CHESTNUT HILL — Maybe 10 or 20 years ago, the offense that Boston College runs under coach Steve Addazio would not really stick out in the landscape of college football.
As he and new offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian addressed during BC's Media Day on Tuesday, the Eagles like to run a base 12 personnel (one running back with two tight ends) package on offense. Perhaps the main difference with what the Eagles run now and what teams would have run in, say, 2010, is the tempo, as BC likes to go fast with its under-center, run-the-ball-then-play-action-heavy scheme.
But this is a program that prides itself on the traditional tight end, with in-line blocking a main tenet asked of its players. With spread offenses having taken over both the high school and college games, places like BC, Iowa, Wisconsin, Stanford, and Notre Dame are becoming more and more the exception than the rule with how they employ the position.
Eagles tight ends coach Frank Leonard likes it that way.
"In this offense, I have to be careful with how I choose my words, but this is a real offense," Leonard said. "The things we're asking these tight ends to do are very much what they do in pro football offenses."
Leonard, who began his coaching career at Wethersfield (Conn.) High in 1981, also served as a scout for the New England Patriots from 2004-'06. He said the feedback he gets from pro scouts and coaches reflects that need for a more traditional development of the position.
"Again, I was a scout for the Patriots, so my three years, I got a chance to know a lot of scouts," Leonard said. "Many of them are still working in the profession, and when they stop by, many of them have said that exact comment. They cannot in pro football find in-line blockers. So I think they're appreciative of how they're trained here and their readiness (for the NFL). . . . (BC tight ends have) been trained to block. Brian Daboll, the offensive coordinator at the (Buffalo) Bills, he's like, 'Frank, this kid (Tommy Sweeney, a rookie out of BC drafted this year by Buffalo), he can block, and that's hard to find.' "
He added, "We do (spread looks) as well, but you have to be, in order to play in this style of offense, they have to be very intelligent guys, and physical and skilled at the same time. That's a challenge to find those types of guys."
That's not to say BC only asks its players to just act as sixth, seventh, and eighth offensive linemen. The Eagles want someone versatile. In an offense that utilizes its tight ends in this fashion, there is more to learn, and it seems like the players like that, too.
"If you're a tight end, and you want to be developed into a pro-style tight end, I don't think there's a better place in the country to go," said Lynnfield native and St. John's Prep alum Jake Burt. "You have a chance to play the game because we play so many (tight ends). Even when you're playing, it gives you a chance to really focus on your reps. But we're really lucky to have the amount of talent we have in the room right now. It's awesome. I enjoy it."
Marshfield native Danny Dalton is coming in as a graduate transfer from Penn State, where the Nittany Lions also run an up-tempo offense, but it is almost exclusively out of the spread and 11 personnel (one running back and one tight end). It is a very run-pass option, or RPO-heavy attack, and not at all like what you will see at The Heights when the Eagles have the ball. For Dalton, though, he enjoys the transition.
"It's been really fun," Dalton said. "Coach Leonard is one of, if not the best, coaches of tight ends in all of college football. His knowledge of the game and his development of tight ends is something that is really amazing. To be able to learn from him, and to be able to learn from coach Addazio with his background in offensive line and offense in general, has been awesome to learn. Learning how to play tight end in a pro-style offense is fun because you've got to be able to do everything. You've got to be able to run block. You've got to be able to pass block. You've got to be able to run routes like a receiver and block like an offensive lineman. That has been fun to be able to learn and absorb as much about the game as I can."
And with more defenses these days built to stop offenses that don't look like BC's, it has become an advantage for the Eagles from that perspective, as well.
"It's just important to be a well-rounded tight end like that because it brings more diversification to the offense," Burt said. "If I'm out there, it's not 100 percent run or pass because you don't really know what's coming. We use that to our advantage, because there are different formations that will match up, and it's a great advantage in the play-action game."
None of this is to say that tight ends can't go to another college program and have success in the NFL. Certainly, if you have the ability, you can make a roster. But the transition can be smoother, and coaches in the league, as Leonard noted with his anecdote about Sweeney and Daboll, are desperate for that.
"I think if you want to be a tight end and you want to play the tight end position as it should be played," Dalton said, "the way it was meant to be played as far as being a receiver and a blocker, I think that this offense, you couldn't ask for anything better."