|Countdown to Camp: Tight Ends||07.25.09 at 11:40 pm ET|
With training camp looming at the end of the month, WEEI.com will look at the 2009 Patriots in a daily position-by-position breakdown we’re calling “Countdown to Camp.” In today’s installment, we take a look at New England’s tight ends.
CURRENTLY ON THE ROSTER: Benjamin Watson, David Thomas, Tyson DeVree, Chris Baker, Alex Smith.
A LOOK BACK: When it came to overall pass-catching numbers, it wasn’t a great season for New England’s tight end crew. Watson accounted for most of the offense (22 catches, 209, 2 TDs) with Thomas seeing limited action (9 catches for 93 yards). DeVree did not catch a pass last season, seeing the bulk of his time as a blocker and on special teams.
There were also a couple of very embarrassing penalties taken by Pats’ tight ends last season. Thomas took a horrible unnecessary roughness call in a key spot against the Colts in November that contributed to a narrow loss, while a touchdown celebration from Watson in a December win at the Seahawks left him with egg on his face. After each infraction, neither caught a single pass the rest of the season.
Smith was the third-round pick of Tampa Bay in 2005. He’s hauled in 129 catches for 1,252 yards and 11 touchdowns in his career, including 21 catches for 250 yards and three TDs last year. Baker, 29, has 145 catches for 1,505 yards and 12 TDs in his seven-year career with the New York Jets. (He had 21 catches for 194 yards last season.)
A LOOK AHEAD: Like the battle for playing time at running back, the tight end spot will be interesting to watch through training camp and the preseason to see who is getting time.
Despite some bad drops over the last couple of seasons, the 28-year-old Watson has to be considered the No. 1 option at this point in the passing attack primarily because of the combination of his size and speed. However, the Patriots have some guys who can fill multiple roles. While the 29-year-old Baker has shown a flair for pass catching — he had 41 catches in 2007 — look for him to show up in mostly blocking situations next to Matt Light against better pass rushers and in short routes (he caught just one pass for more than 20 yards last season).
Thomas, 26, and Smith, 27, are also able to fill more than one spot, including a possible H-back position now that the Pats have let their only traditional fullback (Heath Evans) leave in free agency. The 24-year-old DeVree could ultimately be a victim of the numbers game if New England does go with an extra running back, which could leave him on the outside looking in.
“Competition is always good,” Smith said. “We just going to push each other, and hopefully, it all works out in the end.”
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