The signing of cornerback Josh Norman generated gobs of fanfare. The addition of another free agent, tight end Vernon Davis, did not. Perhaps the absence of a bidding war or the perception that the former first round pick lost a step led to his muted arrival.
Yet since Davis signed, there's been a presence, whether with the media or using his commanding voice on the practice field, a place all will reconvene Wednesday for the final Organized Team Activities practice. He's talked about the strength of Washington's locker room, the offense's upside and that coach Jay Gruden's offense as tight end friendly. In these parts that means plenty of work for Jordan Reed, yet a look back at Gruden's prior stop shows why Davis' production could end up talking loudly.
When Gruden was the offensive coordinator for Cincinnati in 2013, the Bengals selected tight end Tyler Eifert in the first round of the NFL draft despite already having a recent first round TE pick on the roster in Jermaine Gresham. Not just a tight end, Gresham was coming off a 64-catch season and a second straight Pro Bowl. For the Redskins, Davis will take on Gresham's in-line role, according to Gruden, while they try to exploit match-ups with Jordan Reed as the Bengals did with Eifert. Don't expect a mirror image situation as the styles of the players are different. The connection is Gruden, who logically could take the same diverse approach to using the tight ends. Let's take a look at the film.
When it was your father's football, the defense would automatically alert to run if they saw two tight ends enter the huddle. That is no longer the case as the game continues to develop. This is one of the most basic two tight end looks. If the defense goes light to try and cover the Redskins athletic tight ends, Washington can easily run power and stretch games out of this. If they go heavy to counter the run, this could easily be a play-action pass.
On this play, Gruden again put the tight ends next to each other but he placed one in the backfield. Again, the personnel grouping already stresses the defense. The Bengals ran out of this formation and ran play-action plays like the one pictured above.
Gruden also likes to use motion so his tight ends might not line up next to each other at first. On this play, Eifert went all the way across the formation and past Gresham, then motioned back in for a crack back block to seal the edge for the run game. Also saw Eifert drag across the formation on a play-action pass.
Sometimes, Eifert wouldn't motion back. He would motion all the way out to be isolated on the outside. We have seen this a ton with Reed. Who follows him could determine an automatic victory for the offense or at the very least, give Kirk Cousins an easy read for what kind of coverage he is receiving.
Gruden doesn't really use the fullback position (as well all witnessed his misuse of Darrel Young) so he uses tight ends as substitutes when he needs a lead blocker. Niles Paul has already said he expects to play some FB this year. On this play, Gruden moves his move-TE Eifert into the backfield. He used Eifert as an A-Gap blocker on runs and as a pass option in the flat on pass plays.
Heres another run heavy set where Bengals had a tight end on each side of the line. They ran power plays out of this and play action. There are actually three tight ends in this formation because again, Gruden doesn't utilize a true fullback.
On this play, Gruden again puts the tight ends on opposite sides of the formation but flexes one into the slot (presumably Jordan Reed in the Redskins offense). They ran a few things out of this like using the tight ends as a high-low read over the middle, four verts, etc.
Speaking of four Verts, this was one of Gruden's favorite concepts in Cincinnati and he used it in a number of ways. On this play, he placed Eifert on the two receiver side to make trips and left Gresham on the other side to run 4 verts. While Washington keeps accumulating pass catchers, I expect to see this concept more often.
On this play, Gruden brought put both tight ends back on the line of scrimmage. They ran out of this formation but also ran the 4 verts.
Gruden also used twin bunches sets with two tight ends. He placed them both in the slots and ran zone/man breakers but he also ran 4 verts from this as well.
Sometimes Gruden didn't bunch them up to resemble a run formation at all. He took his tight ends in placed them in the slots in a pure spread formation daring defenses to be able to cover everyone on 4 verticals.
Sometimes Gruden would place both the tight ends on the same side in a spread formation and the defensive alignment would be exposed based on who followed them.
Jay Gruden was only able to work with the Cincinnati duo for one season before the Redskins hired him as head coach before the 2014 season. In 2013, Eifert caught 39 balls while Gresham had 46. Don't expect the Davis/Reed numbers to be anywhere this close, but both will be used plenty. I doubt there is anyone more excited than the Redskins head coach to execute a two-TE attack once again.
Paul Conner is the Film Analyst and Draft Evaluator at Breaking Burgundy. You can follow him on Twitter @P_ConnerJr
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