Al Borges' 2011 offense has heavily utilized two-TE sets despite a lack of talent at the position (beyond Kevin Koger). It seems self-evident, to me anyway, that putting proven wide receivers (like Odoms or Roundtree) on the field is superior to a converted DE (Watson) or career backup TE (Moore). Borges obviously disagrees, and with the 2012 recruiting class now projected to include three TEs, there's no let-up in sight.
Using multiple TEs isn't groundbreaking - Most pro-style teams have plenty of two-TE packages and Rich Rodriguez routinely used them as well. But why do it at all? Chris Brown wrote commentary about how the Patroits evolved from a shotgun-spread-passing team (with Moss) to a pro-style system that uses TEs to combat blitzing defenses like the Jets.
New England's spread-to-pass became predictable instead of fearsome, and it was up to Brady on almost every play to throw the ball before some unblocked rusher took him down again.
Perhaps a parallel here to Denard trying to rush or pass the ball against crashing safeties and linebackers? Every coach worth a lick knows how to counter the basics of run-oriented-spread offense just as they can counter the basics of a pass-oriented-spread offense. There have certainly been a number of games in the last year where the Michigan offense appeared predictable. Even with a talented runner like Denard (or a passer like Tom Brady) counter-attacks are necessary to stay ahead. Back to the Pats...
So Belichick went out and drafted both Gronkowski and Hernandez...Hernandez is more of a pure receiver, and his chief advantage is as a substitution/personnel problem: If he's in the game, you don't know if he'll line up as a tight end or if he'll split wide so that Welker can play the slot, forcing you to decide whether to put your cornerback on Welker or Hernandez, potentially creating advantages in both the run and passing game. But Gronkowski is a true triple-threat from the tight-end spot: He can block, he can go out for passes, and he can even block and then go out for delayed passes. Multiple defenders have to keep their eyes on him... Of course, the problem for NFL teams—and for college or high-school teams that want to run a "pro-style offense"—is finding players who can do all these things... Wanted: 6-foot-6 freak athlete who can run a 4.5 40, has incredible hands, is willing and able to block 300-pound defensive ends, and can immediately memorize a 1,000-page playbook.
Does that sound like Devin Funchess or Pharaoh Brown to anyone? We can only hope...
It's clear that Borges wants to use multiple TEs. But with 2 of our best three graduating, personnel is going to play a potentially limiting factor in 2012. Moore is the only returning TE that begins to fit the Gronkowski mold of 'triple-threat' and he appears to have limited overall talent. Williams will likely play but (they say) is primarily a blocker. There are walk-ons, I guess, but they're not going to be as good as Moore or Watson even.
Everyone else (Miller, Funchess, and Brown) is a hybrid TE/WR - which we don't really use right now. Yet there will be three of them on the roster. Hmmm...seems like things might look a little different next year.
Brown writes: You must have players who can dictate terms back to the defense by presenting odd matchup problems...Unpredictability is the key. Is a play a run or a pass? Which direction is it going? How will it work? And these hybrid guys give you options in ways that even great players with more specific roles cannot. They simplify defenses by making them uncertain.
I know many of us are sick of hearing about hybrids, but I think the above is what Borges has in mind eventually. Maybe you don't have to have Gronkowski-level talent on one end to make it effective (though it would obviously help). Maybe a game-breaking-mistmatch-creating receiver/end is enough to give defenses fits. Especially, if your QB isn't the most accurate deep-ball passer but is a game-breaking run-threat. In that situaiton, maybe a 6-6 target on intermediate routes provides more benefit than getting little dudes the ball 'in space' or attempting low-probability deep passes.