One of the easiest ways to see how Jon Gruden acclimates to this day in age of the NFL offense is watching how he deploys the Oakland Raiders tight ends.
When we last saw Gruden with headset on and play sheet in hand, tight ends were blockers first with an occasional passing route in tow. A prime checkdown/dump-off target, the Gruden tight ends were extra linemen who could catch the rock when occasionally needed. The game has evolved to super freak athletes at the position and, instead of impediments to defenders looking to wreck quarterbacks and running backs, tight ends can be the top — if not game-changing — weapon on offense.
We have tight ends who are linemen big and can run like a cheetahs and gazelles with how the cut in and out of breaks and out-run defenders. The league is to the point where teams are seeking bigger defensive backs to contend with the evolved tight ends.
Fortunately, for Gruden, the cupboard in Oakland was not bare. Jared Cook fits the bill to a T as the receiving tight end at 6-foot-5 with 4.49 wheels. Lee Smith is the 6-foot-6, 265-pound mountain of a man as a blocker. Moreover, Derek Carrier is the 6-foot-4, 244-pounder with 4.50 wheels and improved blocking under his belt.
Cook gave quarterback Derek Carr a tight end who required defensive attention last season. That seemed like a missing element since DC took the reigns as the gunslinger in Oakland. Nevertheless, to hear Gruden say it, do not be surprised if Cook and Smith nab top reps.
“You need a blocking tight end if you’re going to slam the ball with a Beast,” Gruden said referring to running back Marshawn Lynch.
A blocking tight end along with a bulldozing fullback are components Gruden identified as pre-requisites. The Beast Mode ground-and-pound attack needs these. Plus, the head coach has been singing that tune since his introductory press conference. Cook has refined his blocking game but he is not at the level of mastery of Smith.
What the Cook, Smith and Carrier give Gruden and his offensive coordinator (only in title) Greg Olson is luxurious flexibility. Oakland can legitimately run two- or even three-tight end sets with that trio. Cook as the athletic move tight end, Cook as the in-line blocker and Carrier as the hybrid.
If the Raiders run game is clicking, Gruden can dial up play action to sucker defenses and reward his fleet-footed tight ends. Cook and/or Carrier have ability running over the top of a defense committed to stopping the ground game.
Oh, and know this, Smith can catch the rock too. He serves as more of an invaluable extension of the offensive line. Smith’s expertise at stonewalling defenders is critical. The Raiders will deploy a new starting right tackle after the team jettisoned last year’s starter Marshall Newhouse.
Any help the Bearded Dragon can provide, as mentor and supporter of the tackles or deceiving/seldom covered target will help.