Freddie Kitchens has been an NFL assistant for two seasons, coaching tight ends in Dallas in 2006 and then for the Cards in 2007. A college assistant before that, Kitchens was also a three-year starter at quarterback for Alabama from 1995-97. Over the past few weeks fans have submitted questions for Freddie to answer:
Jim Phillips asked…
A friend's son is playing high school football as an offensive tackle but is developing a physique more like a tight end (strong, tall, fast). What do you recommend as drills and training to develop key skills as a tight and potentially switch positions?
A: "I would definitely work on any drills his high school coach suggest for his footwork and continue to improve his ball skills and work on catching the ball at different areas of his body. Probably the most important thing for him to work on is footwork. Ultimately, his speed is going to determine whether he plays offensive line or tight end."
Alekandra Niemyjska asked…
How was Leonard Pope's progression this season? How are his blocking skills coming along?
A: "Leonard's progression has been good. He's been learning more about the offense. He understands his role more. He is becoming a better blocker. He is getting better at the things he essentially needed to get better at to allow him to compete at this level. He has done those things and I expect even more progress next year.
Charles Leech Sr. asked…
I know you would want your tight ends to be outstanding in both blocking and catching passes, but is one more important than the other in this offense?
A: "In our offense, given the fact we have so many talented receivers, I think you need to be able to block. You look at it two different ways. You look at it as you're competing against being a wide receiver on the field, or your competing against being on the field as a tight end. The only thing you offer that a wide receiver doesn't offer is your ability to block. If you can't do that then you're kind of expendable to a certain point."
How much interface do you have with coach Russ Grimm and his interior linemen in the blocking schemes?
A: "We do some drills together. Of course we work closely together every day as far as schemes and stuff. Our techniques are the same as he teaches in the running game. Pass protection techniques are essentially the same and we work drills together because tackles and tight ends do occasionally combo blocks and things like that, so we definitely have a close working relationship."
What is the most difficult part for you, as a former quarterback, to coach tight ends?
A: "The most difficult thing is dealing with the perception of a lot of these guys don't think they need to block. A lot of them want to be glorified wide receivers, which is all fine, but ultimately when it gets right down to crunch time, they have to be able to block and bring something else to the table or else they're just another wide receiver. If they're just a wide receiver, then we'll put someone else out there that maybe is a little faster with a little better hands. It's dealing with the perceptions some of these guys have of themselves."
With the injuries he had after the draft and having been put on the practice squad, are you pleased with the strides Ben Patrick made?
A: "I think Ben did a good job progressing and probably the most impressive thing he did throughout the year was keeping up when he was nicked up and on the practice squad. We always thought he had the ability to do it. We just didn't know if he was going to be able to get there from the physical and mental standpoint. He did show he could keep up mentally. We're pleased with Ben this year from where he started to where he ended. Now, it's not good enough yet. But he will continue to get better."
How much involvement do you have in evaluating tight ends prior to the draft and making recommendations during draft weekend?
A: "We have a process here that position coaches evaluate their positions and look at all of the guys that are coming out in the draft. Then the scouts are involved in evaluations of all (the players) and come up with a final summarization of where we think a certain guy fits for us. We do have a lot to do with that, which is not the case in all places, I believe, but it is fortunate we do get the opportunity here."
Jeff Jacobsen asked… Are certain types and numbers of plays predetermined before the game?
A: "Yes, we try to. But there is a fine line of having too much and not having enough. You want to make sure you carry enough bullets to the game and you don't want to have an empty gun going into the fourth quarter. There is a fine line of information overload in the fact of carrying too much and the players needing to know too much and then in turn messing up things they should know. You definitely have some limitations but you have to find that line of what is too much and what is not enough."
Since coach Whisenhunt has extensive tight end experience, do you have more communication with him than a tight ends coach normally would?
A: "I think so. Coach is very knowledgeable about the position. He is very knowledgeable about all the positions, but since he played tight end I think he is a lot more knowledgeable about the day-to-day useful information to get across to those guys. It is a definite advantage to have a head coach who has coached and played the position I coach. Some guys might look at is as a disadvantage but they haven't worked for coach Whisenhunt. He has been great from that standpoint and he lets me coach them the way I feel they need to be coached and also gives me tips and hints to help me."
Paul Liccardi asked… How long do you think it will take for the Cardinals to become Super Bowl contenders?
A: "I don't think that's one of those things you can put a timetable on. We're happy with the progress we made this year but we're not happy with the end result. We had a couple of goals we set at the beginning of the season we didn't meet. When you start talking about goals and things you want to reach, it is black and white. There is no grey area. You either reach them or you don't and we didn't accomplish those this year. To us, we're not there yet. We've made progress internally as far as how we can compete, how we practice and how we carry it over to the football field. Now we have to do it on a more consistent basis.
"Every year is a new year. The makeup of your team is different. A lot of work goes into it and from the start of minicamps to the time you line up for the first game a lot depends on how a team bonds and fits together. That has a lot to do with the team's successes and failures. That's how you see a team like the Bears play in the Super Bowl one year and doesn't make the playoffs the next year. It's a year-to-year basis to how a team progresses. You could have better individuals and still not be a better team because the team didn't bond. You can never tell."