When the 2012 season was underway, some assumed that the tight end spot would play an integral role in the Bengals' offense. While that was true, the youth at the position reared its ugly head at times and inconsistency plagued the group. Three tight ends made the final roster in 2012, consisting of Jermaine Gresham, rookie Orson Charles, and Richard Quinn. Gresham and Charles were the two active tight ends throughout most of 2012.
We will examine the final statistics and will also give a guess as to what the future may hold at the position going forward.
Starter, Jermaine Gresham: We'll start with the positives here. Gresham made the Pro Bowl as an alternate for the second consecutive year. He ranked second on the team behind A.J. Green in nearly every receiving category, including receptions (64), receiving yards (737) and touchdown catches (5). He broke career bests in receptions and yards and has seemingly improved on paper. Additionally, he has improved as a blocker form the previous two seasons. For the first time in his three-year career, Gresham played in every game of the season.
Still, there's disappointing stretches from the soon-to-be fourth year tight end. When the Bengals need him to take pressure off of Green and/or be the focal point of their offense, he has the tendency to shrivel. This year's playoff game against the Houston Texans was a prime example--Gresham knew that he would be the key to the team's gameplan, yet had more drops than catches. Concentration lapses and separation from defenders are elements that Gresham will need to work on in order to be considered an elite tight end. Regardless, he's a good piece in a young offense.
Backup, Orson Charles: Personally speaking, I was very excited when the Bengals chose this kid in the fourth round of last years draft. He was considered a steal where they drafted him and I loved what I saw on tape from the kid. Athletic, made tough catches and carried defenders while fighting for extra yards. I envisioned a number of two tight end sets, particularly in the red zone, where Andy Dalton would make the defense "pick their poison" and find either Gresham or Charles for a score.
Unfortunately, my vision never became a reality. Like they have displayed in years past, the Bengals have trust issues with young players and giving them too much responsibility. It would seem that Charles fits into that category, be it the coaches fault, his own, or all of the above. He finished with only eight catches for 101 yards and zero touchdowns. Some of the catches he made flashed the potential brilliance we had hoped for, but his time was extremely limited. An example of what t true team player Charles is, he briefly stepped into the fullback role after Chris Pressley went down with an injury against the Philadelphia Eagles. We plan and hope to see Charles have a bigger impact in 2013--particularly in the red zone.
Backup, Richard Quinn: After bouncing around quite a bit, Quinn found a home in Cincinnati in 2012. Unfortunately for Quinn, that home wasn't a very stable one, as he didn't suit up for any games this past season. He was brought in as an insurance policy and replaced Donald Lee on the 53-man roster, though the team couldn't find space for him on the gameday 46-man active unit. It wasn't entirely Quinn's fault, as the team went heavy on wide receivers and kept a slew of them active throughout the year in an effort to find an answer to the No.2 receiver issue.
Quinn isn't under contract for 2013 and we're not sure if the Bengals will bring hi back or not. Quinn seems to be an adequate blocker and can catch when asked, but if he stays in Cincinnati, he may have a repeat of 2012. Still, insurance policies are important to have, especially if Gresham and/or Charles were to miss any time, so the coaching staff may think enough of him to stick around in the future.
Practice Squad, Bryce Davis: The Bengals hung on to Davis and kept him on the Practice Squad for 2012, as they saw some value there. Davis' main speciality is as a long snapper, but he does bring an added element to the tight end position that most snapping specialists don't. He didn't see the active roster in 2012 and if he stays with Cincinnati, it will likely be on the Practice Squad once again.
2012 Grade, B: Gresham's second Pro Bowl berth is worth a big nod of approval, but his drops and consistency issues are maddening. The Bengals need to have him be a rock of stability, especially if they aren't going to invest heavily in another wide receiver to complement Green this year. The coaching staff needs to do a better job of integrating Charles' talents into the offense, as he could bring a huge boost in the passing game. We may see the team pick up another blocking tight end late in this year's draft to have someone on the roster that excels at that.
2013 Outlook: We expect another good year from Gresham, though it may not be as big, statistically-speaking. Where we're hoping to see improvement from No.84 is with consistency and with fewer drops. If the Bengals use Charles more in the offense, he'll be a major boost in the red zone, where the Bengals have routinely settled for field goals instead of touchdowns in the Jay Gruden era.
The wisest game plan with this position group, as we see it, is to utilize them in the screen passing game and to spread them out wide as receivers to create mismatches. Though tight ends aren't always the most nimble of players, using them in a screen game can be particularly effective because of their size. The same can be said when splitting out Gresham and/or Charles in the slot or outside. It has worked before and should continue to be used in the playbook. Gresham and Charles have the potential to bring an offensive attack similar to the Patriots, it's just a matter of them being consistent and the coaches making a commitment to getting them the ball.