The 2014 season approaches, and to get back in the swing of things, I'm
going to make another attempt to force some series of writing, this time
focusing on existing Carolina position groups. Maybe one, two a day
depending on what I feel like saying.
I'll start with an easy one - tight ends.
Carolina has more talent, in theory, than in years past. Greg Olsen is
finally being the consistently strong threat needed, after years of
throwing inexpensive camp hands and late round picks at unseating a
blocking specialist. The additions made seem to suit the need, as
Olsen led the team in receiving, played 97.2% of total snaps on offense,
and when asked to be a wall-off blocker, does a solid job. He's not
going to knock an end in the dirt, and he's not going to move anybody,
but if you want someone to be held up, he can help you with that.
Olsen's too narrow in the waist to really have a lot of impact, but
that's not what he's there for.
The first bit that's interesting, since the team has talked a bit (and
spent a little) on a 2nd TE more? How he'll be used coming up.
Certainly, he'll spend more time as a moving TE, but given that (the now
departed) Ben Hartsock played 31% of snaps, and Richie Brockel played a
lot of his 19.2% of snaps in Hartsock's absence. Honestly, very quietly
they were a 2 TE team more than they let on, in '13, and Mike Tolbert
has certainly been more tailback than fullback a lot of times (that they
don't motion Tolbert more from 2-back is still a design flaw, but he's
being better used than in '12).
So, Olsen probably moves around a bit more. He did a lot with Jeremy
Shockey aboard in '11, absolutely. '12, it was essentially Hartsock
doing the blocking, but there was a more traditional look.
So with Hartsock gone, Carolina's been somewhat busy. They don't look
to supplant Olsen by any means, they want to supplement him. The
Ravens' Ed Dickson is the next man on deck, inexpensively signing on and
likely to be the #2. A bit of a bridge between Todd Heap and Dennis
Pitta, Dickson had a 2nd year total of 54 rec/528 yards/5 TD, though
he's had quiet ~20/250/1 type seasons in the two since. He has blocker
size, and so if he can provide that, he'll get a lot of playing time and
Carolina would want him back for '15. I can't say exactly why Dickson
hasn't had better stats, and he played 50% of snaps in '13, so hopefully
he's got worth as the blocker and the growth potential to do more heavy
lifting as a receiver.
He won't need to catch 50 balls, but with Olsen not being as physical,
Dickson is another example of Carolina looking for skill guys who can
grind out that tough yard or two.
Brockel does return - and he's made a roster each year that Ron Rivera
has been here. He's the special teams guy out of this group - playing
the above 19% from scrimmage because of injury, but playing 84% of total
special teams snaps because he's valuable. He's also a tough guy to
cut because he provides versatility - you can line up Olsen or Dickson
at FB, but Brockel can really play it. He provides minimal value from
scrimmage moving the ball, but the decision as a 3rd best TE becomes
this - will you improve enough over Brockel for the 198 snaps he'll play
on offense, to make up for losing 355 snaps worth of special teams?
Consider as well, in an ideal setting, Brockel wouldn't be playing that
200 snaps from scrimmage, but depth is valueless unless it's quality.
Challenging again for that 3rd spot is the physical specimen, Brandon
Williams. He's still raw, but the hope is, less raw than last year. He
has so much to learn, and he helps make preseason fun, because you'll
see some of that potential. He's gone up the seam and extended for a
tough catch, and he's knocked a guy or two over. He doesn't do anything
egregiously wrong, either. But he's learning to be a pro, and since
this is football (not the football combine), he has to get a little
better at that. You can't argue with him being a guy you want to root
for. He's a free shot at one day replacing or aiding Olsen the way no
one else on this team could, as no one else has such an immense ceiling,
but the unothodox path he's taking requires patience.
Additional newcomer Mike McNeill has some experience in this type
offense (Brian Schottenheimer, in STL), where he played 14 games each in
12, 13...he started a game and caught 4 balls in '12. He's billed as
another blocker, and appeared to be the guy to play the Hartsock role
until Dickson also came aboard. I don't know a lot about him - but he
could, at the least, threaten Brockel's role (he played only 34
offensive snaps, but 195 on special teams, 43%).
DC Jefferson, a former 7th from Rutgers in '13, is a late season pickup
last year for the practice squad after he had a DUI in AZ. He's a 6'6,
260 lb filled out player, who got to school as a QB and ended up a TE at
Rutgers. He's a raw prospect who still has to show he has good hands,
and to work on his blocking. Like a lot of guys on Carolina's roster,
he's a long-legged strider who has to overcome that in route running and
leverage, but grabbing a guy like this is like getting an extra player
to develop, an additional pick at the very end of the draft you can use
on a player you can stash for a bit.
The hope is, the team has upgraded. Certainly, there are other
recieiving targets than just Olsen, so they've upgraded there. Since
the team played a lot of Marty-ball, so to speak, last year, I can see
the benefit of having a second solid TE and not just a blocker, not to
mention another short-field receiver tends to make sense. It's hard to
improve on Hartsock, who graded out nearly perfectly as a blocker and
often better than the linemen, but as he wore down, Carolina had less to
rely on. So, they've added a guy who can do both, and have specialists
behind what I project to be the top two in Olsen and Dickson.
They should carry up to four, and that second unit makes most sense to
be Williams and Brockel, but I could see 3 and just Brockel or McNeill
as the 3rd, too. The 3rd or 4th guy has to be a special teamer. No
way around that, there's a value to having a 240-250 lb player that can
run, block, and tackle.
It feels like a modest improvement. More quality and depth on an offense
that needs more physicality.