Tight ends are the hybrids of the gridiron – with their massive bodies and precise hands, the position is asked to both block and receive, two of the most invaluable skills on the field.
Size and athleticism can never be built from the ground up, but that’s not all it takes to make it as a TE. Big, fast players must develop an array of skills to become the cream of the crop. As always, practice makes perfect, and that’s good enough to destroy nearly any defender on the field.
These are drills and exercises every tight end should perform to perfect their game.
When receivers were known as ends and flankers, tight ends didn’t do much other than block. Things are different now, with tight ends asked more and more to leap out of the stadium and nab balls uncatchable by anyone else. Tight ends, however, still need to be able to get push off the line. Blocking is as necessary a skill as ever for a young TE to learn. With the move away from being all body, technique needs to be all the better. That’s true for pass protection and run blocking.
Tight ends need to jump off the line faster than any other position. If they don’t, a TE risks getting jammed at the line of scrimmage, taking him out of the play or piling him into a precious running lane. Whether a TE is blocking, running a decoy route, or shooting upfield in anticipation for catching the ball, a quick first move is the only way for a position player to move faster than the defender on him. Practice no hesitation and no wasted movement. Every move counts when you’re called upon to be the most versatile position player on the field.
Size is an essential characteristic of today’s typical tight end. That’s because TE’s are expected to stand wide, filling gaps coveted by opposing D-linemen and linebackers. Additionally, they’re expected to snatch balls from spaces where nobody else can catch. Tight ends are very often a quarterback’s safety valve, operating in space close to the line of scrimmage where they are eligible to grab a last ditch hitch. If a TE can get his fingertips on a ball, he better be able to catch it.
Yards After Catch
Tight ends are bruisers, and they better get yards after the catch and contact. Professionals aren’t paid to catch the ball and collapse. Sideline drills train tight ends to stay in bounds after a catch and turn upfield. Every yard counts on the football field – every millisecond is one extra moment to breakdown the situation and advance the ball to an optimal place on the field. In late game situations, that may be out of bounds, but a ball-carrying tight end should never go out of bounds unless that’s exactly where he wants to be.
Length is a tight end’s best asset, but a he won’t be able to capitalize on that advantage without using his primary weapons – his hands. Quick, strong hands allow a TE to punch hard at the line, pushing blockers off the ball, and stunning players long enough to gain separation at the second level or downfield. Hands are handy for receiving tight ends as well, allowing bigger players to rip high balls from the air, and grip them through defenders’ attempts to strip them away. Turnovers, however, are a tight end’s worst enemy. Ball protection is paramount as a tight end. Natural gifts like height and speed can only be so much improved in the gym, but strong hands are an asset that can and should be manufactured.