If I were Todd Heap I would have retired by now

Ravens veteran tight end says he's ready to go for Sunday's game

November 01, 2010|By Mike Preston

Since the Ravens moved to Baltimore for the 1996 season, only running back Jamal Lewis and quarterback Kyle Boller have taken more vicious hits than tight end Todd Heap.

So last week when some teammates were vacationing, Heap was seeing a chiropractor about neck and shoulder injuries. He also got acupuncture, muscle stimulus and ultrasound treatments.

When the Ravens returned to work Monday, Heap was back on the field and as good as new. Well, almost.

"I got a little rest, a little treatment and I feel good," said Heap, declaring himself fit for Sunday's game against Miami. "My legs feel good and my body feels good. I'm ready to go."

Before the bye week, there were major concerns about Heap's health. In the third quarter of the Buffalo game on Oct. 24, Heap dropped at the line of scrimmage without being touched as if a sniper shot him from the upper deck of M&T Bank Stadium.

Heap later returned, but came out in the fourth quarter when he had muscle spasms around his neck and shoulders. The injuries first occurred on Oct. 17 after a helmet-to-helmet collision with New England safety Brandon Meriweather.

"I was in a lot of pain at that moment, but I wanted to go back in and see how I felt," said Heap of the Buffalo incident. "Once it went into spasm and later stinger mode, that's when I called it a day."

If I were Heap, I would have retired by now. In fact, as soon as I came off the field against Buffalo, I would have acted like boxer Roberto Duran, and uttered "no mas" to coach John Harbaugh.

But Heap is different. Once criticized for being soft earlier in his career in Baltimore, he has become the team's ultimate tough guy. With Heap, though, there are no pretenses like listening to hard rock and banging his head on lockers before the game.

He hasn't been tazed a couple of times for money like offensive tackle Marshal Yanda, or become the team bodyguard like Haloti Ngata. Heap just gets mangled every week from acrobatic catches.

Years have been taken off his life from high passes he hauled in from quarterback Kyle Boller, and Joe Flacco has hung Heap up a couple of times this year, too. Three years ago after the AFC championship game, Heap left the stadium bent over.

"The body is usually pretty sore on Monday mornings," Heap said. "You have different weeks. I've had some Monday mornings where it's hard to get out of bed, and some where I'm ready to go."

You wonder why he keeps playing. He has been one of the best tight ends of his era, and has become a legend here. He has two Pro Bowls, is good looking and intelligent enough to succeed in just about any field in which he chooses.

He has three wonderful kids and a great wife, Ashley, who is more worried about his health than Heap.

She goes down every time he goes down.

"She was definitely upset I went back in the game," Heap said. "She doesn't like watching it. The kids really don't know much better right now, but they hear her screaming in the house and wonder what is going on. She has told me that she will be fine whenever I decide to quit playing."

Heap has another year on his contract, but would like to play a few more after that. Like good veteran players, Heap has put more time now into offseason training to sustain his career. In the past two seasons, he spent a lot of time blocking in the Ravens run-oriented offense, but that has changed in 2010.

Because of the development of Flacco and the improved play of tackles Michael Oher and Yanda, Heap has become more involved in the passing game. He is third on the team in receptions with 24 for 318 yards and three touchdowns.

A major strength, though, has been his blocking for both the run and pass. And we're not talking about some slight chips, either. Heap has run over players.

"When I first came into the league, I watched Shannon Sharpe to see what I needed to get the job done," said Heap. "From that point on, I tried to work on all those things. Now, I feel I'm blocking at a high level, but with that said, I still can get better."

The Ravens know the value of Heap. They have two proteges, but they aren't prepared to take shots over the middle, and make those timely blocks. They can't make those back-shoulder catches, and leap out of the stadium like Heap.

But even Heaps admits to wondering what his life will be like in 10 to 15 years after all the hits he has taken.

"When you step back and look at it, you definitely think about it," said Heap. "They are looking more into those things [concussions], and you have to wonder about the ramifications, but I don't think about it when I'm on the field.

"Right now, I definitely feel I can play for a few more years," Heap said. "I'm excited about the weapons we have and what this offense can become. I know my body better than anybody. Injuries are a part of football. I'll know when it's time to retire. That's when you don't love it and you're body can't do it anymore. I'll know."

mike.preston@baltsun.com

Listen to Mike Preston on "The Bruce Cunningham Show" from noon to 2 p.m. Monday and Friday on 105.7 FM.

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