ALAMEDA – Darren Waller is a tight end by trade. That’s his formal job title, but he does so much more than that.
Sure, he’s an in-line tight end who runs routes from that spot and occasionally blocks for the run. He’s also a slot receiver. At other times, he’s a traditional wideout.
Waller has speed and size that frustrates the opposition, especially when his offensive coaches find favorable matchups. He’s too big for cornerbacks, too fast for linebackers, and his combination of skills are hard on safeties, especially when pulled from their regular assignment.
That makes it fun for head coach Jon Gruden and offensive coordinator Greg Olson to design plays for a guy like that.
“I think Waller is growing into something here,” Gruden said. “He’s a guy that we detached (on Sunday against Kansas City). We lined him up in the slot, we lined him up conventionally as a tight end and he’s smart. He’s had some receiving production and obviously more and more we are going to use him.”
Waller has 13 catches for 133 yards on 15 targets through two games heading into Sunday’s game at Minnesota, proving a dynamic option for any spot.
The converted receiver plays plenty of them.
Waller has played 114 snaps through two games, with 68 as an in-line tight end, 20 from the slot and 26 out wide.
Coaches are trying to create new and inventive ways to get the ball to someone they consider a top-level talent.
“You’re always trying to develop those players at every position,” Olson said. “We have what we believe will be an elite player at that position, and it helps. Now you’re looking for one at every skill position, who can show that type of productivity and that type of development.”
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Blocking is an important part of keeping things unpredictable. While Waller doesn’t block much, he has improved significantly in that area and is a threat to stay home and help the run game on any given play. Defenses can’t assume Waller’s only a receiver, and have to respect all aspects of his game.
“He has improved at all levels, from receiving to route running to end blocking,” Olson said. “He’s a willing blocker, and that’s what his position coaches would tell you. That’s half the battle for a lot of these tight ends these days. He has shown that, and the strength to do so. That breeds confidence in the player. We feel like he can get better, but he’s a much better product now than when he came here.”