Team Looking For Heap To Make A Comeback Heap Looks To Make A Comeback In 2009

July 30, 2009|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

Ravens fans remain fixated on whether Derrick Mason is coming back.

On a different level, the same question could be asked of Todd Heap. As the veterans reported to Ravens training camp Wednesday, the two-time Pro Bowl tight end is looking to become a key component in Cam Cameron's offense, reversing a series of disappointments.

It started with training camp last season, when Heap missed most of the preseason with a calf injury. It continued throughout the regular season when a coaching decision turned the franchise's all-time leading receiver into more of a blocker. Then it extended to this offseason when there was talk of the Ravens trading Heap or replacing him if Brandon Pettigrew fell to them in the draft.

Heap, 29, acknowledges that last year was difficult, but he wants to prove that it wasn't deflating. "There's no doubt in my mind that I can be a top tight end," he said. "I have confidence in myself and my abilities."

When Cameron was named offensive coordinator last season, many expected Heap to put up numbers similar to All-Pro tight end Antonio Gates of the San Diego Chargers. Instead, Heap had 35 catches, fewer than Minnesota Vikings tight end Visanthe Shiancoe (42) and the Jacksonville Jaguars' Marcedes Lewis (41).

Heap's slump can be traced to last year's training camp, Cameron said. He injured his right calf in the ninth practice and missed all but one preseason game.

"It's hard for a guy to miss practice and realistically think there is going to be that chemistry that you need when a quarterback is in his first year playing," Cameron said. "The quarterback needs to throw to guys in practice in order to trust a guy."

It was basically the same story this offseason. A lower-back injury, which Heap suffered in practice during the playoffs, lingered into the spring and kept him out of most of the minicamps.

When he returned for the final minicamps of the spring, he did his best to play catch-up, working with quarterback Joe Flacco before practice.

"The real work is going to come during training camp," Heap said. "Obviously, there's positives in repetitions."

Heap's goal for this training camp is to get a rhythm in the offense.

When Daniel Wilcox parted with the Ravens at the end of the season, he said the tight ends had a tough adjustment to the new offense. Cameron wanted the tight ends to run "speed routes," which eliminated the head fakes and cutting they had done in the past.

Heap finished with career lows in receptions (35) and yards (305) for a 16-game season.

"You want to perform," Heap said. "You want to make those plays. You want to be given those opportunities. But at the same time, you want to do your job and do what's asked of you."

There are reasons for optimism. With the Ravens drafting right tackle Michael Oher in the first round, the team might not need to keep Heap in as a blocker. And a more confident Flacco might throw over the middle more instead of making safer passes to the outside.

With the uncertain status of Mason, the Ravens will need to get Heap more involved in the passing game. From 2002 to 2007, Heap was among the NFL's best tight ends, ranking fifth in receptions (323).

Do the Ravens think Heap can return to that level?

"I say 'yes' because he wants to," Cameron said. "I know what his aspirations are for this season. The one thing you find is that the older the players get, the harder they have to work. That's the reality of it; you have to train harder in the offseason."

Heap's most memorable play came in the playoffs, when he caught a 23-yard pass against the Tennessee Titans to convert a third-and-2 in the fourth quarter that set up the game-winning field goal.

The Ravens hope that clutch play - and not the forgettable games of the past year - carry over into this season.

"Our expectation for Todd is to be the player he has always been, and even better," coach John Harbaugh said. "I don't think Todd looks back on his career and says, 'OK, I made a Pro Bowl or two.' ... Todd is the kind of guy who is looking forward to what he's going to achieve for the rest of his career and immediately this year."

Heap's career stats

Yr. GS Rec. Yds TDs

'01 6 16 206 1

'02 16 68* 836 6*

'03 16 57* 693* 3

'04 6 27 303 3

'05 16 75 855 7*

'06 16 73* 765 6*

'07 6 23 239 1

'08 16 35 403 3

Car. 104 374 4,300 30

* Led Ravens

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