But when a reporter asked Head Coach John Harbaugh on Friday if the team still felt like it needed to add a blocking tight end after bringing Daniels aboard, Harbaugh cracked a smile yet delivered a message.
“We’ll take that as an insult, won’t we, Owen?” Harbaugh said, turning to Daniels and drawing a laugh from the media. “We’ll take that as an insult, absolutely.”
Daniels laughed too. He’s heard the knock on his blocking his entire career.
But the perception that Daniels can’t block isn’t true, says Harbaugh.
“Owen Daniels is a good blocker,” he said. “Put on the tape, and you’re going to see a very good blocker. He understands the blocking scheme. So, I wouldn’t take that away from him.”
Harbaugh said reality is that no tight end can be one-dimensional. If they can’t block, they’re basically a wide receiver. If they can’t run a route, they’re essentially an undersized offensive tackle.
The key to keeping defenses on their heels is having a tight end that can do both. That way, they can’t predict if the play is going to be a run or a pass based on which personnel is in the game.
The tight end doesn’t have to be a lights-out blocker, but they have to be able to hold their own.
“The ability to do both well – or at least do one thing great and the other thing adequately – you have to have that,” Harbaugh.
The Texans have run the ball well in Gary Kubiak’s system with Daniels as the primary tight end over the past eight years. But Houston also had other tight ends who received positive grades in blocking from Pro Football Focus (PFF).
In 2012, Houston tight end Garrett Graham got a 2.2 grade (17th best in the NFL) in run blocking. In 2011, Texans tight end Joel Dreessen received a 11.5 grade, the third-best run blocking grade of anyone in the league.
Daniels has received negative run-blocking grades from PFF each of the past seven seasons. Pitta has also never received a positive season-ending grade for his run blocking. They are, however, two of the better receiving tight ends in the game.
Harbaugh isn’t expecting either of those guys to be especially robust blockers. If they become that in Kubiak’s system, that’s a bonus in Harbaugh’s eyes.
“Hey, if we end up with some punishing, dominating, end-of-the-line-of-scrimmage blocker, you’ll see me smiling,” he said. “But our two guys right now block really well, too.”