Ravens plan to keep Heap on the move

WESTMINSTER -- The Baltimore Ravens' plan to utilize the talents of Pro Bowl tight end Todd Heap as much as possible includes gambits of disguise and movement.<br><br> In an attempt to confuse opposing defenses, the Ravens will practice an elaborate game of hide-and-seek with their most viable downfield threat.<br><br> The new offensive mantra of the run-oriented defending AFC North champions could become: Where's Todd?

From snap to snap, Heap is liable to line up as a tight end on the line or flexed off the line of scrimmage, at the slot receiver position, split end and fullback. He's expected to be a fixture in three-wide receiver sets.

"We have a lot of flexibility with Todd because he's so athletic and can move inside and out," offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh said. "He's such a big factor for us offensively."

Heap, 24, is entering his fourth NFL season and has been selected to the last two Pro Bowls since taking over the position from Shannon Sharpe in 2002.

In three seasons, the first-round draft pick from Arizona State has caught 141 passes for 1,735 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Because of his rare combination of size and speed, the Ravens regularly isolate Heap to create favorable matchups against undersized cornerbacks and slow-footed linebackers.

"Todd is kind of unique in what he does," tight ends coach Wade Harman said. "He runs great routes. He can run. He can jump. He's a strong guy. He does a nice job of blocking.

"He has a lot of qualities that are hard to find in a tight end."

Harman said Heap would occasionally be used on reverses because defenses have adjusted to the Ravens' cutback plays and are chasing so hard in backside pursuit.

At 6-foot-5 and 252 pounds, Heap possesses the speed of many wide receivers as he's capable of covering 40 yards between 4.5 and 4.6 seconds.

"There are definitely certain situations where my eyes light up at the matchup," Heap said. "Whether it's a cornerback going into the red zone or a linebacker in the middle of the field, or a safety over the top, there are routes where I'm saying, ‘This is going to work.' I hope to see a lot of those mismatches this year."

Last season, Heap's totals for receptions, yardage and touchdowns dropped.

In 2003, Heap caught a team-high 57 passes for 693 yards and three touchdowns one season removed from career-high totals of 68 receptions, 836 yards and six touchdowns.

It was quarterback Kyle Boller's rookie season, and the Ravens had the lowest-ranked passing offense in the league.

"We've got to get the ball to him a little bit more," Ravens coach Brian Billick said of Heap. "And he and Kyle have to develop that sixth sense about them."

"Kyle is more comfortable with me and that's going to be huge," Heap said. "I'm looking forward to Kyle getting into the groove and fulfilling his potential."

Uncharacteristically, Heap dropped five passes last season, according to Stats, Inc.

He also had 55 passes not caught, a statistic that combines dropped passes, incomplete passes, passes batted down and interceptions on attempts directed his way.

The passes not caught could probably be equated to the Ravens' combined 52.3 percent completion percentage and 19 interceptions along with defenses' awareness of Heap.

"I probably had a few more drops and that's not acceptable by my standards or by anybody's standards," Heap said. "I expect to get better every season whether or not that translates into catches and touchdowns. I felt I got better last season, but I definitely wasn't where I wanted to be at the end of the season."

Heap's dissatisfaction was evident to the coaching staff last season, but not in a loud, disruptive way by the clean-cut, devout Mormon. Heap was frustrated with the level of offensive efficiency and how defenses loaded up at the line of scrimmage to try to slow down Pro Bowl runner Jamal Lewis.

"I think Todd, like a lot of us, was frustrated with the inefficiency," Cavanaugh said. "He's not satisfied with going to the Pro Bowl. He wants to go to the Super Bowl.

"I like that attitude. He's disappointed because he knows we should be more efficient and that's where our focus is."

Harman estimated that Heap plays more positions than any other player on the Ravens with the possible exception of versatile outside linebacker Adalius Thomas.

"Todd's a great kid who studies, plays all over the field and doesn't make many errors at all," Harman said. "It takes a special guy to do that and want to do that. He's very good and he's also very hard on himself."

Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times.
 


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