By MICHAEL FAIRLIE //
There has been a lot of talk among the media and fans alike that Jets’ Offensive Coordinator Chan Gailey does not make use of the Tight End in his offensive system. It has also been said that the position is practically irrelevant in his spread offense.
If you look at the numbers put up by Jeff Cumberland and Kellen Davis in 2015 (combined 8 catches for 95 yards and a TD) it would appear to be true, but in reality that theory does not hold water when looked at from an historical perspective.
There have been times during his career as an offensive coordinator that the TE has not seen much action in the passing game, but that has mostly been due to a lack of talent at the position as well as a productive group of wide receivers.
With Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker combining for 189 catches, 2,529 yards and 26 TD’s in 2015, there were simply not enough balls to go around. Even if there were more opportunities, do you really think that Cumberland and Davis could have gotten open and/or caught the ball?
Gailey started his NFL coaching career as an offensive assistant with the Denver Broncos in 1984. For the next four years, he split time between special teams, tight ends, receivers and quarterbacks. Chan received a promotion in 1989, and he proceeded to take over as the team’s offensive coordinator.
He did not exactly have the most talented group of TE’s there in Clarence Kay and Orson Mobley. Still, the two combined for 38 catches, 397 yards and 2 TD’s in Chan’s first season as the OC. On top of that, Mark Jackson, Vance Johnson and Mike Young, the Broncos’ top three WR’s, had 126 receptions for 1,943 yards and 11 TD’s.
In 1990, his final season with Denver, his two TE’s accumulated 44 catches for 422 yards and a touchdown. The same trio of WR’s combined for 139 receptions, 2,058 yards and 11 TD’s.
After three years as a Head Coach, split between the Birmingham Fire of the World Football League and Samford University on the college level, Gailey returned to the NFL ranks as the Wide Receivers’ coach for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1994.
Two years later, Chan took over as the Steelers’ Offensive Coordinator, where his TE was the mediocre Mark Bruener. In 1996, Bruener had a measly 12 catches for 141 yards, but the WR combination of Andre Hastings, Yancey Thigpen and Charles Johnson combined for 156 receptions, 1,991 yards and 11 TD’s.
Then in 1997, Bruener had 18 catches for 117 yards and 6 TD’s, while Thigpen, Johnson and Courtney Hawkins racked up 170 grabs for 2,521 yards and 12 TD’s.
Gailey went on to become the Head Coach and Offensive Coordinator of the Dallas Cowboys in 1998. The TE duo of Eric Bjornson and David LaFleur accounted for 35 catches and 394 yards with 3 TD’s. That year saw Michael Irvin, Ernie Mills and Billy Davis combine for 141 receptions, 2,227 yards and 8 TD’s.
In his second and final year as Head Coach of the Cowboys, LaFleur and Bjornson had 45 catches for 453 yards and 7 TD’s. At the same time the trio of Mills, Rocket Ismail and Jason Tucker hauled in 133 receptions for 1,861 yards and 8 TD’s.
After the 1999 season, Gailey was let go by the Cowboys and caught on as the Offensive Coordinator of the Miami Dolphins, who had the immortal Jed Weaver and Hunter Goodwin at TE. The two had 16 catches for 215 yards and a TD, while Leslie Shepherd, Oronde Gasden and Tony Martin caught 117 passes for 1,625 yards and 10 TD’s.
During the 2001 season, Weaver and Goodwin caught 22 passes for 242 yards and 2 TD’s. That year, the receiving trio of Gasden, Chris Chambers and James McKnight exploded for 158 receptions, 2,241 yards and 13 TD’s.
After losing his job with Miami, Gailey decided to go back to the college ranks, where he served as Head Coach at Georgia Tech from 2002-2007. In 2008, he returned to the NFL as the Kansas City Chiefs’ Offensive Coordinator, where he had Hall-of-Fame Tight End, Tony Gonzalez.
In that 2008 season, his only as OC of the Chiefs, Gonzalez had 96 receptions for 1,058 yards and 10 TD’s. That same season saw Dwayne Bowe and Mark Bradley combine for 116 catches, 1,402 yards and 10 TD’s.
The Chiefs made a head coaching change the next year and new Head Coach Todd Haley decided he wanted to call the plays on offense, which led to Chan taking a year off from coaching.
In 2010, Gailey was hired as the Head Coach of the Buffalo Bills, and given the gift of Jonathan Stupar at TE. Stupar had an unspectacular 12 catches for 111 yards, which is eerily similar to this year’s Jets’ dynamic duo of Cumberland and Davis. However, Stevie Johnson, Roscoe Parrish and Lee Evans amassed 152 catches for 2,051 yards and 16 TD’s the same year.
In his second season with the Bills, Gailey had the more talented Scott Chandler who was able to grab 38 passes for 389 yards and 6 TD’s. At the same time, Johnson and David Nelson had 137 receptions for 1,662 yards and 12 TD’s.
During his final season with the Bills in 2012, Chandler ripped off 43 catches for 571 yards and another 6 TD’s, while Johnson, Donald Jones and T.J. Graham had 151 receptions for 1,811 yards and 11 TD’s.
Those are certainly a lot of numbers to digest, but if you read between the lines you can see that all is not what it seems with Gailey’s use of tight ends in his offense, if you are only judging it on the 2015 season.
When looking at the paltry production of the Jets’ TE group in 2015, you also have to take into account that Quincy Enunwa served in a hybrid TE role and caught 22 passes for 315 yards, so it was not as if the team got nothing from the position as far as receiving goes.
To put it simply, when Chan has a talented TE on his offense, that guy is going to get the ball. If he does not have a true playmaker at the position, he is going to find innovative ways to work his wide receivers into the offense more frequently.
Given that Jace Amaro should be coming back healthy in 2016, Chan will have a new weapon at TE to work with in the upcoming season. It is also anticipated that the team will make an addition or two in free agency and/or the draft, so you can expect to see more involvement by the position in the passing game. Then we will be able to put to rest the myth that Gailey does not utilize his TE’s in the offense.