Wednesday, August 1, 2007

August, already????

Where did the summer go????

Anyway, here is a great article about the Bills' tight ends from today's Rochester Democrat & Chronicle...

Bills employing tight ends more - Team adapts to a new offensive structure as role of the fullback fades

Sal Maiorana
Staff writer

(August 1, 2007) — PITTSFORD — When Daimon Shelton went down with an injury in Buffalo's 14th game last season, it effectively terminated his career as a Bill, and the traditional position of fullback in Steve Fairchild's offense became obsolete.

Actually, the beginning of the end for both occurred much earlier in the 2006 season when Shelton had to leave the Sept. 24 game against the Jets and tight end Ryan Neufeld stepped in to replace him.

"Ryan had a nice feel for it," Fairchild, the Bills offensive coordinator, recalled of Neufeld's adaptation to the lead-blocking and pass-protecting responsibilities Shelton shouldered.

Shelton returned to work the following week, but he went out for good on Dec. 17 against Miami and with Neufeld already on injured reserve due to a foot injury, backup tight end Brad Cieslak finished that game and started the final two games against Tennessee and Baltimore.

It was at that point that a light went off in Fairchild's head, signaling that a change in the teams' offensive structure was on the horizon for 2007 as tight ends would fill the role of the fullback.

Shelton carried the ball one time in 46 games during his three-year career in Buffalo. Going back the previous four years during his stint with Chicago and part of his time in Jacksonville, he carried three other times.

That's four rushing attempts in seven years, and numbers like that are not uncommon around the league for fullbacks, a position that is truly a dying breed.

"The fullbacks around the league rarely carry the ball anymore," Fairchild said. "They're pass protectors and run blockers, tight end type guys anyway.

"This gives us some flexibility."

The decision was made not to bring Shelton back because Fairchild realized that using players like Neufeld and Cieslak in the backfield would enable him to give opposing teams a variety of looks without changing personnel.

In the past, teams knew that if Shelton was in the game, the Bills were most likely going to run the ball. When Shelton came out, he was usually replaced by a third receiver, and that meant Buffalo was probably going to pass.

With Cieslak or Neufeld in the backfield, and Robert Royal or perhaps Kevin Everett in the normal tight end position on the line, it will be tough to focus in on tendencies.

The tight end lining up in the backfield can lead block on a run, help in pass protection while running back Marshawn Lynch gets into the pattern, or they can also swing out of the backfield and catch passes themselves.

"We can put the same two tight ends in the game, and run pretty much any formation we have, so the defense won't know what to expect and they'll be guessing," said Cieslak.

"The possibilities are endless."

It is very early in camp, but it seems as if Royal and Everett are being used more on the line, while Neufeld and Cieslak have lined up in the backfield. Also in the mix are rookie seventh-round draft pick Derek Schouman, who played a similar H-back type role at Boise State, and sixth-year NFL veteran Matt Murphy who has played 26 NL games with Detroit, Houston and Buffalo.

"We all can be thrown in at any position at any given time," said Royal.

"We've got a great group of guys that are interchangeable, and the more we can do that, the better chances for more tight ends to be on the field."

Cieslak played a similar role in college at Northern Illinois and has found the transition to be seamless, though it does make for more studying of the playbook.

"I did a little last year when Daimon went down, and then in college I did a lot of motion stuff and a little stuff coming out of the backfield," said the 252-pound Cieslak, who like Neufeld actually weighs about 10 pounds less than Shelton.

"It's a lot more offense to learn, but it's camp so you've got time to hit the books, plenty of time to learn it."

It is no surprise that after almost every practice, the tight ends as a group stay on the field to do extra work, whether it's running through assignments or catching passes.

That's because while the big names on offense are quarterback J.P. Losman, receiver Lee Evans and Lynch, the tight ends know they will be playing a pivotal role in how well the Bills move the football and they need to be ready when the real games start Sept. 9.

"Whatever it takes for us to be successful on offense, that's what all the tight ends are willing to do," said Royal.

No comments: