Forgive Bill Belichick for obsessing over tight ends since he became a head coach in the NFL.
But blame former Giants tight end Mark Bavaro.
When Belichick was a defensive coordinator for the Giants, his defense, led by prolific linebackers Carl Banks and Lawrence Taylor, would line up against Bavaro daily in practice.
“That was a war, that was a war,” Belichick recalled. “And Banks and Taylor will tell you that."
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Those days are gone now, but Belichick longed for them. Although he’s known as a defensive genius, when he became head coach of the Browns he made every effort to find a clone of Bavaro, a guy he raves was “Great in the red zone, tough, played great in big games, didn't make any mental mistakes. He was always at the point of attack and you could always count on him.”
"The day I met Bill Belichick, all he cared about was tight ends," said former Browns director of player personnel Mike Lombardi, on a recent ESPN podcast. "I met him in 1991 when he was the head coach of the Cleveland Browns. He came in and was looking for the next Mark Bavaro on that day and we were in search for tight ends.”
Call the Bavaro-mold tight end Belichick’s “white whale.” The position seems to have been overlooked by some NFL teams for a while, but for Belichick, its importance can’t be overstated.
"Well I just think a tight end is involved in a lot of plays,” Belichick said. “He's involved in the running game, he's involved in the passing game, he's in the middle of the field, he's involved in pass protection. There really aren't hardly any plays where that guy is out of the play. He's the central guy in pretty much whatever you want to do. And the more versatile he is, the more things he can do, defensively the harder it is to defend.”
World, meet Rob Gronkowski – and Aaron Hernandez, just for good measure. Opposing defenses simply can’t handle the versatility of the two TEs, and the Pats are reaping the benefits.
So, has Belichick finally found his white whale? Metro asked him what similarities Gronkowski shares with Bavaro.
“All the obvious things: tough, strong, physical, good catch radius, tall, good in the red zone,” Belichick said. “Mark was a tremendous player, I mean tremendous player. In my opinion, there aren’t many – I don’t know if there’s a more complete tight end than Mark Bavaro.”
Elite tight ends
How Rob Gronkowski compares with Mark Bavaro:
In a pass-happy NFL, Gronk’s numbers dwarf Bavaro’s through two years. The Pats tight end had 132 receptions, 1,873 yards and 27 TDs after two seasons and Bavaro had 103 receptions, 1,512 yards and eight TDs.