Sent: 03-14-03 at 11:35 a.m. ET
To clarify, Comella left the Giants last spring when he signed on as an Unrestricted Free Agent with the Tennessee Titans. He was a 6-1, 240-pound hard-nosed fullback (a vanishing breed, incidentally; more on that later) who served as a blocker on the move, a receiver and a quasi-tight end on occasion.
The Giants then drafted Jeremy Shockey in the first round of the annual body snatch last April, teamed him with Campbell and for the first time in more than a decade had two tight ends who could wreak some sort of offensive havoc on a defense.
"Danny was important for Jeremy," said tight ends coach Mike Pope yesterday. "He was a sort of mentor for the rookie. It was like Don Hasselbeck (1985) when he showed another rookie, Mark Bavaro [who went on to team with Zeke Mowatt], what to do and how to do it and how to act and study and prepare. It's important for a rookie to have a mentor, a role model like that.
"Danny also learned from Jeremy, in terms of receiving, but mostly it was Jeremy who got his education from Danny. They got to be very close. I think Shockey is going to miss him this season."
So will the offense, and among those being lined up as prospective replacements are newly-signed fullback Jimmy Finn (the free agent from Indianapolis) and Darnell Dinkins, the 6-4, now 255-pound "star" of last year's training camp.
He had been pushed around from quarterback to safety to several other positions in college (Pitt), never staying long enough to solidify his skills or his job. But head coach Jim Fassel loved his intensity and athleticism, and before he hurt his foot he was one of the best special teams players on the roster.
"He was a force," said Pope, "and I think he just might become the tight end we lost when Shockey signed [with Dallas]."
Comella, according to Pope, "did a lot of the things Campbell did, but he wasn't an end-of-the-line blocker, and we started using Danny and Jeremy on the field together as tight ends, which we couldn't do with Greg. But in terms of formation and deployment, we used Comella the same way.
"Finn, now, is a very big, very athletic fullback, and the offenses he has been with, in college and in the pros, never featured him that way. He's more like Comella, tough and a good blocker."
So rather than despairing, Pope anticipates with some excitement the on-coming minicamps and training camp. "Oh, we'll have a player to block at the end of the line," he said. "It could be Dinkins. It could be somebody not on the team now. But we have to admit to ourselves that the tight end position has a new status these days, because fullbacks are really disappearing from the NFL, at least fullbacks as we have grown accustomed to them."
Why? Well, it's tough to find the big, hard-running fullbacks in college these days because the speed of the game and the emphasis on passing has become so much of a factor. "Fullbacks just get banged up and used up, they don't last long," Pope adds. "You need one big enough to hit [300-pound linebacker] Levon Kirkland and fast enough to get downfield and catch the ball. That's hard to find. There just aren't any."
This year, Pope feels there are "at least" 25 tight ends worthy of being drafted, and others who will sign as free agents soon after the draft is completed.
It is well to note that last season the Giants' tight ends caught a cumulative 97 passes for 1,094 yards. Of course, Shockey had the bulk of that with 74 receptions for 894 yards, but much of that was made easier because of Campbell being on the field at the same time.
"Danny was there and defenses knew he could catch the ball," Pope said. "He made it possible for Jeremy to get downfield. You know, we didn't really know for sure what we had when we drafted Shockey, but we also didn't know how much help Danny would be to him. That was a bonus."
He feels Bill Parcells in Dallas will use Campbell to compete with Tony McGee, a veteran of 10 seasons and one of Pope's students early in his career with Cincinnati. "He's got a really big one, a blocker named [Mike] Lucky [6-6, 275]," Pope said. "I'm pretty sure he'll use McGee to kind of coach Danny, like we did back then with Bavaro and last year with Shockey."
And now Pope will have to find some sort of replacement, be it a fullback-type or a Dinkins-type or somebody who hasn't even signed a contract yet.
"You know we'll have somebody," he said. "This game and that position are getting too complicated not to have at least two."
Funny, he never mentioned Marcellus Rivers, who appears to be qualified only as an effective special teams performer. There is this to say about Rivers: While he can't catch well, he isn't a very good blocker, either.
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