Tall tight end set to play a role

The San Diego Chargers have the league's best receiving tight end in Antonio Gates. They also have arguably the best blocking tight end in Brandon Manumaleuna. However, there is a still an opening at the position due to the release of Aaron Shea. The team may be targeting a player to fill that vacancy, one who is similar to Shea and would come at less than half the price.

Joe Newton (6-foot-7, 251 lbs.) is a productive, blue-collar tight end. He played three years at Oregon State (he missed the 2005 season with a leg injury), amassing 105 catches for 1,308 yards (12.5-yard average) and 15 touchdowns during that time. His best season came in 2004, when he set career-highs in receptions (56), yards (687) and touchdowns (seven).

Following the 2006 season, he was named a Pac-10 Honorable Mention selection and was a semifinalist for the John Mackey Award, given to the top tight end in college football. His 15 career touchdown receptions are the most by a tight end in Oregon State history.

However, Newton is more than just a receiver. He is a gritty blocker, both in pass protection and in running situations.

"I'm a big, athletic guy that can run, catch and block," he said.

Those skills earned him an invite to the Senior Bowl, where he got a got the chance to prove to scouts that he can make the transition to the pro level. Throughout Senior Bowl week, he showed off his terrific hands by catching everything thrown at him. Although he struggled with his blocking early on, he grew more and more impressive as the week progressed.

During the Senior Bowl, he caught two passes for 26 yards.

The thing that really hurt Newton was his lack of speed. He appeared slow off the line, slow into his routes and slow running downfield. However, he has always been successful despite his limited wheels and hopes to be considered one of the more complete tight ends in the draft.

"I haven't really studied the other tight ends, so I can't really comment on (my draft ranking), but I know I can do a little of everything," he said.

Several NFL teams have expressed an interest in acquiring Newton on draft day, likely projecting him to be a versatile No. 3 tight end who can contribute on special teams while working his way into the offensive rotation.

"I had a few meetings with a few different teams," Newton said. "I don't know what it's meant, but I've met with the Minnesota Vikings, St. Louis Rams and New England Patriots."

Shea was released after Senior Bowl week, so the Chargers may now be interested as well.

Newton is comparable not only to Shea, but to former Charger and current Cleveland Brown Steve Heiden. He's not flashy; he's not sexy; but he's a darn good football player.

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