Notebook

Tight end spot could be open

Injuries give rookies chances as backup to Heap

May 11, 2008|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Sun reporter

The three-day Ravens minicamp at Owings Mills is an audition for many free agents but especially for those at tight end.

With Quinn Sypniewski out for the season after suffering a freak knee injury at an organized team activity three weeks ago, and Daniel Wilcox still recovering from toe surgery, rookies Joe Reitz and Scott Kuhn are looking for a chance to fill the role of the team's third tight end.

Kuhn, who played at Louisville, broke his thumb during a punt drill at minicamp yesterday, leaving the coaching staff to scramble. They used Xavier Lee, a former quarterback at Florida State, as a tight end for several of the drills, as well as second-year linebacker Edgar Jones for a few.

"Xavier has a chance to be a quarterback, but you look at that body, he can play a lot of things," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said of Lee. "We just want to look at him and see what we've got. Plus we need help at tight end."

Asked how concerned he is about the lack of healthy tight ends, Harbaugh said, "We're concerned about every position, but when you've got guys who are hurt right now and can't practice, it becomes a bigger concern."

The Ravens have also practiced the past two days without Lee Vickers, a second-year tight end who was brought in last year when starter Todd Heap and Wilcox went down with injuries.

The lack of depth has led to an opportunity for Reitz, who played basketball at Western Michigan and is trying to follow another former Mid-American Conference player, Antonio Gates, to the NFL.

"He's very, very athletic. He's more athletic than I am," said Reitz, who hasn't played football since his high school days outside Indianapolis. "Going from the hardwood and playing tight end, he definitely opened the door."

Because of his size (6 feet 7, 256 pounds), there has been talk of turning Reitz into an offensive tackle as well by putting him on the practice squad and seeing if he can gain 50 pounds or more.

"That's probably a couple of years before I gain that weight and strength to be a tackle," said Reitz, who had a chance to play professional basketball in Europe.

That Lee might be converted into a tight end is a bit ironic, considering that one of the reasons he left Florida State after his junior year was that the Seminoles were thinking of converting him into a tight end.

Lee looked pretty good yesterday, particularly catching the ball.

"It felt natural," Lee said. "If I work hard at it, it will be all right."

Heap doesn't seem that concerned about the lack of proven backups right now.

"Everyone's going to be getting healthy, everybody's rehabbing right now," Heap said. "Obviously it's an issue right now because of the depth, but I have a good feeling that guys will be ready to go."

On the injury front, running back Willis McGahee sat out yesterday's morning workout with an undisclosed ailment.

Familiar name

Another of the free agents, Ernie Wheelwright, has a familiar name to old-time football fans.

Wheelwright, a wide receiver at Minnesota, is the grandson and namesake of the running back who had a seven-season career with the New York Giants, Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints starting in 1964. The elder Wheelwright died of cancer in 2001.

"I never watched him play on film, but I've talked to a lot of guys who played against him, and my father told me a lot about him," the younger Wheelwright said.

don.markus@baltsun.com

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