Oakland Raiders tight end Richard Gordon makes a one handed catch at 2012 training camp (photo by Levi Damien)
When the Raiders drafted tight end Richard Gordon out of Miami last season, it was a bit of a surprise. Even as a sixth round pick, it was a head scratcher. He had just ten catches from the tight end spot his entire four year college career so what did the Raiders see in this guy that made them think he was worth a draft pick? The answer: blocking.
And it takes a seriously good blocker to have a team drafting a player based on that skill alone. Well, unless that player is an offensive lineman. The tight end is the next best thing to an offensive lineman but if he can't catch, there is no point.
The small sample size for Gordon at tight end was due to his switching positions several times in college.
"I went from D end to D tackle." Said Gordon. "Going into my sophomore/junior year I went back to tight end, then went back to defense, then went back to tight end. So I've been switching around in Miami, played kickoff return, I played everything."
"I went to Miami as a defensive end. The only reason I ended up at tight end is because the tight ends went down and I [said] ‘coach, I can play it, coach, I can play it.' The biggest thing was the aggressiveness and I didn't get that many balls but when the ball did come my way, I made my best to catch the ball but I put the best out there in blocking and that's how I got here. And since I got here, I've been trying to step my game up."
The Raiders took a real flier on him because of how great a blocker he was. They hope he could develop the receiving part of his game and become a more complete tight end. Last season, he ended up in the same situation as he had at Miami. This time it was the fullback position which needed a fill in. The result was one catch for Gordon the entire season. Now he's no longer going to be content with just paving the way for others.
"I came in as a blocker. In training camp last year, I showed a couple catches and everything. I had a big game against Seattle in the preseason so I think I forced to coaches to see that I could receive the ball rather than in Miami I was just ‘alright coach, I just wanna block coach, I'll just block all day' and didn't really care about catching the ball but now I think trying to get to the next level in my game and trying to catch the ball."
"Always been developing. I work with the receivers. I worked with Antonio Brown from the Pittsburgh Steelers, I work with Chad Johnson, everybody down in Miami, I work out with Andre Johnson. So I take things from them and then when I'm here I see [Darrius] Heyward-Bey, I look at his when he runs through the ball... just taking skills from everybody and trying to put it together."
That hard work has been showing dividends in training camp. The lumbering tight end has developed into a surprisingly good receiver. He still has the occasional concentration drop but no more than any other receiver on this team and sometimes less than many of them.
The staff showed their faith in him by naming him the second team tight end coming into camp and despite his being out the first week with an injury, he retained his spot at the primary backup once he returned.
"I was in a rush to get back. You can't stay out too long. In this game you stay out too long, somebody's gonna step up, somebody's gotta step up, the team gotta keep moving."
The next move for this team comes Monday night when they face the Cowboys in their preseason opener. Brandon Myers was slated to start but he went down in practice Friday with a shoulder injury and hasn't practiced since. So unless David Ausberry leapfrogs him, Gordon is in line to be the starter.
Whether Gordon is technically the starter or not, he will see the field a lot. His blocking skills are invaluable to the team on offense and special teams. But now he can be a receiving threat as well. Monday night will be his first big test to see how far he has come as a receiver. And if what we have seen in training camp is any indication, he is could be ready.