Q&A: Tight Ends Coach Mike Pope
Interview Conducted by BigBlueInteractive.com Reporter WalterB
BBI: With all the speed you have at the tight end position, and with the potential combination of two fast tight ends who can both catch and run, what kind of effect could this have on defenses? Could such a combo be revolutionary in opening up an offense compared to what we have seen in the past from more traditional two tight end formations?
Michael Pope: First of all to have one each at the end of the line of scrimmage enables you to run the ball off tackle to either side. A defense can’t predetermine what side you will run the ball too. When you only have one you can run inside weak, but you can’t run strong or outside very well. This gives us the ability to force the defense into some forms of alignment that can either take one side away and give us the other. Or if they take both sides away it isolates Toomer and Hilliard on the outside with only single coverage. At the same time because we have some speed at the position, what looks like a run formation might very well be one of our best pass formation – because we can line up with one back, with two tight ends and two wide receivers. We can also create two back type looks with one of those tight ends playing like a fullback. We can also put them out in space and look like a two minute type offense, spread everybody out and get the entire field spread, which Kerry likes a great deal. The versatility of doing that gives you lots of headaches if you are a defense. On three consecutive plays without making a substitution off the sideline you can have three entirely different looks and sets which requires them to do a lot of preparation, and we think limits the amount of things they can do against us. The fact that we can run down the seams with so much two deep coverage making a comeback is important. This is the type of defense that Tampa popularized, and the Rams play a great deal of, and New England uses. The popularity of that particular coverage coming back now gives you only two deep people, and if you can get four people down the field with speed, now you have a two on one fast break on one side and potentially a two on one fast break on the other side. So, if you don’t have runners inside then that is not something you can consider offensively. A lot of teams don’t have speed at the inside position where our two tight ends predominantly play. The other thing it enables you to do is play Shockey like a wide receiver. For the tight end on one side you can then put Jeremy out in space like a single receiver, put him over on the slot side – so that requires that they have a plan to cover him no matter where he lines up. The receiver as a tight end in the backfield or as a flanker on the other side. So that is quite a concern for the defense.
BBI: So, you will make an effort to try to isolate him in situations that you feel are advantageous?
Michael Pope: Yes, if he is being bracketed by linebackers or a safety playing in tight we would be foolish to leave him there the whole game because they would just take him out of the game. He is a big play maker for us so as soon as teams have a plan to do that we immediately begin to try to deploy him in different places with our formation calls. And those plays that are not different for our quarterback since it allows him to become one of those receivers out there. It is quarterback friendly because the routes are not a whole new separate group of routes. So where he lines up is where the difference is. Doubling him out in space is a whole lot different than doubling him near the tackle where they can get quick access to him.
BBI: In terms of coaching a moving tight end formation where the second tight end is moving, is it difficult for the new players to master that position?
Michael Pope: Very difficult. When Shiancoe came in as a rookie for example- the first mini-camp I only played him as a tight end because that is a spot you have to learn. That position has a set of principals like working with the tackle, working with the other linemen, working with the fullback in blocking combinations. So that is like its own little world. So I started him there so he can learn that spot. Ultimately we drafted him so he could come in with Rivers and Inkrott to replace Dan Campbell. We were not looking to replace another Shockey, we were looking for a Dan Campbell. So that is what Dan Campbell was for us. He was that movement guy who played those different spots. Jeremy did not play much in the backfield last year. He will play more this year. Because now he is another year older and smarter. He understands the concept of the offensive scheme. So these young guys you have to start them in one spot and they have to learn that so that they have a home base, then you can begin to move them to the other spots. So the second mini-camp and the first part of training camp here Shiancoe has been primarily a fullback character. But in other packages they have to be the X, the Y, the Z and the fullback somewhere in the realm of our offense. So that position other than the quarterback position has to know all of these different things. It is quite tedious mentally to learn them all because you have to learn all the site adjust rules that a wide receiver knows if you are playing a wide receiver position – all the hand signals that a quarterback uses, you have to learn those. And at the same time pull them off under the tension of a game. It’s not an easy road. Some think it’s just a tight end who lines up beside a tackle. But this is mentally one of the most challenging spots to play on a team because they play so many different positions and they have to learn all the rules that apply to those different positions.
BBI: How will the fact that you have so many receiving tight ends influence the way a three wide receiver set is used with your regular receivers?
Michael Pope: It won’t affect it, it will complement it. Because defenses only have so many preparation repetitions in their week in getting ready to play a team. If they are working on a lot of offensive sets and plays out of those they can only get very good at a couple of them. So if you can show them two tight ends and two backs, three tight ends and one back, two tight ends and two wide receivers with one back, spread out formations that look like two minute or third down situations, but they come on first down. So they have to prepare all their different defenses looks for all those combinations. They would have to have a thousand reps to get everything covered. Obviously that is not going to happen, so what we are trying to do is diminish their preparation time for any one of our sets, and as the game progresses we try to determine which one is the most effective.
BBI: What is the difference in the way tight ends are used today versus the way the Giants used them back in 86 and 90?
Michael Pope: I think it is a little bit similar in some ways not so much here but at other places where I have been where I had guys who could run real well. Mark Bavaro was the prototype tight end in this organization. So he was dominating enough to be a good blocker. Defenses were not quite as complicated back in the mid 80s. He was better off because he was just working mostly against linebackers. Now people put a safety in the game sometimes just to help cover Jeremy because he can run, he is faster than Mark was. He is not as powerful yet; he is faster. Dinkins and Shiancoe both run real well, and Rivers runs well, so what we are looking for are the mismatches. In the NBA the bigger guy on the smaller guy, or the one against a guy who does not hold up well in coverage. And that is what we are tying to get are mismatches where we can find them. So this is not like anything the Giants have ever had before. I don’t there has ever been this much speed at this position. We have to prove that this is the right answer obviously. But we never had these types of athletes play this position in all the years I was here before.
BBI: Potentially do you think this could revolutionize the way offenses are played?
Michael Pope: I think the position has come back into favor a great deal because the coverages are going back more to the skeleton two deep type of coverage. People have gone for more speed in the linebacker positions and so these big guys on smaller linebackers is an advantage. Dallas for example has smaller linebackers but they all can really run fast, but none are six foot five. So if we can put the big size there, even if it is a contested throw we at least like to think we have a chance to get the rebound.
BBI: How would you compare Shank to Shockey in terms of his rookie development?
Michael Pope: He is much further behind initially and it is no ones fault. It is just that Jeremy came out of Miami where they play very intense competition. Shank is coming out of a small school, they did a very good job of training him there. He is way overdeveloped for a typical small school player. In the combines he did more reps on the bench press than anyone there. He ran faster than anybody there. He isn’t the typical small school player coming out. From that stand point his development is physically much further along than you would normally see, and it is probably as close to Jeremy development wise, but knowledge and experience and playing against real good players that is where he is behind.
BBI: Could the team keep four tight ends?
Michael Pope: That’s Jim’s call. We are going to keep three probably, and if the fourth one is one of the very best special team players than he will have a chance to be on the team. The third and fourth tight end are going to get on this team from a special team stand point.