Line of tight ends points to Miami

Legacy reaches into NFL

rgreenjr@charlotteobserver.comDecember 23, 2011 

First, there was Rob Chudzinski. Then Jeremy Shockey. Then Kellen Winslow Jr. Then Greg Olsen.

They are four parts of the legacy of tight ends at the University of Miami, a thread of exceptional players similar to Southern Cal tailbacks and Penn State linebackers.

The four will be together Saturday when the Panthers host Tampa Bay at Bank of America Stadium. There are no secret handshakes. Just a shared place in a proud program's history that has stretched into the NFL.

"It's a good line," said Shockey, who points out Kevin Everett and Jimmy Graham as other Hurricanes tight ends that have excelled.

While Winslow and the Bucs are struggling through a 4-10 season that includes their current eight-game losing streak, Shockey and Olsen have played significant roles in the development of Chudzinski's aggressive and imaginative scheme as the Panthers offensive coordinator.

Between them, Olsen and Shockey have combined for 77 receptions for 963 yards and seven touchdowns.

"If you put our numbers together, we'd be right up there," Olsen said of their statistical standing in a league seemingly dominated by tight ends.

Three of the top seven receivers in the NFL are tight ends, led by Graham's 87 catches with the Saints. The New England duo of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez has combined to catch 143 passes from Tom Brady for 1,877 yards and 21 touchdowns. Throw in veteran Tony Gonzalez, who has 74 receptions for 826 yards and seven touchdowns in Atlanta, and the impact of the position is obvious.

The Miami connection is in part responsible for the changing role of NFL tight ends. There have been other game-changing tight ends, from John Mackey to Kellen Winslow Sr., and the position has continued to evolve with ties to Coral Gables, Fla.

"I went there because I knew I could play right away because Bubba Franks left," said Shockey, who played at 'The U' in 2000 and 2001 when Chudzinski was tight ends coach. "Winslow made his decision to come there when I left.

"Chud was one of the best tight end coaches in America. It was very simple, just a common sense thing. If you watched television you could see us winning national championships. If you were a tight end, it was a school that has tradition."

It's part of what sold Olsen on the Hurricanes program.

"We had a good run there for a while," said Olsen, who played at Miami 2004 through 2006. "Shockey, Bubba Franks, they were the reason I went to Miami. They kind of put it on the map for me. A lot of people didn't really know tight end. That was really the only school at the time that was utilizing guys like us and having fun with it. I didn't overlap with Shock but I overlapped with Kellen for a year and I played with Kevin Everette."

The Chud Effect

A measure of their success can be attributed to the Chudzinski effect. After playing tight end, he coached it from 1994 through 2003 at Miami before moving to the NFL, where he coached Winslow in Cleveland, and Olsen and Shockey here.

It hasn't surprised Winslow to hear Chudzinski's name mentioned as a future head coach in the NFL.

"He should be a head coach," Winslow said. "He has the motivational tools to motivate his players. That's the biggest thing as a head coach.

"Can you motivate your guys? Can you get your guys going? He definitely can. His offensive mindset is air it out and be creative and have fun. He will be a head coach real soon."

ESPN analyst Merril Hoge has watched how Chudzinski has handled the development of rookie quarterback Cam Newton while gradually expanding an offense that has used a throwback pass to Newton and a fumblerooskie play in recent weeks. Chudzinski's ingenuity will draw attention from other NFL teams, Hoge said.

"You've got to have a guy that's willing to be flexible and learn, and be able to adapt and develop the guy and take advantage of all the things he does, not just a couple things," Hoge said.

"I would consider him (as a head coach). He's done a heck of a job. I'm telling you, that offense is - they can be a little spotty. I know in the second half they hit some bumps in the road. But gosh, they're a dangerous offense."

Part of the success comes from being able to put Shockey and Olsen on the field together.

"Most teams have the pass catcher and have the run blocker. That makes it easy," Olsen said. "(Defenses) put their best cover guy on this guy and their worst cover guy on the guy who doesn't usually go out on routes.

"For us, we've been able to alternate. Matchup-wise and formation-wise, we can put people in some difficult positions. Chud has done a really good job with it. It's just going to continue to evolve the longer we do it. It's been a lot of fun."

Green: 704-358-5118

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