Position profile: Tight ends

A year ago, the 49ers spent a sixth-round draft pick on a blocking tight end. But Bear Pascoe struggled in camp, and the 49ers’ coaches were not impressed with the way he competed. When the final cuts arrived, the 49ers decided to stick with two tight ends on the 53-man roster.

 

Moreover, they opted for Joe Jon Finley, an undrafted free agent from the previous season, to get the nod over Pascoe on the practice squad. Pascoe eventually signed with the New York Giants, and made it onto the roster by season’s end. He caught one pass for 9 yards.

 

I’ve never thought it was such a great idea to keep a blocking specialist at tight end on the roster, anyway. What’s the point? If a team needs another blocker in a short-yardage situation, why not just have an extra offensive lineman report as eligible and take care of that duty?

 

During the Super Bowl, I was interested to see the Saints line up No. 64, Zach Strief, a 6-foot-7, 320-pound tackle, at tight end for about a dozen snaps throughout the game. (He was the guy called for a false start near the goal line, though.)

 

The decision to keep two tights ends was new to the 49ers. They carried blocking specialist Billy Bajema on their roster for four seasons. He caught only seven passes in four seasons, including five as a rookie. So, really, he was just a glorified offensive lineman.

 

Adding a tight end is not a huge need at this point. If the 49ers decide to keep three tight ends this season, Finley or newly acquired Tony Curtis are reasonable candidates.

 

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THUMBNAILS

 

Vernon Davis: A lot of people viewed 2009 as Davis‘ breakout season. He was named as a starter on the NFC Pro Bowl team after catching 78 passes for 965 yards and 13 TDs. You want to know the major difference? The 49ers actually threw the ball to him – a lot. Remember, this is a guy who caught 52 passes and four touchdowns in his second season. The next year, he remained into block about 50-percent of the time as Mike Martz needed the extra man in protection to allow so many seven-step drops. Davis can definitely get better. He can become a better hands-catcher. He works hard on his pass-catching, often staying late after practice to catch balls from the machine. Another year in the same offense should make him more comfortable, and that should mean a greater percentage of passes that come his way will be completed. Signed through 2010.

 


DelanieWalker.jpgDelanie Walker
: His playing time fluctuated as the 49ers agonized over which personal grouping fit their strength. When the 49ers decided their “12″ personnel was the way to go, Walker was on the field about 75-percent of the time. Walker created a dilemma for opposing coaches because he’s a second tight end who is an effective receiver. But Walker‘s stats did not bear this out. After all, he caught only 21 passes for 233 yards and no touchdowns on the season. The 49ers were predictable, too. If defenses went with five defensive backs, the 49ers ran the ball. If they stayed with their base defense, the 49ers threw the ball. In that way, defenses could dictate what they wanted the 49ers’ offense to do. Then-Seattle coach Jim Mora said after defeating the 49ers on Dec. 6 that the Seahawks remained with their base defense to entice the 49ers to throw the ball. He said running back Frank Gore was the player they feared the most on that offense. Walker has a lot of talent but it’s easy for him to get lost on the list of priorities. Signed through 2012.

 

Joe Jon Finley: He has taken tremendous strides since arriving as an undrafted free agent in 2008. His blocking has improved, and he caught four passes for 37 in the preseason to win the coveted spot on the practice squad over Pascoe. At 6-foot-6, 251, he has nice size to get the job done as a blocker. He has already spent two full seasons on the practice squad, so this is a key year for him. Signed through 2011.

 


 
TonyCurts.jpgTony Curtis
: In 36 career NFL games, the Seaside High alum has 11 catches for 50 yards. In 2007 with the Cowboys, Curtis was used exclusively in short-yardage and goal-line situations. That explains why all three of his receptions went for touchdowns. He is primarily a blocker, at 6-foot-5, 251 pounds. He bounced around last sesaon before the 49ers signed him last week. The Chiefs released him early in training camp. He moved over to the Eagles, where he caught four passes for 40 yards in the exhibition season. He latched on with the Ravens for a month during the regular season, but did not play. Signed through 2011.

 

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