A New Page in the Playbook: The Baltimore Double Tight End Spread

Chris CobbContributor IMay 21, 2009

BALTIMORE - DECEMBER 17: Todd Heap #86 of the Baltimore Ravens looks on during the game against the Cleveland Browns at M&T Bank Stadium December 17, 2006 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

This offseason, the Ravens made an interesting acquisition in the form of L.J. Smith, the pass catching tight end from the Philadelphia Eagles.  It's an interesting acquisition because it creates a redundancy at the position.  He's similar in many ways to the Ravens' own Todd Heap.

They are both tight ends who are very good in the passing game, but lack the skills to be a great blocker on the line.  Both are a couple years removed from their last productive season.  And both have a history of getting hurt.

Last season, Heap was limited in productivity due to his health and constantly having to stay on the line and block in a max protect scheme.  But there's been a new development thanks to the Ravens's first round draft pick, OT Michael Oher.  In theory, if Oher can hold his own on the line, the tight end position should be freed up more often for a route.  This should bring more productivity to the position.

Which brings us to why L.J.  Smith was brought in. 

Many fans feel that he's an insurance policy for Todd Heap, who has often been injured.  But that doesn't fit to me, L.J. Smith has too much talent to be used sparingly, biding time until Heap gets hurt.

Other fans felt that he would also be used to add some flair to the Ravens "Double Tight" package with two tight ends.  It would add a receiving weapon to what is traditionally a running package.  And we all know the Ravens run.  A lot.  So it would give opponents something else to consider before they stacked the box.

But what do I see in store for Mr. Smith? I see a totally new page in the playbook.  I'd like to introduce the NFL to the Double Tight End Spread formation.

A refresher course on the spread for those who don't know what the heck I'm talking about.  It's an offense that typically features four wide receivers, a single running back, and the quarterback.  Traditionally the spread features more passing than running, but both can be done well with the correct personnel and adaptation.

The Patriots have shown the NFL that the spread offense can work.  The Double Tight End version of this offense simply bends the offense around the Ravens strengths.

As evidenced in his time in San Diego, offensive coordinator Cam Cameron likes to get the most out of his tight ends.  And the fact of the matter is that in Baltimore, the tight end corps is now more talented than the receiving corps.  The dilemma is how to get both on the field without compromising the offense.

That's where the Double Tight End Spread comes into play.  With Smith and Heap as the slots, and with Mason and Clayton as the wide outs, the variety of plays possible is nearly endless.

First of all, it spreads out the defense to make reads easy for a young quarterback such as the Ravens' Flacco.  Second, the spread is traditionally a read and react offense, allowing a quarterback to easily adapt and audible to a play more suitable to take advantage of a defensive package.

The double tight end version of this offensive package only enhances that adaptability.  A tight end could motion over to the line for a run, or the running back could shift out to be a fifth wide receiver to keep the defense on it's toes.

The advantages of spreading out a defense and having more receiving options should be an obvious benefit to the passing game.  And the presence of tight ends instead of slot receivers should help the formation's running attack as well.

And really it's the perfect formation for young running back, Ray Rice.  His one cut and go style makes sense with the offense having fewer players on the line.  And the hands he showed off on a few occasions last season would only make him look better.

As for the big bruiser Le'Ron McClain, his straight ahead plow style could be an excellent change of pace in the formation. As long as he can still get to the point of attack on the line quickly, he can succeed.  His hands are a weakness, but not every back is perfect for a spread.

Unfortunately McGahee's mediocre hands and multiple cut running style make him the odd man out in the backfield.  But if indications from last season are to be believed, he may be the odd man out in the whole offense.

Obviously I don't foresee the Ravens drastically overhauling their offense to run the spread.  The Ravens will still do what the Ravens do best.  Run the ball out of traditional formations.  But I do foresee this as another wrinkle in Cam Cameron's offense, and Cameron likes his wrinkles. 

Last year the wrinkle was the Ravens version of the Wildcat along with a few other things.  I think this formation will be another trick in his ever expanding bag of tricks.