Monday, August 30, 2010

The Terrifically Transitional Ozzie Newsome

What do we want from our Hall of Fame tight ends? The answer has changed over time.

The tight end became an established position throughout the NFL in approximately 1960. Not surprisingly, the first incarnation of the HOF tight end was as a bruising blocker who could also catch passes.
Bobby Walston may have been the first-best, but there were others around about that time. Certainly there were large, physical pass receivers who were also good blockers playing end before 1960. Cf. Ron Kramer, just to name one.

That early definition of the position certainly has its adherents. HOF voters have repeatedly turned aside the best pass-catching tight ends of the '60s and '70s -- Pete Retzlaff and Jerry Smith -- in favor of the better blockers: Charlie Sanders, Mike Ditka, Jim Langer, John Mackey, and Jackie Smith.

However, starting in the '80s the top tight ends were the pass-catchers for whom blocking was as big of part of their game as holding on extra points: Kellen Winslow, Keith Jackson, and Newsome.

This is hardly a revelation. As the game moved towards a pass-first track meet, the idea of the tight end as an extra left tackle who can run the occasional slip route has grown as antequated as the cassette deck. The All-Pro tight ends of the last 30 years haven't been the Pete Metzelaars and Toolbox Wests of the tight-end world; they've been Antonio Gates and the Tony Gonzalez. In that context Newsome shapes up as a transitional guy.

Transitional for this too: He's one of the few old Browns to travel with the franchise and become a new Raven. The new Browns (as by association, the Ravens) are problematic, and not just because they have a front office whose combined skill is not proportional to its combined weight. Does the time line for the Browns run Cleveland to Baltimore or Cleveland to (pause) to Cleveland?

The NFL, ignoring the precedent of every other team (including the previous tenants of Charm City) has deigned that in the case of the Browns, the line runs from Brown's Browns to Kosar's Browns to the Browns of Montario Hardesty.

Wow. Good morning, Baltimore, indeed. Newsome has made it work, but no one else could -- not Art Modell, certainly -- but only because Newsome had experience in the position.

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