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Versatile Tight Ends Carry Many Responsibilities for Titans



Bo Scaife leads all Titans tight ends with 19 receptions for 179 yards and two touchdowns.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. --** It doesn't show up on the stat sheet, but versatility is a tremendous point of pride for Tennessee's tight ends.

Bo Scaife, Craig Stevens and Jared Cook have been asked by Titans coaches to fill a variety of roles this season. Tight ends in Tennessee's offense may be asked to block for running backs Chris Johnson and Javon Ringer, protect quarterbacks Vince Young and Kerry Collins or catch a pass.

"They ask a lot of us: Protect in the run game, pass protect, do a lot of stuff to help other guys out," said Scaife, who has spent all six of his pro seasons with the Titans. "We've probably got the biggest responsibility in our offense besides the quarterback, but it's good to know that the coaches trust us to do certain things, and I think we do them pretty well."

As Tennessee (5-2) prepares to visit San Diego (2-5) at 3:05 p.m. Sunday, much attention has been paid to Chargers tight end Antonio Gates, whose offensive production has a tendency to overshadow other duties of a tight end. Gates is tied for the league lead in touchdown receptions (eight) and is sixth in receiving yards (540). He is averaging 15.4 yards per catch, and 11 of his 35 receptions have gained more than 20 yards.

"He's just very hard to cover," Titans coach Jeff Fisher said. "He creates matchup (problems). … They try to hide Gates, so you just can't allow that to happen. You need to know where he is every play."

The Chargers have fallen behind opponents this season and have scrambled to get back into games by passing the football. Quarterback Philip Rivers has thrown 270 times this season (97 more times that Young and Collins combined) for an NFL-high of 2,344 yards, and Gates has been his favorite target.

Tennessee tight ends coach John Zernhelt said Gates does a good job of running routes and getting open and "is dangerous with the ball." Zernhelt said the Titans' tight ends offer specific skills that benefit multiple aspects of the offense.

"They play all the different receivers (positions)," Zernhelt said. "They play the flanker, split end, the slot, they play fullback, they line up in the backfield in pass protection. We do an awful lot of different things. Certain skills fit guys a little bit different than others. It's our job to mix and match that and incorporate it into our system."

Of Tennessee's tight ends, Scaife is utilized most in passing situations. His 19 receptions are second on the team, and he's accounted for 179 of Tennessee's 1,270 receiving yards and tied his career high of two touchdown catches.

Zernhelt said Scaife is "very comfortable within our system. He gives us an awful lot of looks."

Scaife has led Tennessee's tight ends in receptions the past four years and set career highs of 58 catches for 561 yards and has 234 career catches for 2,244 yards.

"(Coaches) do a good job moving us around, disguising us, just kind of using our versatility," Scaife said. "Compliments to our coaches for their creativity."

Stevens, a three-year pro, is used primarily in blocking situations, but Zernhelt said Stevens has good speed and can catch passes. Stevens has five catches for 54 yards this season. Cook, a second-year pro, has two catches for 22 yards and has primarily contributed on special teams this season.

Stevens is looking forward to the trip to the West Coast. He grew up as a surfing enthusiast in San Pedro, Calif., about an hour and a half from San Diego. He said family and friends are looking forward to seeing him play. Stevens is familiar with Qualcomm Stadium, where he played for Cal in two Holiday Bowl appearances, and the Chargers, particularly Gates, an eight-year pro and six-time Pro Bowler.

"He's a great player," Stevens said. "I've always watched him. He's someone to look at to try to play like because he does a great job of making catches and making great plays."

Stevens said he takes pride in blocking or any other assignment.

"I'm just trying to do my job as best as I can," Stevens said. "It's just fun to be out there, whatever my role is at the time, whatever the coaches want me to do, I try to execute the best way I can. As long as we get a win at the end of the day, I'm happy."

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