During a March 3rd interview on WKNR with Cleveland Browns Daily, recently signed Browns offensive coordinator John DeFilippo (Flip) explained what he looks for in a tight end for his offensive system.
“We have two types of tight ends which is a Y, which is ‘Hey, I’m going to block a seven-technique on power, I’m going to reach a nine-technique on outside zone.’ That’s a true Y and I feel like we have two of those guys in the building right now in Jim Dray and Gary Barnidge. The thing we are in the constant market for, and everybody is in the market for, is that F position, that guy that can move around, be a mismatch on a linebacker, can run a choice route, get in and out of breaks on third and fourth down, can win against man-to-man coverage. That’s what I think we are in the market for.”
With Jordan Cameron choosing to take his talents to South Beach, the Browns are left wanting at the tight end position. The only notable tight ends remaining on the market are Jermaine Gresham, Rob Housler, Zach Miller and James Casey—not exactly what you’d call the cream of the crop. That being said, one can safely assume the Browns are done with “big-name” free agent signings this offseason, deciding instead to focus on the NFL Draft for filling the tight end void.
The tight ends currently on the roster, Dray and Barnidge, combined for 30 rec, 398 yds and one touchdown in 2014. Barnidge was signed in 2013 mainly because former head coach Rob Chudzinski recruited him from Carolina. The Browns then signed Dray to a three-year contract prior to the 2014 season due to his familiarity and fit in former offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan’s zone blocking scheme.
Although Flip named Dray and Barnidge during his interview on WKNR, he has no ties to either player. Considering their association with former coaches, neither tight end is guaranteed a spot on the regular season roster. Both are limited athletes used primarily in run-blocking situations, so adding a more versatile rookie during the NFL Draft may spell the end of one their careers in Cleveland.
Enter Blake Bell, a tight end prospect out of the University of Oklahoma.
Bell played quarterback for the Sooners during his first three seasons, throwing for 1,763 yds and 12 touchdowns, adding 627 yds and 24 touchdowns on the ground. He was known in Oklahoma for the “Belldozer” package, featuring his skills as a dual-threat quarterback in short yardage and goal line situations. At 6’6″ and 252 pounds, Bell is able to take, and deliver a hit.
After losing the quarterback competition to Trevor Knight, Bell decided to stay at Oklahoma and make the switch to tight end his senior year instead of transferring to another school. He went on to finish the 2014 season with 16 rec and four touchdowns. It doesn’t look like much, but considering it was his first year playing tight end, it’s a good start for a guy with the size and work ethic to make a difference in the pro game.
Oklahoma’s head coach, Bob Stoops, had high praise for Bell’s first-year performance at tight end saying, “He looks natural there. Being a former quarterback, he has a natural feel for space and what the quarterback is looking for.”
Don’t get me wrong, he needs work. He’s a raw prospect, but drafting Bell would show the Browns commitment to developing their own young players and creating a culture of hard-nosed football. Currently projected as a 5th to 6th round pick, Bell wouldn’t cost much in terms of draft value, but he shows enough potential to warrant taking a chance on him.
Bell had a rather impressive showing at the NFL Combine, posting a 4.80 sec 40-yard dash, a 4.32 sec 20-yard shuttle, and a 9’8″ broad jump. NFL Draft analyst Matt Miller chimed in tweeting, “Blake Bell is raw, but he’s an impressive athlete with super sweet footwork. And he improved a ton from Week 1 to Week 12.”
Let’s take a look at his game against Oklahoma State:
The first thing you notice is how Oklahoma utilized Bell’s versatility right from the get-go. Lining up on the line, in the backfield and spread out in the slot, Bell’s combination of size and speed were used to create mismatches for the defense, exactly what Flip mentioned in his radio interview. When you can keep the defense guessing, the offense consistently has the advantage.
The next thing you notice is Bell’s willingness to hit somebody.
This may seem like a redundant attribute for a football player, as they all should be willing to hit someone, but Bell shows a quick step off the ball which allows him to get in good position for a block and explode into the defender. Not something I expected to see from an ex-quarterback. For him being considered an inexperienced blocker, he showed an ability to dominate defensive backs with his strength and beat linebackers with quickness and positioning.
He only caught two passes this game, but they couldn’t have been more impressive. On the first play [1:40] he lined up just left of the tackle in a two-point stance. Taking advantage of over-committed linebackers, he quickly broke into the second level for a 47-yard catch and run. The second catch [4:21] came on a play from the 20 yard line. Bell lined up to the right, in a similar position just off the tackle. Matched up against a safety, Bell made a quick cut on an out route and effortlessly caught the ball one-handed.
Bell isn’t going to come in and instantly be a game-changer, but given the right system and some time to polish his technique, he could soon become a player that gives defenses nightmares. In an offense like Flip’s, Bell may see time at tight end and at fullback, and from what I’ve seen he has the ability to excel at both.
The Browns met with Bell during the East-West Shrine Game not once, but twice, showing some initial intrigue in the Oklahoma prospect. Since that time the Browns have not scheduled other meetings with Bell, however there is still plenty of time before this month’s NFL Draft. Be on the lookout for a Bell sighting in Cleveland as the Browns complete their due diligence before they’re on the clock.