GREENVILLE, S.C. - Coach Dan Reeves loves watching Alge Crumpler push Reggie Kelly for a starting job.
"No question about it," Reeves said. "Whoever comes out on that will be our starting tight end."
With the Atlanta Falcons beginning their first full week of contact drills on Monday at Furman University, Reeves wants both players to excel. His reasons are plentiful.
Despite 171 victories that rank No. 8 on the career NFL list, Reeves has a history of making poor draft picks, a trend he hopes to end with quarterback Michael Vick, the first overall selection, and Crumpler, a second-round tight end.
Both Vick and Crumpler are working with the No. 2 offense, but have little else in common. Vick is seen as a potential superstar. Crumpler, meanwhile, is trying to distinguish himself from Kelly, whose two-year career has been mediocre, at best.
"It was a surprise to me that I was drafted by Atlanta, for one, but I truly believe everything happens for a purpose," said Crumpler, a first-round All-ACC selection at North Carolina the last two years. "Every time I've been out there I've been trying to attack everything as if I'm a starter. That's what all the veteran guys have told me."
Reeves likes the work ethic of both tight ends. The difference may lie in Kelly's lacking the receiving skills the Falcons need to run a two-tight end set, a formation that was effective in 1998, when O.J. Santiago and Brian Kozlowski each manned a side of the line and helped Jamal Anderson rush for 1,848 yards and quarterback Chris Chandler go to his second straight Pro Bowl.
"It creates problems for the defense if you can handle defensive ends on both sides," Reeves said. "That's the key. Are you big enough to handle those defensive ends? Because most teams now don't put the linebackers out on them. They've got some defensive ends out there you've got to block."
Kelly continues to be an impressive run blocker, but his defining moment as a receiver was unfortunate. In a 13-12 home win over Carolina on Oct. 29, Kelly caught a pass at the 3-yard line but had it stripped away at the goal line. Later in the game, Anderson's 17-yard touchdown run was negated when Kelly was called for holding.
He started all 16 games in last year's 4-12 debacle, finishing with 31 catches for 340 yards and two touchdowns.
"I had the mindset at the beginning of training camp and also the beginning of mini-camp - I'm going to have to get a lot of improvement for me to get where I want to be," Kelly said. "I didn't have a great day today. I was kind of disappointed, but I can't get too down on myself."
Fairly or not, Kelly was the centerpiece of Reeves' draft blunder two years ago. Coming off a a franchise-first trip to the Super Bowl, Reeves unwisely traded Atlanta's first-round pick of 2000 so he could use Baltimore's second-round pick to take Kelly.
The Ravens wound up with the No. 5 overall pick in 2000 and took star running back Jamal Lewis. Atlanta chose Kelly, a low-profile player from Mississippi State who some NFL critics considered the sixth-best tight end in the Southeastern Conference.
"There's a lot of things we do with the tight end," Chandler said. "Why we keep drafting them and all that, I'm not sure. They probably felt there were some good players available at the time and they picked them."
In evaluating Kelly and Crumpler, Reeves continues to give the veteran a slight edge. Crumpler, though, clearly benefits from having his father, Carlester Crumpler Sr., play for the Buffalo Bills and his brother, Carlester Jr., play for the Minnesota Vikings.
"He has handled himself extremely well in all situations," Reeves said. "There's been an awful lot thrown at him because he's playing both the H-back and the tight end position. So we've been really pleased with him."
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