(Winslow photo courtesy of the San Diego Chargers)
(Eifert photo courtesy of the Cincinnati Bengals)
Talk of Fame Network
The tight end position has never been more important in the NFL than it is today. So The Talk of Fame Network guys explored the changes this week with Hall-of-Fame tight end Kellen Winslow and the Cincinnati Bengals’ Tyler Eifert, whose nine touchdown catches this season lead the NFL and tie him for the Bengals’ all-time club record with half a season to play.
Winslow was the first of the deep-threat, high-production receiving tight ends, permanently altering how the position was used not long after his arrival in San Diego in 1979. No less a defensive genius than Patriots’ head coach Bill Belichick insists today’s pass catching tight ends like Eifert and his own Rob Gronkowski “are all descendants of Kellen Winslow.’’
Although Winslow became the first tight end to lead the NFL in receptions in consecutive seasons and held the single-season yardage record for 30 years until Gronkowski broke it in 2011, he believes the credit for his success and the position’s growth both belong to his coach in San Diego, Don Coryell.
“I can’t take credit for it,’’ said Winslow, a member of the NFL’s 75th Anniversary team and a 1980’s all-decade selection. “I was in a great system. It was all about mismatches.’’
There was no greater mismatch on most NFL Sundays than Winslow and whatever poor safety or linebacker was asked to stop him. The offense Coryell created and Winslow helped to popularize has morphed into systems now designed for players like Eifert to dominate. In Winslow’s opinion in the next few years that is going to lead to a Hall-of-Fame invasion of tight ends.
“In the next 10 years you will see an influx,’’ said Winslow, who is one of only eight tight ends in the Hall. “In professional football, the offense goes through the tight end (today).’’
Winslow not only talks about those changes and his role in it but also names his choices for Hall-of-Fame consideration and reveals for the first time how close he came to turning down his Hall-of-Fame induction until John Mackey was enshrined.
“John Mackey went in the year before me, thank God,’’ Winslow revealed. “I considered not accepting if John Mackey was not (in) there. What was I doing in there if he wasn’t? He was a beast.’’
So too, was Winslow. And today Eifert is becoming the same kind of force for the undefeated Bengals. A Mackey Award winner as the nation’s best collegiate tight end at Notre Dame, Eifert has become the go-to target for quarterback Andy Dalton when the heat is on. That’s a role he once saw the man he patterned his own game after play in Indianapolis for Peyton Manning.
“Growing up in Fort Wayne (Indiana), I watched quite a bit of Dallas Clark,’’ Eifert said. “I emulated him. It was pretty cool how he never wore gloves…it was a signature thing.’’
Eifert, does wear the sticky-fingered gloves popular with most receivers today and has used them well. But while acknowledging that the Bengals have “some of the best athletes and best players in the league,’’ he says their focus is not on going undefeated.
“Our coaches do a good job of reminding us we’ve got bigger goals,’’ Eifert said. “The talk of going undefeated doesn’t matter. It would be cool to win a Super Bowl. To go undefeated would be an added bonus but the Super Bowl is the goal.’’
The TOF guys, Hall-of-Fame voters Ron Borges, Rick Gosselin and Clark Judge, have their own goals, which are to bring listeners a weekly Hall-of-Fame point of view on today’s NFL and its relation to the game’s long history. This week, Rick makes the Hall-of-Fame case for former New York Giants’ linebacker Carl Banks who, Gosselin insists, was half of the greatest outside linebacker combination in football history.
Sticking with the tight end theme, the guys offer up their predictions of which ones figure to reach the Hall and which will fall short and follow up on Winslow’s contention that ex-Giants’ tight end Mark Bavaro deserves serious consideration despite numbers that pale in comparison to today’s pass catchers at the position.
In honor of Veterans Day, the TOF guys pay homage to NFL veterans who can still bring it like Charles Woodson, Adam Vinatieri, Steve Smith, Sr. and the league’s oldest quarterback, undefeated (2-0) Matt Hasselbeck.
There’s all that and more available on 80 radio stations around the country. If you miss it, the show is also available on iTunes, Soundcloud, on the TuneIn app or by going to talkoffamenetwork.com.