The parallels between Ravens tight end Todd Heap and the Kansas City Chiefs' Tony Gonzalez are easy for Wade Harman to rattle off.
"They both have great athletic ability, can jump and put defenses in a bind with matchups on linebackers, safeties and smaller corners," said Harman, the Ravens' tight ends coach. "They both have a big window. You throw the ball close to them, and either with their body size, their leaping ability, their arm length, they can make the play."
And they are both Pro Bowl players who had stints on the basketball teams at their respective Pacific-10 schools. The two represented the AFC last season and could easily do so again jointly in years to come.
They will be on the field as adversaries for the first time in tomorrow's game at M&T Bank Stadium. Heap will get a chance to see one of the players he has molded his game after in a highly competitive setting.
"I watched him, especially when I was back in college," said Heap, 6 feet 5, 252 pounds, who scored his first touchdown of the season in Sunday's 24-10 win over the San Diego Chargers. "He's been doing it a long time and had some big seasons over the last five, six years. Anytime you have someone like that who has been successful at the tight end position, I pay attention to it."
Gonzalez, 6 feet 4, 248 pounds, has been to four straight Pro Bowls, which often makes people think he is a lot older than he really is.
At 27 and in his seventh year, there is even talk that Gonzalez might be slowing down a bit after his career peaked in 2000 with a 93-catch, 1,203-yard receiving season. Gonzalez's numbers have been in a slight decline since (though he has had nagging injuries, none were severe enough to break his current streak of 66 consecutive starts).
His 63 catches for 773 yards last year were five receptions and 63 yards fewer than Heap's.
Gonzalez is coming into tomorrow's game with just seven catches for 78 yards this season. It is his lowest three-game total to open a season since his rookie year in 1997, when he had six catches.
It may be that Chiefs running back Priest Holmes, the league's reigning Offensive Player of the Year, is getting some of Gonzalez's touches. Holmes, despite all of Gonzalez's credentials, is where the Ravens' defense is focusing.
"You have to go in and game-plan what they do best," Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis said. "And what they do best is run Priest Holmes, any way you want to look at it. We all know Tony Gonzalez is a Pro Bowl player. We all know his capabilities getting the football in his hands. But he has seven catches this season."
Linebacker Adalius Thomas, who with strong safety Ed Reed and Peter Boulware should draw much of the coverage responsibilities on Gonzalez, took it a step further.
"I don't think he is as good as Todd Heap," Thomas said. "He's not a great blocker. He's an average blocker. He gets downfield and catches the ball because he is a big guy matched up against defensive backs. He doesn't propose a bigger threat than Priest Holmes."
Gonzalez is 13 catches shy of becoming the Chiefs' all-time leader receiving. Before Holmes, he was unquestionably the focal point of the offense.
"Gonzalez is not hampered by anything other than the fact that we are not here to enhance any one individual's number of receptions," Chiefs coach Dick Vermeil said. "We're here to win football games. It just so happens the last few games he hasn't caught many footballs, but he's played very well. There have been times we've called patterns to him, but the coverage has taken him away.
"We evaluate Tony Gonzalez not based on the number of catches he can make. We evaluate him based on the number of great catches he can make that someone else can't make. Plus, he's become much more involved in the running game."
That evaluation could also hold true in how the Ravens view Heap. Heap made the catch of the year so far for the Ravens, a 25-yarder from Kyle Boller in which he stretched out his body above cornerback Quentin Jammer for a third-quarter touchdown against the Chargers.
"He's taking on more of a role that he wants to make more plays," Harman said. "He is concerned about the things he didn't do last year and the ways he can get better."
NOTES: Every Ravens player participated in yesterday's practice. Left guard Edwin Mulitalo, who missed the Chargers game with ankle and knee injuries, is expected to start tomorrow.
Next for Ravens
Matchup:Kansas City Chiefs (3-0) vs. Ravens (2-1)
Site:M&T Bank Stadium
When:Tomorrow, 4:05 p.m.
TV/Radio:Ch. 13/WJFK (1300 AM), WQSR (102.7 FM)
Line:Chiefs by 3