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Vikings Tight End Diversity and Evolution

Discussing the tight end position, its evolution, and the Vikings that play it.

Minnesota Vikings have different types of tight ends moving into the 2017 season
Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph, and the evolution of the position
Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

As the summer heat builds, we all look for either having fun with friends and family doing typical seasonal activities, or at least finding a good air-conditioner to cool off with. During those latter times, maybe secluded in a cubicle at work, on the road, or sitting idly by, as Minnesota Vikings fans we look for news or information on our favorite team. This summer is no different, and after reading :who’s the best at this or that” pieces, looking at “way” to early roster projections, BS power rankings and listening to our favorite podcasts [of which Norse Code and Roughing the Podcast are two], we hope for that little kernel of information that might spark an idea or conversation. That happened listening to our own Yinka Ayinde, also known as Saxyprince of the Daily Norseman on a podcast that he is a regular of, Climbing The Pocket.

I’d like to give a shout out to the guys for discussing the tight end situation in Minnesota, and particularly what might be expected of the new rookie Bucky Hodges. They were discussing what is the most important trait of a tight end? Their conclusion was that versatility was key. Their conclusion was that versatility is key. Not only does the tight end need to be dynamic in the passing game (able to run multiple routes and keep defenders on their heels), he also needs to be able to block well enough so that he does not have to come off the field on running downs because he is a liability in the running game.

That led to discussion with Yinka about where tight ends and the philosophical traits desired by coaches come from. The diverse philosophies come from what heritage of what position makes for the best tight end, and specifically for your particular offensive scheme. Back in my day, tight ends were first and foremost a lineman, albeit one that wasn’t as beefy as a tackle but was athletic enough to run routes and catch passes well, and smart enough to understand blocking concept as well as route reads, and then turn his catching ability, size and power to run though linebackers and blow up DBs. They would practice with the o-line and only bust out for pass catching and route running drills. They thought of themselves as linemen. I watched the likes of Dave Casper [a former tackle] and idolized Russ Francis. Later, I saw that same type of TE while watching Jimmy Kleinsasser at UND and with the Vikings. These are guys that are straight from the Mike Ditka type mold. They have to be accounted for in the passing game, but still relished and the ability to knock snot bubbles out of a defensive lineman or anyone else on the D.

Then there was the success of taking a basketball types, like Antonio Gates and using their skills with body control and leverage to grab a ball. They had to learn the physical blocking part of the game, but as big men in basketball knowing how to move people out the way, learning the physicality of blocking and the understanding of it wasn't that big of a leap. It became successful. This ultra athletic type was seen first back in the early sixties with John Mackey, but we also think of players like Kellen Winslow and Shannon Sharpe.

At the same time, coaches were taking guys like Kleinsasser and making them hybrid fullbacks, renaming it an H-back, because they were set backs behind the line of scrimmage like a running back. The focus was to take their power and to better move their blocking acumen to more spots needed and expand offensive options, all the while retaining their ability and threat to catch passes.

The third line of succession seems to be coming from the WR side of the house, where a guy is too big and maybe or maybe not a little slow, but super athletic too. They call him a tight end even though his primary responsibility is to be a receiver. He most likely gets lined up outside of the normal o-line sets. He has not had the requirement to block a defensive end, tackle nor linebacker on a regular basis and making the transition from college to the pros is an even bigger leap than the basketball types. I see Bucky Hodges in this mold. He can be a dynamic receiver for the Vikings, but he is way behind on his ability to play in line. This is something I'll be watching for at camp.

David Morgan falls into the first type, the way I was brought up playing the position, and also will double as an H-back possibly making the need for C.J. Hamm at fullback unnecessary. Hodges, is obviously of the WR lineage, and Kyle Rudolph is more the basketball type, though his primary sport was football he too was a basketball star prior to college. Rudolph is a good receiver and semi-decent blocker.

Yinka and I continued our conversation particularly on Bucky Hodges like this:

Yinka - But today's NFL requires Hodges to be the number one TE and Rudy and Morgan to be the back ups.

Me - Agreed, in this pass happy league, there is more glory in the WR-type catching highlight film catches, than the bulldozer that can pancake a defensive end to open up a hole for RB. What people don’t realize, is that you need both, especially if you are weak in your WR corps or at pass or run blocking. It is almost evolving into two separate positions.

Hodges has a long way to go before earning the #1 spot. He needs to get better in his WR skills and at least develop some blocking ones, then he can go earn it.

Yinka - I would thoroughly agree, he is far away, but his athleticism is not.

Me - That is why if he is utilized correctly, could become a factor and productive, even this season. All the while, they will continue to coach the rest of those fundamentals to the position.

Yinka - Exactly.

Just like the evolution of the tight end in the early 60’s, and then it’s climb to be more important than the fullback in today’s game, we may be seeing the evolution at the position continue as close as our Minnesota Vikings.

There are two very good articles on tight end evolution written about the same time by Dan Smith and Hayden Bird. Check them out, then apply that to the Vikes, and tell me what you think.