DAVIE — After Penn State routed Rutgers 35-6 late last season, Matt Millen, an analyst on the Big Ten Network and a former Nittany Lion, slammed into tight end Mike Gesicki in ways that the Scarlet Knights could not.
Despite saying he didn’t “want to dog the guy,” Millen both barked and bit, labeling Gesicki’s blocking “embarrassing” and saying if Gesicki wants to play in the NFL, he’ll have to improve in that department.
The Dolphins were so unmoved about Gesicki’s blocking that they spent their second-round pick on him, which set off more critics.
In the name of the great Jim “Mad Dog” Mandich, everybody needs to take a deep breath.
No, Mike Gesicki won’t be mowing down people for Kenyan Drake or protecting Ryan Tannehill’s surgically repaired knee this year. Or maybe ever.
You can go ahead and call Gesicki one-dimensional.
I’ll say Dolphins tight ends have been one-dimensional for ages.
The wrong dimension.
There’s nothing wrong with a blocking tight end who can’t catch, but if it’s either/or, consider these two questions: 1. When’s the last time you turned off a game thinking the reason the Dolphins lost was those swell blocks by the opposing tight end? (Answer: Maybe never.) 2. How many times did you see the Dolphins’ defense flailing and failing last season as it was gashed by pass-catching tight ends, including no-names? (Answer: Often.)
One you may have heard of is Rob Gronkowski. Fine blocker, Gronk is. How many know that? How many care? To be fixated on his blocking is to look at the Mona Lisa and care only that it’s in a gaudy frame. It’s Gronk’s receiving skills that are a work of art, of course, creating matchup nightmares for defenses. It’s long past time that the Dolphins give the Patriots the kind of migraines Gronk gives Miami.
If the Dolphins finally found a guy who can get separation downfield, who can work the seams, who can move the chains, who can operate in the red zone, who can make coordinators think twice about doubling Kenny Stills or DeVante Parker or Danny Amendola, hallelujah.
Julius Thomas led the Dolphins’ tight ends in receiving last year. He had 388 yards. It was a vast improvement over 2016. Dion Sims had 256. You probably covered more ground fetching beer.
The only tight ends the Dolphins have had this century who could keep defenses honest were Charles Clay and Randy McMichael. It helps explain why the Dolphins lead civilization in chip-shot field goals. So with a power forward dangling on the draft board, the Dolphins did what they had to do: slam-dunked that index card with Gesicki’s name on it.
‘There’s a lot of really good tight ends that are pass catchers that aren’t great blockers.’ — Dolphins General Manager Chris Grier
Last season, Gronkowski, Travis Kelce, Zach Ertz and Delanie Walker were the top tight ends in receiving yardage. They play, respectively, for the Patriots, Chiefs, Eagles and Titans. The TD-leading tight ends were Jimmy Graham (Seahawks), Ertz, Gronkowski, Kelce and Kyle Rudolph (Vikings). Every one of those teams except Seattle made the playoffs.
A good receiving tight end doesn’t guarantee anything, but a lack of one means the line to gain may as well be somewhere off in Broward County.
Gesicki is 6-feet-6 and 252 pounds, which suggests he ought to be a better blocker than he is. ESPN’s Todd McShay said his blocking is “tough to watch” and called him a one-trick pony but admitted “his trick is pretty good.” Fellow analyst Louis Riddick added, “What they need is impact players on offense. They couldn’t care less about his blocking.”
Bingo. Minutes after picking Gesicki, Dolphins General Manager Chris Grier, without even being asked, addressed the noise by blocking it out.
“The one thing everybody talks about is him not being a great blocker,” Grier said. “But there’s a lot of really good tight ends that are pass catchers that aren’t great blockers.”
Grier said today’s basketball-playing tight ends struggle with blocking techniques because they’re so tall they have a hard time getting down at the point of attack. It’s not an excuse; it’s reality.
One reason to dismiss Gesicki’s shortcoming as an inconvenience is running back Frank Gore. Even at 35, Gore can be Tannehill’s comfort blanket in protection. Andrew Luck knows. It’s why he hated to see Gore leave the Colts.
And just to make sure they solved The Tight End Thing, the Dolphins came right back in the fourth round and added Notre Dame’s Durham Smythe, a 6-6, 257-pound blocking tight end.
For his part, Gesicki acknowledges his weakness.
“I definitely need to continue to improve my run blocking and all that kind of stuff,” he said.
Knock yourself out, Mike.
Just don’t forget where your meal ticket came from.