The Browns came into training camp with six tight ends on the roster. That’s counting Brad Smelley as a tight end. Gone is last year’s top tight end and veteran leader Ben Watson. Also gone is Alex Smith, who was the best blocking tight end last season, but could also contribute in the passing game.
Last season, Watson caught 49 passes for 501 yards and three touchdowns. Watson’s 2012 numbers are better than most of the careers of the current group of tight ends occupying Berea. (See chart below.)
At Monday night’s practice in Berea, Kellen Davis, Jordan Cameron and Gary Barnidge all caught touchdown passes in 11-on-11 red zone drills. It may have been the first sign of life for the group since training camp began. When asked if getting the tight ends involved was by design for the evening practice, Rob Chudzinski said it was not the case.
“Not intentional,” he said. “Those guys are good threats and real good targets down there in those tight spaces. We have a couple guys that have good hands and are weapons down there that we can utilize. It just came up that the coverages and the routes matched. Those guys got the opportunities today.”
Jordan Cameron is the unknown commodity with the high upside. The former basketball player turned tight end has the height, speed and body type that offensive coordinators want. His leaping ability should make him a dangerous red zone threat. The problem is Cameron plays much smaller than his 6’5″ frame and 33.5 inch arms.
Cameron doesn’t seem to be aggressive to the ball. He has had passes deflected away from just about every defensive back in the Browns’ rotation over the last week. The Browns selected Cameron in the fourth round in 2011. At the time, the Browns had Ben Watson, Evan Moore and Alex Smith. Cameron was a player that Tom Heckert thought could develop into a difference maker. Now in his third season, Cameron is in sink or swim territory. If he sinks, the Browns don’t really have a solid plan underneath.
Kellen Davis is the most experienced of the group. In fairness to Davis, he hasn’t been a full participant in camp since it began. However, Davis isn’t known as a receiving tight end. He took over the starting job for Greg Olsen in 2011, and ended a run of 17 straight seasons for Chicago tight ends having over 20 receptions.
Gary Barnidge has the most experience with this offense. He was a back-up in Carolina where Rob Chudzinski was the offensive coordinator. Barnidge is also not a dynamic pass catcher. In all of 2012, he was never targeted more than once in a game in Carolina. He did have 21 receptions way back in 2009.
Dan Gronkowski we know about. Travis Tannahill is an undrafted rookie free agent from Kansas State. He is not the answer to the Browns’ problems at the position this season.
When the Browns didn’t sign one of the big tight ends on the market in free agency, they went all in on Jordan Cameron.
Is there still a chance that the Browns make a move to improve the position before the season ends? Of course there’s a chance, but it isn’t a great chance. The current remaining free agents include Evan Moore (who busted out in Seattle), Leonard Pope and Travis Beckum. Watching the waiver wire isn’t likely to produce the kind of tight end that the team needs. With the recent success of the double tight end set in the passing game, and the fact that this is a copy-cat league don’t expect teams to ditch anyone with ability.
The position is cause for concern. Perhaps Monday’s results can be something the group can build on.