Jacksonville Jaguars tight ends coach Ron Middleton has seen five different offensive coordinators throughout his time in Jacksonville, but the offense under Jay Gruden certainly has him excited, not only for the team, but for his position group as a whole.
“For the guys and for the team, I feel real good about it,” Middleton told reporters on Tuesday when asked about Gruden’s offense and the tight end group in particular. “You know I worked with his brother. He and I worked together at Tampa for a while. I kind of figured the tight end was going to play a more important role, a more vital role in his offense which is a good thing, like I said.”
Middleton worked for Jon Gruden from 2003-04 with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and was already familiar with the concepts and deigns the offense will entail. Joining the Jaguars as the tight ends coach in 2013, Middleton is one of the few coaches that remain from the Gus Bradley era.
During that time, he’s seen now five different offensive coordinators, including Jedd Fisch, Greg Olson, Nathaniel Hackett, John DeFilippo and now Gruden. Thus far, no offensive coordinator has been able to feature the tight end position very much, it simply hasn’t worked out. When asked to name the coaches, Middleton couldn’t do it after being put on the spot. “I’m sorry, it’s too much work, man,” he said jokingly.
“Because of injuries and otherwise, we haven’t been able to, I think, be utilized the way I would like to be utilized but that’s no fault of the coordinators. Hopefully, this year everything falls into place and the tight end position can be afforded the opportunity to do a lot of the things that I think we’re more than capable of doing.”
Injuries have already begun to affect this year’s group, but the team is depending on free agent signee Tyler Eifert, someone who is expected to play a major role in this year’s offense.
“[He’s] just what I thought,” Middleton said about Eifert. “I went back and I looked at my write-up on him and I was like, ‘Man, this guy can run every route in the book.’”
Eifert at one point in his career was a Pro Bowler, in the conversation as one of the best tight ends int he league. In 2015, Eifert accounted for 52 receptions for 615 yards and 13 touchdowns. Due to his size, strength and speed, he was able to be a big-time mismatch problem for opposing defenses. Because of injuries, however, Eifert has yet to be able to replicate that season.
“We’ve got to be smart, as coaches, to put him in the position where’s he going to best serve or best give us the most that he’s got to give. We didn’t bring him here to put him in the backfield and lead up on linebackers. We expect him to be split out, running those routes that we know he can run and doing those other things that make him such a valuable part of the offense. I’ve been very impressed with him. He’s a great a guy. We’ve gotten along extremely well.”
One of the team’s young tight ends with potential, 2019 third-round selection Josh Oliver, suffered a broken foot in practice on a non-contact drill. After playing in only four games as a rookie last season, and now to deal with yet another blow, Middleton simply feels bad for Oliver.
“You’re talking about just an outstanding person. First and foremost, [he’s] just an outstanding person. [He’s] tried to do things the right way. [He] comes to work, doesn’t say a lot. He not flamboyant or anything like that. [He’s] just a great a spirit. The kid has a great spirit,” said Middleton. “He has a lot of talent and I feel so bad for him that he hasn’t been able to showcase that talent.”
Oliver had looked fantastic during camp, at least physically. Working during the offeseason to get bigger, able to take on the defenders he would need to in the blocking game, while also retaining his speed, the second-year tight end was slated to play a major role in this year’s offense.
While Middleton was clearly disappointed for him, he still believes he’s going to be okay in the end, “good things happen to good people,” he said.
“I talked with him the other day after it happened and I said, ‘Hey man, you know you can only control the things you can control.’ I said, ‘You never know what tomorrow’s going to bring. You just have to deal with every day.’ One thing I do know [is] that cream rises to the top, although turds do float.”