Ravens' Heap, Giants' Shockey polar opposites

In an insular football world where talent level and style points are constantly debated, Todd Heap and Jeremy Shockey represent polar opposites.

OWINGS MILLS - Both physically dominant tight ends are widely acknowledged as two of the more intriguing young players in the league.

Beyond the shared traits of competitiveness, size, speed, vertical leap and soft hands, there's little in the way of a common denominator between the two Pro Bowl football players and former first-round draft picks. Especially when it comes to the disparate personalities of the Baltimore Ravens' clean-cut Heap and the New York Giants' long-haired, outlandish Shockey.

Shockey loves the nightlife: the glitz and glitter of New York and Las Vegas, carousing with fellow celebrities at parties, boasting about his exploits at strip clubs. He's the poster boy of tabloids' gossip columns. Ravens safety Ed Reed, Shockey's college teammate, said the Giants' star tight end is the epitome of the brash University of Miami athlete. "Shockey is on the cover of every magazine and he's cleaning up that way," Reed said. "That's not Todd's way."

A Mormon who doesn't drink alcohol, Heap tends to spend his time away from football with his wife, Ashley, and loves to read bedtime stories to their daughter, Brooklyn.

However, the two players are unlikely to square off Thursday when the Ravens host the Giants because Shockey is unlikely to play because of a cracked rib. "They are different kinds of kids," said Joe Theismann, an ESPN analyst and former Washington Redskins quarterback. "Jeremy is a kid and Todd is a more mature kid. "In one way, they're really not that dissimilar. "They're both bright kids who appreciate the opportunity they have to play professional football. They have different personalities, but a lot of that is about perception."

Both Heap, 23, and Shockey, 22, established themselves as Pro Bowl selections last season. They went about that task much differently, though. Heap didn't celebrate much after his six touchdowns. He was the only tight end in the league to lead his team in receptions with 68 catches. Shockey, who scored twice, signaled his own first downs. He also had a tendency to try to bull over defenders rather than simply gain as many yards as possible. "Shockey plays with his personality and I play with mine," Heap said. "We're at two different stages in our lives right now. I'm married and have a wife and kid. "I'm trying to relax, especially off the field, and I like to go home and see my wife. That's probably the biggest difference right there."

Shockey is prone to outrageous comments that have made him the outlaw of the politically-correct set. He used an anti-gay slur in an interview to insult Dallas Cowboys coach Bill Parcells and detailed his sexual fantasies in national publications. He has apologized for both incidents. Heap has never been linked to any controversy. Even though he's unlikely to ever brawl with a teammate, as Shockey did with linebacker Brandon Short last year, teammates say Heap is no one to trifle with. "Todd is a clean-cut, respectful person," Ravens tight end Terry Jones said. "Don't mess with him on the field or he'll turn into a different animal."

Shockey finished the season with 74 catches for 894 yards and two touchdowns. He also dropped a touchdown pass that could have put the game away for the Giants in their playoff loss to the San Francisco 49ers. He made an obscene gesture in that contest and was fined $10,000 by the NFL for hitting youngsters with ice.

One year after apprenticing under Shannon Sharpe, Heap had 836 receiving yards to outdistance the Kansas City Chiefs' All-Pro tight end Tony Gonzalez' total of 773. "With no disrespect to Gonzalez, Shockey and Shannon Sharpe, and those are three players that are phenomenal talents, I wouldn't trade Todd for anybody," Ravens coach Brian Billick said.

Heap and Shockey are roughly the same size at 6-foot-5 and 252 pounds and both have covered 40 yards in 4.6 seconds. Both create mismatches against smaller, slower linebackers and safeties. So, who's the better tight end? "They're both great," Reed said. "When they're done playing, that's when we'll know who the best really was. For now, we know that Heap is Heap and Shockey is Shockey."

While Giants coach Jim Fassel focuses his playbook heavily on Shockey, the Ravens are similarly devoted to isolating Heap downfield. Baltimore employs a lot of double tight end sets and sends Heap in motion along with lining him up everywhere from wide receiver to fullback. "They're both extremely athletic, both have great hands and both are used similarly in their offenses by Jim and Brian," Theismann said. "Lately, we've seen the most exceptional athletes come into the league at tight end, not at wide receiver, running back or quarterback. "These are future stars. It would be tough for me to pick one because they both do the same thing."

Certainly, both players want to win. Yet, Heap goes about that business while garnering a lot less attention with a game devoid of theatrics. "Shockey's a great player," Heap said. "He plays with passion. He plays with heart. He's very competitive. I think that's a common thread between us. "You always hear the comparisons. You always want to have your own style, though."

Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times.

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