Evaluating the Tight Ends with TE Coach John McNulty

Over the coming weeks, we’ll be checking in with the Chargers’ position coaches and coordinators to get the inside scoop. We continue with Tight Ends Coach John McNulty.

*Chargers.com: *First off, this is your first year coaching tight ends after coaching quarterbacks and wide receivers for your first 13 NFL seasons. What is the biggest adjustment in leading the tight ends?

*McNulty: *Probably the grind and details of the run game.  The last couple years I was with the quarterbacks, and even dealing with them, you are doing a lot of checking and understanding why you are running those runs. Now, getting into the finer points of working and communicating with the tackles and all the looks and adjustments that happen on the fly, those have been the biggest adjustments.  But we have a good group of guys who are really into football.  They understand it, and it’s been a good growth process for the group.  And our coaching staff is a refreshing group of guys.  It’s all football.  They are very serious about their job, and are good people.  It’s the same with the players, so it’s been fun.

*Chargers.com: *Looking at the individual players, I know it’s only been a few months, but what has it been like to work with a future Hall of Famer in Antonio Gates?

*McNulty: *It’s really fun when a guy is as engaging and into football, the Chargers and San Diego as he is.  I didn’t know what to expect with a guy as accomplished as Antonio, but he is a very personable guy and wants to help. He’s been exposed to many things in his life, but he’s very engaging and excited to be around.  And he really wants to help these young guys. I’ve been impressed.

*Chargers.com: *Why was Hunter Henry the target in the draft?

*McNulty: *If anybody was ever born to be a tight end, it’s Hunter Henry. His dad played it at Arkansas, and he looks like one when he just walks in the room.  He’s been training for this his whole life.  His maturity and feel for the position is impressive.  He was playing at a high level in the SEC, and really had a good feel for how to get open, run routes and finish plays. He has toughness, and was asked to do a lot of things you are asked to do at this level, which is unusual when you watch college football. I thought he was way ahead of a lot of the guys that were in that group, and I think everyone else did too if you ask around the league. It was pretty clear cut he was the top guy. When someone shows the potential to play at the level he shows, you have to grab him when you can.  Hopefully things go well, because he is 21-years old and he can hold down the position for the next decade-plus.

*Chargers.com: *Now that you’ve had him in the building for a month, what have you seen from Hunter?

*McNulty: *Obviously he’s talented, but he’s a very mature, levelheaded, humble and hardworking guy with good football understanding.  You can tell he’s done this his whole life with how he trains, practices and watches tape.  I think he understands how good he is and how good he can be.  I don’t think he wants to waste it.  Now, obviously any 21-year old you ask to come in and block a 280-pound defensive end consistently, or a big linebacker coming downhill on you, that’s (an adjustment).  People may think they can knock him around in the run game to hurt him in the pass game.  I think you are always trying to get stronger, and trying to add to your bag of tricks all the tips that can make the job easier. It is hard.  There aren’t a lot of guys who just maul people in the run game anymore, but you have to be able to get the job done.  You can’t just be a receiver. So I think developing that is the number one thing he has to improve, and I think it’s the same for most young tight ends.

*Chargers.com: *What do the Chargers have in Jeff Cumberland?

*McNulty: *He’s a big guy that can run fast. He can catch the ball and is athletic.  I believe this is his fifth offensive system in seven years so he has been exposed to a lot.  But you would ideally like to master one where something becomes second nature.  He has had a lot of changes, so that has been hard for him.  But he is a talented guy who is really into football.  He’s serious about his job, and is excited to provide a good role here.  I think he is still carving out what that will be.  Jeff is a big guy that can block, but if you ask me what he does exceptionally well, it’s that when he gets running, he can really go.  He is a load to bring down.

*Chargers.com: *Sean McGrath retired from football in 2014 after a big season with the Chiefs, then came back last year and spent most of the time on our practice squad.  What do you like about Sean?

*McNulty: *He’s really fundamentally sound, and a hard worker.  He has good strength and understands the game.  He understands his role in that he has to do it with 100 percent effort on every play.  That’s how he played when he was a starter a couple years ago with Kansas City.  He plays through the whistle on every single play, and works to finish in front of his guy with his fundamentals and understanding of the game. The guy grinds.  He’s in early in the morning and stays until late in the day.  He wants to be right on everything.  I’m excited about what his role will be, and I don’t see any reason why what he’s done on the field this spring won’t translate when the pads come on.

*Chargers.com: *Asante Cleveland bounced around from San Francisco to New England before we claimed him.  What have you seen from Asante?

*McNulty: *He is really a smart player.  He’s been around a few different systems and has absorbed them all.  He has real long arms, is strong and is as explosive as anyone coming off the ball in the run game.  If he gets his big hands and arms on you, he’s tough to get rid of.  He’s really aggressive and a tough guy for defenders to shake.  So he’s a fundamentally sound player, and he’s making strides in the passing game.

*Chargers.com: *Tim Semisch is 6-8, 267-pounds but very raw.  How do you go about developing a player like that?

*McNulty: *Tim is a big, tall guy that can run. But like you said, he is raw in terms of football.  He made it as a tryout guy in Miami in an offense that didn’t really feature the tight end, so he wasn’t exposed to as much as he is now.  He is really starting to get exposed to the ins and outs of the game, and different things that come with the position.  He has a bigger learning curve than others, but he has raw, physical skills that make it worthwhile.

*Chargers.com: *What about Matt Weiser made him a target as an undrafted free agent?

*McNulty: *Matt was exposed to a lot of things at Buffalo where he had to play on the line of scrimmage, block and run pro-type routes.  He was exposed to a few different systems in college, and he’s got a great work ethic.  He’s really smart, and he has a lot of toughness.  Matt has made enough plays in the pass game that he can carve out a role. He just needs to keep working out in the weight room and get a bit bigger. He’s shown signs he can play in this league.

*Chargers.com: *Finally, tight ends are basically two positions rolled into one – offensive linemen and wideouts.  How are you balancing both responsibilities right now?

*McNulty: *We try to do half and half, but we did a lot of run game emphasis throughout Phase I and II since the players were able to throw on their own.  We don’t take it for granted, though.  We are working on the fundamentals like route finishes. But whenever we are in individual periods, we try to get with the o-line and train as they train.

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