The TE Competition Heats Up

While the eyes of the media are on the quarterback battle, other competitions may be almost as critical to the Browns success in 2003. One of the most intriguing is at the tight end position, where Steve Heiden, Darnell Sanders, and a healed Aaron Shea are vying for a starting role. The Browns TEs know the team's powerful offense gives them a chance to blow things open. Ron Jantz spoke to all three players about their competition and the impact they want to have this coming season.

The weapons the Browns have built up on offense are becoming an arsenal that can threaten any defense in the NFL. The wide receiver set could be the best in memory and running back William Green's future is so bright we may all need shades.

Can you imagine what a pass-catching tight end would add to the mix?

"That's my best attribute," pointed out Aaron Shea.

Shea is one of three tight ends fighting for a starting spot in offensive coordinator Bruce Arians' lineup. Darnell Sanders and Steve Heiden are the other two.

Heiden led Browns' tight ends with 17 catches a year ago. That doesn't put him in the "pass catching" category.

As a matter of fact, if you total the number of catches by all the Browns tight ends over the last two years you get 67 catches.  That's only five more than the 62 balls Ozzie Newsome caught all by himself in 1985.

No one expects the Browns to find another Newsome in this camp, but improvement is not only expected, it's needed.  "If we can step up," says Heiden "and catch balls, opposing defenses won't be able to double up our receivers like they've done."    Wouldn't that open things up!

The Browns like Heiden.  A year ago, they traded for him at the end of training camp.  The San Diego Chargers selected him in the third round, 69th pick overall, in the 1999 draft.  "I don't think," said Browns' Head Coach Butch Davis this week, "a lot of people paid attention to how important of a pick-up that was for us." 

Heiden took over the tight end spot when Sanders, drafted in the fourth round out of Ohio State, proved not ready.  Sanders, the one-time high school All-America out of Warrensville, was on the inactive list for six games a year ago and caught only three passes in 10 games.  He was used mostly as a blocking tight end but feels he's on his way to contributing this year.  "I've made big steps," Sanders told  "I've still got a lot to learn though.  I'm really trying to be a sponge around these guys," he said pointing to his left as he sat in front of his locker.  Sanders' locker is right next to Heiden's and Heiden's is right next to Shea's.  "The main thing," continued Sanders, "is we want to make a name for the group (of tight ends).  We want to let people know we can play."

Shea is healthy and ready to play again.  A year ago, he missed nine games due to injuries to his shoulder and ankle.  He had his right shoulder scoped in the off-season.  "I hope the injury bug is past me," said Shea.  "I'm thankful the Browns believe in me and they've stuck by me."  The Browns know what a healthy Shea can add to the team.  Three years ago, as a rookie, drafted out of Michigan, Shea caught 30 passes, two for touchdowns.  The Browns also use him in the "H" back position on offense.

All that said; the competition is on at tight end.

"Competition is good," said Heiden with a big smile on his face.  "It keeps you mentally and physically prepared.  I think all of us would say that."  Sanders thinks the tight ends have a chance to make an impact in more ways than one.  "I think anyone of us can go out and make big plays," he said.  "We're in a very competitive situation right now and it's good.  Steve and Aaron have been very helpful." 

Shea knows talk is cheap.  He knows this is a bottom-line time.  "We have got to prove to our quarterback," he simply stated, "that we can be a reliable target."

The Browns want the tight end to become more of an option in the offense.  The wide receivers are the threat that will occupy a defensive coordinator's time.  But, if the tight ends can play and prove worthy of a defender's attention, then this offense has a chance to be even more explosive than it was a year ago when it averaged 314 yards and 21 points a game.

"Any time you see a number," said Heiden, "you want to do even better.  If we caught 100 balls last year, we'd want to do even better this year and we will."   

"We're going to get some chances," added Shea. "Because of our great wide receivers so it's time for us to make good."  Well said!

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