With the first week of the 2009 Buffalo Bills training camp in the books, Terrell Owens has been unsurprisingly the biggest story of practices in Pittsford, NY. However, for those discerning fans looking past the glitz and glamor of the T.O. Show, there is more happening on the field at St. John Fisher College.
What is surprising is that quietly the tight end position for the Bills is much improved, and probably at its best since the early to mid 1990s. Forget Robert Royal, Michael Gaines, Mark Campbell, and the laundry list of no-namers since the likes of Pete Metzelaars, Keith McKeller, or even Jay Riemersma.
While none of these players may be as good as Metzelaars, McKeller, or Riemersma yet, the position is the deepest it has been in a very long time. Led by three year veteran Derek Schouman, all the tight ends are having a good camp even with quarterback Trent Edwards spreading the ball as much as possible to T.O. and fellow wide receiver Lee Evans.
Quite often the Bills have been lining up in a two tight end set, with Schouman and second-year player Derek Fine the two starters. What is catching some fans' eyes is the fact that Schouman has been lining up in the slot at times.
Over the first week, Schouman has shown that he is more than a blocker, demonstrating that he has the hands and improved speed to be a problem in the intermediate range for defenses.
Fine has also shown the ability to make tough catches in the short to intermediate ranges. He will have the ability to show block, then quietly sneak out into the flat to make blitzing defenses pay.
Rookie Shawn Nelson has been turning heads in camp as well, showing the athleticism and hands that led to many surprised he fell to the fourth round in the NFL draft. He also has shown willingness to block, but that will take time. While he develops that, he will continue to make plays in the passing game, lining up either on the line or in the slot.
Also, Jonathan Stupar has made some very nice plays during camp, showing an unexpected set of hands that just may make pre-season cuts that much more difficult for the coaching staff.
Overall, the depth chart for tight end is a blend of young veteran experience, ability to block, and athleticism that in some cases is very underrated. Even with the addition of T.O. in the off-season, expect to see the Buffalo Bills tight ends making plays during the 2009 football season.