Passes not coming Heap's way in new offense

RAVENS BEAT

Ravens Weekend

October 03, 2008|By JAMISON HENSLEY | JAMISON HENSLEY,jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

When Cam Cameron was hired as offensive coordinator, Ravens tight end Todd Heap was expected to put up numbers similar to Antonio Gates', not Garrett Mills'.

Incidentally, Mills, a third-string tight end for the Minnesota Vikings, even has more catches (four) and receiving yards (59) than Heap. But these days, it seems as if everybody does.

Heap has disappeared from the Ravens' offense, making three catches for 37 yards.

His unexpected role change - from a top-notch receiver to a pass blocker - has become the biggest mystery so far for the Ravens.

Monday night in Pittsburgh, Heap was held without a catch - the first time he has been shut out in a game since he became a full-time starter in 2002.

"It's different, that's all I can say," Heap said. "Hopefully, there will be a point where I get more involved. Right now, I'm adjusting."

Heap won't pull a Terrell Owens and demand the ball. But his body language tells the story.

When Heap walks through the locker room, his head hangs and his shoulders sag. He looks disappointed and frustrated.

There have been rumblings that the new coaching staff considers him "soft" for not playing through a right calf injury in the preseason. Maybe that's why the Ravens have been using Heap as a blocker more than a receiver this season as their way to toughen him up. (It has been estimated that he blocked on more than half of the Ravens' passing plays against the Steelers.)

While it's smart for the Ravens to use maximum protection to shield their investment in rookie quarterback Joe Flacco, it's perplexing to see a two-time Pro Bowl tight end being used as an extra blocker.

The franchise's all-time leader in catches and receiving yards, Heap has probably suffered the most in the Ravens' coaching change.

In six seasons as a starter under Billick, he averaged 4.2 catches a game. In three games under the new regime, he has averaged 3.6 passes thrown to him (14 percent of the Ravens' total pass attempts).

Sure, Heap hasn't helped himself by getting off to the worst start of his career. He has had two drops (including one in the end zone) and a fumble.

But if the Ravens want to have a well-rounded passing attack, they need to find a way to get the ball to Heap, especially around the goal line.

Wasn't this supposed to be the season in which Heap was scoring touchdowns like Gates did so frequently with Cameron? Instead, he is watching the Ravens' other tight end, Daniel Wilcox, spiking the ball in the end zone in Pittsburgh.

With Heap scheduled to make $3.6 million next season, it'll be interesting to see how the Ravens envision Heap in their future plans.

"The tight end in this system is a football player," Cameron said. "He's not a wide receiver; he's a blocker first. When you get labeled as that receiving tight end, everyone measures your contribution in catches. Todd's contribution goes way beyond catches, and we just need to adjust our thinking a little bit. As you see Joe [Flacco] grow, I would think Todd's role would continue to grow as a receiver."

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