Heap coming on strong

Evidence of athleticism was on clear display as Todd Heap put on a clinic at how to play the tight end position. Yet, mistaking Heap as an oversized wide receiver could become a commonplace situation for the Baltimore Ravens. At age 22, Heap has begun a practice of lining up at multiple spots and running his patterns as adeptly as much smaller men.

"The big thing with Todd coming out was, ‘Could he be a point of attack guy or just be a move guy?'" Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "His blocking has been outstanding. He's as complete a tight end as there is in the league, albeit a young one."

 Not only was Heap effective in the red zone in the Ravens' 17-10 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars, but last year's first-round pick was also employed several times as a wide receiver. Heap finished the game with four catches for 39 yards and two touchdowns.

 During the second quarter, Heap released quickly into his corner route. There was one yard to for a touchdown. Quarterback Chris Redman executed a run fake and glanced toward fullback Alan Ricard in the flat before tossing it to his primary read: Redman was looking for Heap, the 6-foot-5, 252-pound tight end who succeeded Shannon Sharpe after a one-year apprenticeship last season.

Heap managed to daintily touch both feet inside the end zone, usually a custom excluded to receivers, to create a 7-0 lead.

"Todd's a big receiver just like we had with Shannon because he can move around, not just at tight end," running back Jamal Lewis said. "He can get downfield and make big plays."

By the third quarter, Heap was scoring again to extend the Ravens' lead to 17-7. Executing a waggle pass, Redman rolled to his right and found Heap alone after he separated from the linebackers and safeties.

Once he secured the ball, Heap stumbled at first before agilely eluding tacklers to find pay dirt. Heap's ability to avoid cornerback Fernando Bryant's lunging attempt to stop him was critical to the 20-yard touchdown reception. It was his fourth touchdown reception of the season.

"I thought, ‘If I beat this guy, it should be a touchdown,'" Heap said. "I was trying to do everything I could to get in there."

Split out wide in the first quarter, Heap was able to secure an 11-yard reception by wrestling the football away from hard-hitting Jacksonville safety Donovin Darius.

On two other occasions at receiver, Heap ran a fly pattern and beat his man by sprinting past him. Afterward, Heap was actually annoyed with himself that he wasn't able to catch the football.

 "When we spread Todd out wide, it's like having an extra receiver and we get some mismatches," Redman said. "Obviously, a tight end who can run and has hands like that is going to rate very high. Todd is a great athlete making some unbelievable catches."

Through six games, Heap has caught 23 passes for 254 yards and four touchdowns. While Heap isn't on pace for the 70 to 80 receptions that Billick predicted earlier this season, extrapolating his current numbers would give him projections of roughly 61 receptions, 677 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Whether that would rank Heap among the elite tight ends in only his second year in the league is debatable, but he prefers to let others make that determination.

"I don't know," said Heap, who set the Arizona State Sun Devils' career marks for tight ends with 115 receptions and 1,685 yards. "That's what everyone else's job is to see how that goes. I'm just trying to make plays."


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