Unless he wins games - a lot of games on a consistent basis - as the head coach of the Cleveland Browns, Rob Chudzinski will forever be tied to the tight end position.
It is safe to say he has a special affinity for tight ends.
Wait, that didn’t sound right.
Chudzinski started at tight end for three seasons during his time as a player at the University of Miami from 1986-90.
His first job in the NFL was the Browns’ tight ends coach in 2004.
As an offensive coordinator, Chudzinski has helped Antonio Gates and Kellen Winslow put together Pro Bowl seasons.
And now, as a head coach, Chudzinski’s offensive coordinator, Norv Turner, shares the desire to utilize a tight end.
But do the Browns have a tight end to utilize?
To begin, Chudzinski and Turner have a bit of a mentor-protégé relationship. Chudzinski served as the San Diego Chargers assistant head coach/tight ends coach from 2009-10 while Turner was the head coach. Chudzinski also spent time in San Diego in 2005-06 as tight ends coach.
“I’m really excited about Norv being part of this staff,” Chudzinski said. “I think that’s a huge addition and not only for me from a professional standpoint, Norv’s had a real impact on me personally as well and is somebody that just I trust to the nth degree.
“It’s been fun sitting down and going through with Norv talking about, ‘Hey, this is some of the things we can do.’”
But what can they do with the tight end position? The Browns have six tight ends currently on their roster - Gary Barnidge (6-5, 250), Jordan Cameron (6-5, 245), Kellen Davis (6-7, 265), Dan Gronkowski (6-5, 255), Brad Smelley (6-2, 235) and Travis Tannahill (6-4, 255).
Barnidge signed a three-year free agent contract this offseason. He spent the last three seasons in Carolina, two of which were with Chudzinski.
“He has worked hard to develop as both a blocker and receiver,” Chudzinski said.
Barnidge’s stats say: blocking tight end. In 62 career games, he has 18 catches for 320 yards and a touchdown. Davis, another free agent signing, is a veteran blocker.
As for the rest of the Browns’ tight end group: Smelley - blocker; Gronkowski – not anywhere near the talent level of his brother, Rob; Tannahill - undrafted free agent destined for the practice squad; Cameron – now there’s potential.
Jordan Cameron fits the prototypical receiving tight end that has flourished under Turner (Jay Novacek in Dallas from 1991-93 and Gates) and Chudzinski (Winslow in 2007). If anyone is going to make a huge leap forward under Chudzinski and Turner, the conventional wisdom is it’ll be Cameron.
First, Cameron, like Gates, played basketball in college. Cameron first went to Brigham Young University to play basketball. He redshirted in 2006-07, before deciding to give football another try. He played two years at USC and caught 16 balls for 126 yards and a touchdown.
In two years in Cleveland, he has 26 catches for 259 yards and a touchdown.
So, his experience is limited, but he’s considered the Browns’ No. 1 tight end entering the 2013 season and he gets to work with Turner and Chudzinski. This could be a good thing for Cameron’s career.
“Coach Norv Turner is very detail-oriented, and that really helps me as a player separate from a defender,” Cameron told ClevelandBrowns.com. “They’re proven, so it makes me trust them more and puts confidence in my abilities.”
While Cameron has abilities, he also has the ability to get injured. Just earlier this month, ESPNCleveland.com reported Cameron pulled two muscles during the 16-practice spring sessions – and this was in helmets and shorts. Last year, Cameron dealt with a back issue in the preseason and missed the Browns season finale in Pittsburgh because of a concussion.
For the record, many thought Cameron would have a “break-out” season this time last year. Then again, Cameron didn’t have Chudzinski and Turner as coaches.
Back to Gates. In each of the four seasons Chudzinski worked with the former Kent State basketball player, Gates averaged 72.3 catches for 991.0 yards and 9.3 touchdowns per season, compared to an average of 58.8 catches for 726.1 yards and 7.7 touchdowns in six seasons with out Chudzinski.
And how can we forget the 2007 season in Cleveland in which the Browns’ offense was coordinated by Chudzinski, they won 10 games, averaged 25 points per game and Winslow caught 82 balls for 1,109 yards with five touchdowns.
Finally, last season in Carolina, tight end Greg Olsen had career-best numbers in receptions (69) and receiving yards (843) and finished with five touchdowns.
Signs point to everything setting up for the Browns to put Cameron in a position to succeed. Now, it is up to Cameron to make the plays.
But, if Cameron is to make those plays, it relies on the team’s ability to have a capable NFL starting quarterback in Brandon Weeden or Jason Campbell or Brian Hoyer.
Doesn’t it always just go back to the quarterback?