Tight end is the now position in NFL

By Barry Wilner

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, Jan. 21 2012 12:00 a.m. MST

Gronkowski and Hernandez, who also has been used as a running back in New England and broke a 43-yard run against Denver in a 45-10 rout last week, have become close friends. They don't see each other as competition anymore.

"It was definitely weird at first," Gronkowski said. "We always knew about each other and everything, but it has been two years now. We are buddies now, we are good buddies. We have a lot of fun together and that is all in the past and we don't even think about it anymore, really, that we were competing against each other. We are just trying to help each other out now."

Few teams have anything close to the luxury of a pair of tight ends like Gronkowski and Hernandez. Newsome drafted Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta on consecutive picks in 2010, the same year the Patriots grabbed their terrific TEs. He is confident they will become major cogs in the Ravens' offense: Dickson and Pitta combined for 94 catches, 933 yards and eight touchdowns this season.

"Dennis is already a very savvy route-runner, and Ed is a bit better at the point of attack," Newsome said. "They are big and can run and can only get better."

Davis has gotten so much better for San Francisco as he has matured during his six-year career. He had 67 catches and six touchdowns this season, then was unstoppable against New Orleans in the divisional round with seven receptions for 180 yards and two TDs, including the winner with 9 seconds remaining.

"I think he possesses different talents. I think they all possess different talents," said Giants safety Antrel Rolle, who had to deal with Green Bay's Jermichael Finley last week and Gonzalez the previous game. "I think he's a lot faster than pretty much every tight end that you're going to face in this league. I think he's definitely amongst the fastest, if not the fastest. I think that's what puts him over the edge in the tight end category."

What also puts so many of these tight ends in powerful positions is their basketball backgrounds. Gonzalez probably could have played in the NBA after a two-sport career at Cal. San Diego's Antonio Gates, still a force despite a slew of injuries in his nine NFL seasons, played only hoops at Kent State. Graham was on the varsity at Miami, Fla., although he had more fouls than points (290 to 220) and even suggests he tried football because he couldn't stay out of foul trouble.

Giants tight end Jake Ballard said players learn how to use their bodies and hands playing basketball, how to box out and go up for rebounds. All of those contribute to their prowess in football.

"A lot of us at the position learned from basketball and use those skills all the time (in football)," Ballard said.

Newsome believes colleges are making it easier to find tight ends, and they are more refined when they reach the NFL.

"Colleges are going more to the spread," Newsome said. "So tight ends are asked to be extended away from tackles all the time and being more involved in the passing game as receivers, not as blockers. They come into the league with a better understanding of pass routes, of their roles in the passing game.

"Definitely the colleges have discovered what kind of a weapon a tight end can be."

So have the pros.

AP Sports Writers Janie McCauley in San Francisco, Dave Ginsburg in Baltimore, and Dennis Waszak Jr., in Florham Park, N.J., contributed to this story.

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