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TE production missing from Broncos' offense

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Posted Dec. 21, 2011 @ 9:01 p.m. ET

By PAT GRAHAM, AP Sports Writer

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) — Around the league, the tight end position is a dynamic source of offensive production.

Look at New Orleans' Jimmy Graham, the NFC leader in receptions (87), or New England's Rob Gronkowski, who already has the most TD catches ever in a season by a tight end (15).

However, the tight end revolution hasn't materialized quite yet in Denver.

Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow insists he's not ignoring them, just simply taking what the defense gives him.

Of Tebow's 107 completions since taking over, only nine have been to his tight end crew of Daniel Fells, Virgil Green, Dante Rosario and Julius Thomas.

Only a few of those are memorable. Most notably, Fells' diving catch near the goal line that started the team's improbable comeback in an overtime win at Miami. That victory started a streak in which the Broncos (8-6) captured seven of nine to put themselves in a position to make the postseason for the first time since the 2005 season.

Lately, the tight end drought has been even more pronounced. They've hauled in just two passes from Tebow over the last four games.

That's quite a difference from Tebow's days at the University of Florida when he constantly connected with Aaron Hernandez, who's now with the Patriots and burned the Broncos for nine catches and 129 yards during a 41-23 win last weekend.

Tom Brady constantly looks for his tight ends. So do Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Philip Rivers.

For some quarterbacks, the position is a reliable security blanket, somewhere to dump the ball off when the pressure is turned up. But Tebow hasn't been looking that direction.

"The defense usually dictates pretty much where I'm going with the ball," Tebow explained.

Given their unique read-option offense, the tight end usually stays in and helps block rather than run routes. When they do sneak out, Tebow is sometimes looking downfield or for a back out of the backfield. Willis McGahee, Jeremiah Johnson and Lance Ball have a combined 17 receptions from Tebow this season.

"It's all about being patient," Fells said. "We've got playmakers and our time will come."

Especially if defenses keep collapsing on the option. Green, a rookie out of Nevada, envisions a scenario where the Broncos utilize more play-action passes should teams shift their focus primarily to thwarting the run.

"If you can get guys to bite up, the tight end is going to be open," Green said.

So, stay ready?

"Always," Green said.

Not that Green is clamoring for more passes. He's perfectly content doing what he does best -- making big blocks and springing McGahee for big gains.

"To me, blocking is as rewarding as catching the ball," Green said. "Last week, you saw there were a couple of blocks so Willis could get outside. Those kind of blocks are enjoyable for me."

Still, he's studying up just in case his number is called. Green frequently watches video of San Diego's Antonio Gates and Atlanta's Tony Gonzalez, just to pick up pointers on the finer art of running precision pass patterns.

"I try to pay attention to the guys who are great route runners," he said.

Gronkowski and Hernandez are definitely in that class. They're masters at getting open.

"Those are two premier tight ends in this league and they're out there doing their thing," Fells said. "But we do have those caliber of athletes in our (tight end) room."

All they need is a chance, because they're hauling the ball in when Tebow finds them. The tight ends have been targeted 18 times by Tebow, coming up with nine receptions. That's a 50 percent success rate, which is slightly better than his percentage for the season (48.6).

"Defenses are doing what they're doing and we're doing what we're doing," Fells said. "All we can do is go out there and try to win games. Since things have been working for us, we'll roll with it.

"I think it's evident when the plays do come our way, we make 'em. We're not out there trying to be ball hogs all the time, trying to get balls thrown our way. But in this offense, when the ball does come our way we'll make those plays."

Like Tebow, offensive coordinator Mike McCoy said the tight ends aren't being purposely left out. It's just that they have other priorities.

"They have a role on this football team they're doing a good job with," McCoy said. "They're probably blocking more than they were earlier in the season. Earlier in the year, we had a lot of things designed for them. Once we changed what we were doing, maybe they were blocking a little more than they were in the past."

That sits well with them.

"When you're winning, everything else is secondary," Fells said.

 

©2011 by STATS LLC and Associated Press.
Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and Associated Press is strictly prohibited.

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