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Can Buffalo become 'Tight End Heaven?'

One player thinks so. MarQueis Gray, who was lining up as the No. 2 tight end through OTA’s and minicamp, gushed over Greg Roman’s offense in our feature that ran on Monday, calling it "Tight End Heaven." Of course, Gray played with Roman his first year in the NFL and knows the offensive coordinator features the tight end.

That’d be quite a change from what Western New Yorkers are used to seeing.

The last 15 years, the tight end has been more of an afterthought in the Bills’ offense than anything. The towering, if not athletic, 6-foot-7 Scott Chandler did pump some life into the position of late. Now, he’s in New England with Rob Gronkowski. For the most part, the Bills have sorely lacked a true weapon down the seam, a tight end who can routinely burn linebackers 1 on 1.

So in March, the Bills challenged themselves to get better at the position by releasing Chandler and ponying up for Charles Clay. While Chandler signed a modest two-year, $5.3 million deal with the Patriots, Buffalo inked Clay at five years, $38 million. It’s an unprecedented investment at the position for the Bills, who are banking on Clay being a rising star.

His last two seasons in Miami, Clay caught 127 passes for 1,491 yards and nine touchdowns.

Now, he’ll be moving around in an offense that helped Vernon Davis flourish.

One thing's for sure: the last 15 years have not been “Tight End Heaven” in Buffalo. Here are the leading pass-catchers over that time...

  • 2014: Scott Chandler (47 receptions for 497 yards and three touchdowns)
  • 2013: Scott Chandler (53-655-2)
  • 2012: Scott Chandler (43-571-6)
  • 2011: Scott Chandler (38-389-6)
  • 2010: Jonathan Stupar (12-111-0)
  • 2009: Shawn Nelson (17-156-1)
  • 2008: Robert Royal (33-351-1)
  • 2007: Robert Royal (25-248-3)
  • 2006: Robert Royal (23-233-3)
  • 2005: Mark Campbell (19-139-0)
  • 2004: Mark Campbell (17-203-5)
  • 2003: Mark Campbell (34-339-1)
  • 2002: Jay Riemersma (32-350-0)
  • 2001: Jay Riemersma (53-590-3)
  • 2000: Jay Riemersma (31-372-5)

 

It's probably no coincidence the Bills failed to reach the postseason in each of these seasons. Athletic tight ends have taken the league by storm during this time, yet have been non-existent on this roster.

In signing Clay (and developing Gray), the Bills hope to change that.

Gray repeated that the tight end lines up all over the field in this offense.

“So you have to learn everything,” he said. “In this playbook, there are multiple options for each player — especially the tight end.”

As for Gray himself, he knows he’ll need to prove his mettle as a blocker.

“Yeah, that could open up eyes a lot more,” Gray said. “Like I said, this is my third year playing tight end. Against the best athletes in the world, of course I’m not going to be able to move them six yards downfield. I’ve been a quarterback my whole life. I haven’t had to focus on my upper body strength like these guys do. I’m still trying to get to that level while playing in the NFL.”

And expect Clay to be on the field all game.

This spring, the 6-foot-3, 255-pounder said his approach wouldn’t change after the big payday. He’ll get $24.5 million his first two years of the deal, numbers that’ll set the bar very, very high. For one, Roman’s tight ends have been difference-makers in the past. Through San Francisco’s postseason runs in 2011 and 2012, specifically, Davis was a match-up nightmare with 546 yards and five touchdowns in five games.

And the Bills will enter training camp with questions under center. It’s unknown if the team has an arm on the roster who can strike fear deep in defenses. A security blanket underneath will be valuable, especially early on.

Whether it’s in the slot, out wide, in tight or at H-back, the Bills tight end will move around and we’ll see if Buffalo, N.Y., really is Tight End Heaven.

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