In Denver's new offense, there's a great opportunity for the group of tight ends. Players like Albert Okwuegbunam who have great hands and ability to move upfield will be big targets, and others who are strong blockers, like Eric Tomlinson and Eric Saubert, can take advantage of the play-action pass opportunities to make big plays when defenses are expecting the run. To get a better feel for the group, we recently sat down with Tight Ends Coach Jake Moreland to get his thoughts on the opportunities his group will have and more.
Ben Swanson: You have a talented bunch and a very versatile group of players at tight end. What do you like about your room?
Jake Moreland: "I like the fact that they're professionals. ... I think [at] tight end in general, especially in this offense, you have to be very unselfish - and I think all the guys in the room are very unselfish. Everybody's got a role, they've got to understand their role and every day, [and] everybody shows up for meetings, for practice trying to get better at their craft. And everybody's pulling for each other. It doesn't seem like there's one guy that's above anybody else. Everybody's always helping everybody else, and so that's just going to continue to help our room continue to grow."
BS: There's an expectation and excitement with how Russ likes to target tight ends in the red zone. What is it about your guys' skill sets that work well with him?
JM: "I think Russ does a great job in working with everybody. I don't think he's really just picked out one guy and said, 'Hey, we need to go work.' It's been a collective group. I think 'Sauby' [Saubert] has been in there, Beck's been in there, Albert's been in there. Obviously before he got injured, Greg [Dulcich] was in there working. So there's specific things that Russ really likes to target, and I think he's trying to keep everybody involved, which is great. The one thing about our room is, I think, we're really athletic. I think everybody in the room can stretch, they can run, they have good catching ability. I think that's going to help us moving forward."
BS: For Tomlinson, the big thing that was said when he was signed is this is a guy who can really block. How does he help the younger guys with the finer points of that part of the game?
JM: "That's been a major emphasis, obviously, for what we have going on. Especially in this system, if we can run the ball, we can help keep the quarterback upright, which is a good thing. Eric's done a really, really good job in his career of being a blocker. I think he's underutilized as a receiver, to be honest with you, but he does a great job. And again, I go back to the room. In general, they're always talking about things that are happening on the current play or what happened on the play before, so that everybody can get better. And he's done a great job of taking a leadership role in that aspect, where he's helping guys with their targets, with their footwork and their hand placement and those kind of things. That, I think, is where we're really starting to see it."
BS: As a former tight end, how do you see the role of a tight end in this offense with how play-action pass can make for big plays?
JM: "I think to get your play-pass going, you've got to be able to run the ball. So everything goes back to being able to run the ball. And then that's when our big plays happen, or have the opportunity to happen. In the tight-end room, especially in this offense, we're going to take our opportunities when we get them. We're going to have the opportunity to stretch the field, maybe get some one-on-one matchups with safeties or linebackers, and then the play-pass, that's going to be our opportunity to really shine."
BS: We haven't seen a lot of Dulcich because of the injury, but do you expect his transition to live action will be pretty seamless because of the nature of his skill set?
JM: "I really do. He does a great job in the meetings, and that's something that I give him a lot of respect for. It'd be easy for him to just cash in and say, 'Oh, I'm injured,' and just kind of cash it in and go get my rehab and those kinds of things. But he asks great questions. He's really in tune, so when he comes back he shouldn't skip a beat."
BS: One thing I've noticed about the coaching staff, especially on offense, is there's a lot of energy and a lot of hugging. How have the players responded to that?
JM: "I think they responded really well. It's OK to show a little bit of emotion and have a little bit of juice when you get out here. This game is hard enough as it is, but a big thing that [Offensive Coordinator Justin Outten] is preaching and that [Head] Coach [Nathaniel] Hackett is preaching, too - offense, defense, special teams, the whole deal - is that the more we care about each other, the better our team will be. On offense, we take a lot of pride in the fact that we are all for one another. Whether it's a guy that scores a touchdown, the guy that blocks for the touchdown - everybody has their different roles. So whoever is doing a good job on that one, we want to make sure everybody is getting the accolades for it. And the coaching staff is trying to make that happen. I think if the players can see that we're having a good time together, it's OK for them to have a good time together, too. We're still getting our work done and it's still a hard business. It's still hard work when they get out there. But you can have fun while you're doing hard things."
BS: You started your coaching career at Elmhurst, a Division III school. When you reflect on that first year or so, what sticks out to you now?
JM: "I think about how far I've come. I spent 18 years coaching college football and started at Division III, coached at Division II and then being fortunate enough to be at the Division I level for a number of years. And, you know, even being in Colorado - I spent four years at the Air Force Academy - and being at the Air Force Academy really helped me as a coach become a better communicator for the things that need to be communicated to the players on what they're able to then take to the field. I look back at everything that I've done getting to this point, and I'm still learning. That's the best part. And again, that goes back to our coaching staff, too: This coaching staff allows growth. We're looking for growth in everybody, not just players, but coaches alike. So it's really fun being around these guys."