The meeting room for the Ravens tight ends has sort of a cozy feel to it. Throw in five tight ends of at least 6 feet, 2 inches and 245 pounds, tight ends coach and senior offensive assistant Greg Roman, offensive assistant Andy Bischoff, and sometimes rookie fullback-defensive lineman Patrick Ricard, and you will understand why.
The collection of bodies in the tight ends room still amazes elder statesman Benjamin Watson.
“One thing about coming here, I’ve never seen an organization with this many tight ends all the time,” he said with a smile. “I’m telling you, when I got here last year, we had five tight ends, then we had a receiver that would move to tight end [in Darren Waller], then we had a [full]back that moved to tight end [in Kyle Juszczyk]. They keep a lot of guys in our room. Our room is always crowded — which is great.”
In fact, the Ravens are tied with the Los Angeles Chargers for the most tight ends on the active 53-man roster with five each. But quantity does not necessarily foretell production.
Watson ranks second on the offense in catches with 38, is tied for second in touchdown receptions with two, and ranks third in receiving yards with 261. But his 6.9-yard average would rank as the second-lowest of his 14-year career.
Nick Boyle and Maxx Williams have combined for 27 receptions for 199 yards, but no touchdowns. And Vince Mayle and Gavin Escobar are still seeking their first catches as Ravens.
Watson has emerged as the starter, but he is 36 years old and just 15 months removed from tearing a right Achilles tendon that he admitted on Wednesday had caused him to question whether he could continue his career.
Boyle is considered the group’s best blocker, but has yet to blossom in the passing game. Williams is a 2015 second-round pick who has battled as many injuries as opposing defenders. Mayle was drafted by the Cleveland Browns in 2015, while Escobar was selected by the Dallas Cowboys in 2013.
The group’s shortcomings serve to illustrate what the offense has missed since Dennis Pitta’s departure. Before dislocating his right hip for the third time in four years and getting injury-waived by the team on June 7, Pitta caught 86 passes for 729 yards and two touchdowns last season.
Perhaps just as important, Pitta was a trusted target for quarterback Joe Flacco, a security blanket when the deep options were not there or the protection had broken down.
Asked if it is unreasonable to expect the current group to match what Pitta had produced, coach John Harbaugh replied, “I don’t even think of it like that. Our guys are doing a good job.”
But Boyle said the current players have not shied away from holding themselves to similarly high standards.
“I don’t think it’s unfair at all,” he said. “We’re all capable. Dennis was a great route runner. I learned a lot from Dennis even when he didn’t play and he just sat in the meetings. There are people in our room who can run routes like Dennis and there are people in our room who can block. I just don’t think we’re looking at it as filling Dennis’ shoes. Just because you’re running a corner route, everyone’s corner route is going to be a little bit different. Dennis is always going to run his a little bit different than we would run it. So I think we just go out there and whatever route you’re running in the pass game, you just try to do the best of your ability.”
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Versatility has been the popular term among the tight ends. Developing into an option in the passing game is a priority, but so is honing an ability to open lanes for running backs and keeping Flacco upright in the pocket.
“They’re roles that morph from quarter to quarter,” Watson said. “If you look at our games, there have been times where I’ve been in more running plays, and it’s been the other way around. I think over the course of the season things change. My goal, as a tight end, is to be someone who can do it all. That’s what we all want to do. We want to be someone that they can call on to run the ball behind us, and also if they need to throw the ball downfield on a deep cross, they want a big guy that can do that as well. When you have multiple tight ends, there’s going to be positions that you’re put in, but it’s important for us offensively to have very versatile players. I think that’s been the goal here.”
Mayle said all eyes are on Roman — who is affectionately called “G-Ro” — during positional meetings.
“All of us are paying attention because all of us can play the spots,” said Mayle, who rushed for a 2-yard touchdown in a win against the Oakland Raiders. “You have to pay attention because you can be plugged in anywhere.”
Although all five tight ends have been active in the team’s past two games, there’s not enough space on the field for all five to play. Splitting snaps is never easy for a bunch of competitors, but Williams said the close-knit relationships the players have built have helped soothe any hurt feelings.
Ultimately, he added, the objective is to improve and contribute to the Ravens’ success.
“We’re going to go out there and whatever they ask us to do, we’re going to do it the best we can,” Williams said. “If it’s to go out there and block more, we can do that. If it’s to go out there and run more routes, we can do that. We’ll just take advantage of the opportunities that are there and help our team win as best as we can.”