The Baltimore Ravens roster for 2014 is going to have a greater focus on tight ends. This has been a theme we have heard since the hiring of new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak.
So who will be the tight ends to mark the beginning of the season? And how many will there be?
This piece today is part of a continuing series of articles that are taking an early speculative look at who will be on the final 53-man roster when the 2014 campaign begins. And in the first article of the series, while talking about the typical configuration of the 53-man roster, we said, “… many teams may take only three tight ends and have nine players on the line. But given the tight-end-oriented offense of Gary Kubiak being designed, the Ravens are sure to keep four of these big boys with the gentle hands.”
Actually, this could depend from week to week on specific needs and player health – both at tight end and on the offensive line – but let us assume for this exercise that four will be kept. At the current time there are five tight ends on the large, active roster.
Identifying the first three who will be on the roster is very simple. The leading TE will be Dennis Pitta, with Owen Daniels on the other side. Recent third-round draftee Crockett Gillmore will certainly be retained as well. The only choice (as things stand now) comes down to either Nathan Overbay or Phillip Supernaw.
Dennis Pitta – The #1 offseason priority for the Baltimore Ravens was signing Joe Flacco’s favorite target Dennis Pitta to a new contract. At a reported five years / $32-million, it places the receiver among the top ten tight ends in the NFL.
Drafted in 2010 in the fourth round out of Brigham Young, Pitta’s best season was in 2012 where he pulled down seven TDs and 61 total passes for 699 yards. His playoff record also demonstrates his ability in the clutch with four touchdowns and 233 yards on 21 catches.
Clearly the Ravens were not the same with Pitta out of the lineup much of this past season due to his hip injury and surgery. When he returned for the final four games and caught 20 passes for 169 yards, it was obvious that he greatly enhanced the offense and that his health and skills remained intact. Harbaugh said in a statement, “It was obvious when Dennis was out last year that we really missed him.”
Pitta not only makes his own contributions – pulling in catches at horizontal angles with the look of glue on his hands – he creates situations that open up opportunities for the other receivers on the field. At the time of the contract signing, Ozzie Newsome said, “Dennis creates a number of mismatch problems for defenses. He makes it tough on them, and because of that, he really helps out our wide receivers. Opponents have to always pay attention to where he lines up and where his routes take him. Dennis is also a big target with very good hands, and his presence in the red zone is very important to us.”
All reports from the OTAs (organized team activities) are that Pitta looks to be completely himself and at last fully recovered from the hip injury at the end of July.
Owen Daniels – Though Daniels comes with a measure of concerns for injury, the hopes are that this will not affect the 31-year-old who spent eight years with Gary Kubiak in Houston. He was only able to play in five games in 2013 for 24 catches. Daniels was a Pro Bowl selection in 2008 and 2012, known for being one who can handle blocking assignments as well as make tough catches in tight situations.
He has already connected well with Pitta upon the matter of learning the Kubiak system. Daniels is re-united with not only Kubiak, but also with his former TE coach Brian Pariani, who has come to the Baltimore Ravens with Kubiak.
Crockett Gillmore – Perhaps the best blocker of these first three tight ends will be the rookie third-round pick from Colorado State. At 6-6, 253 pounds, he has the size and the desire to be seen first as a blocker rather than a receiver. Having said that, Gillmore gets rave reviews from all who see him pull in passes with soft hands.
Phillip Supernaw – This native Texan has spent time with the Houston practice squad, being activated once but not making it to the field. He has had some injury problems that have limited his abilities. His advantage over Overbay is that he is just a bit better acquainted with the Kubiak system from Houston exposures.
Nathan Overbay – Taken as an undrafted free agent by the Denver Broncos in 2010, Overbay is now with his seventh team. He has been on the practice squad for a number of teams, but he has never accumulated any game-time statistics.
Given the rather scant experience of the final two players, tight end might be a position where the Ravens may look to add a veteran free agent or roster cut if they really value retaining four players at this position.