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Eisenberg: Making Sense of Ravens' Tight End Situation


I was joking a few months ago when I wrote that the Ravens had so many tight ends (six at the time) that the position was ripe for a reality TV show.

Well, it turns out something akin to "The Real Tight Ends of Baltimore" actually is unfolding, except no one finds it amusing, least of all the Ravens.

Several common storylines from the reality-show genre have occurred recently. There was a tearful exit in the form of Dennis Pitta's hip injury, which likely ended his football career. Then there was a controversial exit in the form of Darren Waller's one-year suspension for violating the league's substance abuse policy.

The last thing I want to do is sound flip about these unfortunate developments. Pitta's injury cast a pall over the entire organization. Waller blew a wonderful opportunity to put his career on sound footing. There's nothing funny about any of that.

But in any case, the stable of six tight ends is down to four, and the potential for more drama is undeniable. Benjamin Watson, Nick Boyle, Crockett Gillmore and Maxx Williams all generate questions about their ability to contribute in 2017.

Watson is the team's oldest player and trying to extend his career after missing 2016 with an Achilles injury. Can he come back from such a serious physical setback at 36?

Gillmore has been hindered by injuries during the past two seasons and ended spring practices on the sidelines because of another injury. Can he stay healthy?

Williams is attempting to come back from what Head Coach John Harbaugh called a "new" knee surgery. That sounds serious. Will the surgery work? Can Williams get back on the field soon?

Finally, there's Boyle, who is healthy and in favor with the front office. But he has been suspended twice for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing drugs. Has he learned his lesson?

I wouldn't blame GM Ozzie Newsome for flinching every time his phone rings. Enough has gone wrong that you can't help wondering what's next. As insurance, the team recently signed another tight end, Ryan Malleck, a young player who had been cut by Pittsburgh.

I've read and heard it suggested that the situation is dire enough that the Ravens should sign a proven veteran tight end such as Gary Barnidge, formerly of the Cleveland Browns, to ensure they have someone who can handle the job.

Looking into his background, I discovered that Barnidge, 31, once appeared on a reality TV show, "Total Divas," so he'd fit nicely in that respect.

But I think it's too soon to suggest the Ravens absolutely have to make a move. It's possible this could end up being a summertime worry that fades.

Keep an eye on Watson. He's one year removed from a 74-catch season, and he's a pro's pro, adept at both blocking and catching. It was apparent at the team's mandatory minicamp last month that he is in terrific shape. He was on the field for some drills.

Sure, it's fair to wonder whether he can overcome a serious injury at his age, but Steve Smith Sr. has counseled him after dealing with the same injury at a similar age, and Smith has expressed optimism about Watson's 2017 potential. That's a positive sign.

If Watson is able to play and Boyle avoids off-field issues, the Ravens don't have a problem.

As I see it, Gillmore then becomes a wild card who could certainly play his way into snaps if healthy. As for Williams, whom Harbaugh speculated might not be ready for the start of training camp, he sounds like more of a project at this point, which is OK. He's just 23.

My point is it's premature to dismiss the situation as a disaster. Injuries are part of football. The Ravens aren't wrong to expect some production from guys coming back. That wouldn't be reality-show dramatic, but hey, most of those shows don't last long, anyway, right?

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