By Sam Ingro
With the expected departure of tight ends Benjamin Watson and Alex Smith in free agency, the Browns were left with only one true tight end on the roster in Jordan Cameron, as well as a hybrid tight end-fullback in Brad Smelley. Neither player saw the field much in 2012, but both players have come with optimism that they can make an impact in the Cleveland offense.
Cleveland fans have clamored for the team to make a move at the tight end position, and they did, it just wasn’t the splash the fans were looking for. Fans pushed for the signings of former Titans Jared Cook and Dolphins Anthony Fasano, but that never happened, as they were swept up by the Rams and Chiefs. Instead, on the first day of free agency, the Browns recruited former Carolina Panther backup tight end Gary Barnidge, much to the puzzlement of fans.
Simply disregarded as a “blocking tight end” due to his career in Carolina, this simply isn’t the case. Barnidge has sat behind a pair of star tight ends during his time with the Panthers, including Jeremy Shockey and Greg Olsen. Primarily being utilized on special teams, the NFL has not even seen the surface of his potential yet. In 2009, he caught 12 passes for a staggering 242 yards, but following that he has been invisible. In the three seasons since, he had only been targeted nine times in 2010 and six times in 2012, accumulating six receptions for 78 yards.
It’s no secret his blocking is well-respected, but that wasn’t always the case. Coming out of Louisville, Barnidge was heralded as a good mid-range receiver, but needed work on his blocking to become a complete tight end in the league. For that reason, the Panthers selected him in the fifth round, and his blocking has improved drastically. His receiving, the same skill that fans are saying he does not have, is the reason he was drafted for. As a member of the Louisville Cardinals, his final two seasons saw him haul in 84 receptions for 1,166 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Each season Barnidge showed vast improvement at the position, his numbers leaping each year. By those standards, Barnidge has shown more potential than incumbent tight end, Cameron, yet gets only half the credit. By comparison, Cameron caught 16 passes his final season at USC for 126 yards and a touchdown. By no means is this a discredit to Cameron, considering he played different positions throughout his college career, but it should be taken into account when viewing the two side-by-side at the position.
At 6’5″ and 250 pounds, Barnidge’s measurables are practically identical to his new teammate, with Cameron clearly possessing more athleticism as an athlete. The two next to each other present serious mismatches for linebackers and safeties, and with Norv Turner and Rob Chudzinski’s offenses, they routinely utilize two tight-end sets on the field. While fans continue to push for impact starters at the position, Barnidge continues to work as he prepares to surprise the entire NFL world next season, and he very well could if given the chance.
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