

“But when you have that type of size at tight end that can affect the passing game, that still allows to run the football if you want to. It really allows you to dictate the defense. I’m a big believer in it.”

Then Landry specifically talked about the how the new enhanced tight end situation with the Bucs will help their offense.

“I think [Cameron] Brate did a really good job,” Landry said. “I think he’s functional in the red zone. He’s good working down the seam. But O.J. Howard can bring a different dimension. A more explosive dimension. I think one of the problems that they [the Bucs] have had, is forcing the ball a little too much.

“That is partly due to Jameis’ [Winston] style and aggressiveness. But you also feed that aggressiveness when you don’t have have a lot of weapons to go to. Now, the key is going to be to take the check down, go to the short receiver quicker and not force the ball.

“Listen, you improve the running game and you have more weapons in the seam. They (the Bucs), as I discussed with Steve last Thursday, are in the best position in the Winston/Koetter era of having more weapons to throw the football too. Even having a guy like [Chris] Godwin helps you.

“You have more options to stretch vertically. When you have D-Jack [DeSean Jackson], [Mike] Evans and Godwin as guys who can stretch vertically, it forces the safeties to stay deep. It opens up the seam and that’s where tight ends can attack.

“So I think you have more consistent drives, where you may not have as many explosive plays, but you can sustain drives more. Control the football more. Make your defense better by being on the football field for less snaps. All those things are positive I think.

“I think it’s a huge affect. I want at least two starting tight ends at all times. Preferably a guy who can line up as a Y and another guy who can be more of a flex guy.”

Everything Landry just talked about regarding the situation with the Bucs is even more pronounced in Green Bay.

Aaron Rodgers and Martellus Bennett at a Milwaukee Bucks game

Aaron Rodgers talks with Martellus Bennett at a recent Toronto Raptors vs. Milwaukee Bucks playoff game at the BMO Harris Bradley Center in Milwaukee.

First, you have Aaron Rodgers as your quarterback. No. 12 has already won two NFL MVP awards, along with another MVP award in Super Bowl XLV when the Packers beat the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Rodgers put up another MVP-type performance last season, when he threw 40 touchdown passes versus just seven interceptions for 4,458 yards. Part of the reason for that success, was the way Cook helped to open up the offense in the last seven games of the season, when he came back from an ankle injury. In those seven games, Rodgers threw 18 touchdown passes without throwing a pick for 2,018 yards.

The Packers also utilized both Cook and Richard Rodgers at tight end in the postseason, as Cook had 18 receptions for 229 yards and two touchdowns in three games, while Rodgers had one big catch for 34 yards and one touchdown.

Partly because of the weaponry at tight end in the postseason last year, No. 12 threw nine touchdown passes versus just two picks for 1,004 yards in three games.

Now knowing that the team has added Bennett and Kendricks to the tight end equation with Rodgers, plus knowing that the Packers still have Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, Davante Adams and Geronimo Allison among others at wide receiver, the offense of the Packers in 2017 can really be a difficult one to defend.

Plus, the running game will also be helped, as the safeties will have to stay deep. That means that Ty Montgomery and the three rookie running backs that the Packers drafted, which includes Jamaal Williams, will have more room to run.

Bottom line, teams who have dual or even triple threats at tight end can really expand the damage in which they can inflict on a defense, as all parts of the offense can be used effectively. The running game, the short passing game, the passes in the seam and the vertical passing game can all be used to cause havoc for a defense.

One thought on “A Scout’s Take on How a Dual Threat at Tight End Can Help Open Up an Offense

  1. Good article, Bob. Ted Thompson, though, missed out by failing to use a fifth round pick for Bucky Hodges in this year’s draft. He eventually was selected by the Vikings in the 6th round. It’s amazing to think that we could have had him in the 5th round. Hodges is a “move” TE who has the speed to be used as a big WR. We’ll be seeing a lot of him in the years to come, unfortunately.


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