As the Broncos hope to get more production out of their tight ends in 2019, no one may be more important to that effort than Tight Ends Coach Wade Harman, who takes charge of a group that includes the team's 2019 first-round pick and an established veteran. After a recent practice, we sat down with Harman to hear about the personality needed to succeed at tight end in the NFL and about his memories coaching Shannon Sharpe when the two were in Baltimore.
Offensive Coordinator Rich Scangarello recently talked about how a lot is asked of tight ends because they have to know all elements of the offense: receiving routes, pass protection and run blocking. What personality is required of a tight end to be successful with all of that?
"I think you've got to be a guy who's dedicated to your craft. It takes work outside of the office. You can't just come in here and try to learn everything while you're here. You have to do work on your own outside the building, and you've got to be committed to making yourself better."
What's the dynamic of the tight end room like with a veteran in Jeff Heuerman leading the way and a really talented rookie in Noah Fant?
"It's been good. It's a good mix of guys. I've been fortunate. I've had a lot of really good tight end rooms, and I like different personalities. Everybody can be who they are, and it's a good mix of guys. It's good. Jeff is our old guy who's not real old, but he's a steady guy and they can look to him for those things. It's nice. It's a good group. They've got different backgrounds, so we have a lot of fun in there."
How versatile is Jeff's skill set?
"Jeff is a unique guy, as we get to learn and watch him and do things. He's deceptive as a receiver. He's not going to be Travis Kelce and Noah Fant, that type of receiver-type guy, but he runs really good routes, he's where you're supposed to be. He makes everything look the same so it's hard to get a book on him when he's running a route — like, 'What's he doing, because it looks like everything else.' And then he goes left, he goes right, he sits, he double-moves. He's very readable and I think he's very trustworthy for the quarterback. They can really count on that he's going be where he's supposed to be."
What do you think is the potential for Noah?
"I think his potential is unlimited. He's a very talented player that can run, can catch the ball and he really is a better blocker than I think a lot of people thought he would be. He's got a chance to be a really, really good player in this league. It's going to take work and it'll take effort, but I know he's up for that task."
Jake Butt went down with another knee injury this year, but his devotion and his positivity seems to never waver. How much do you admire the way he approaches life and the game?
"Jake's one of my all-time favorites. I'm in his corner so much. I hope it all works out; I'd love to get him back going. He just brings a different element, that mental part, to it. The competitiveness, the positive outlook, the effort. It's infectious for our group and we miss a little of that when he's not in there. I hope that we can get him back and hope that everything works out well, because he is a dynamic personality, tough, hard-nosed player that brigns a lot to our group."
You've coached some very talented rookie tight ends in your career. What do you feel like is the biggest challenge for a rookie who comes into this league?
"I think it's sometimes the mental fatigue. It's something every day, learning something every day. And then we get into learning a big playbook during the offseason. Then during each week it's a new game plan. It's a lot of the same plays, but now we're going to change the motion, we're going to change the formation. It's just constant and you have to just stay on it and stay on it. So the mental grind, I think, especially for a young guy, it's the hardest thing they have to deal with. And their season usually gets done and we're still going. They played 11, 12 games in college. We've got four preseason, 16 regular season — this year five [preseason] — and then hopefully playoffs. That's a long haul, and just getting those guys through that first year, they all come back that second year and just say, 'Ah, it's so much easier the second time around.' That's the hardest part of that."
In your second year as a tight ends coach in Baltimore, you coached former Broncos great Shannon Sharpe. With his personality, what was it like being a young coach and working with a veteran like him?
"I was a slight bit nervous to start with. I didn't know what to expect. All I saw was the media or TV personality. But once he got in the door, he was unbelievable. Hard-working guy, studied his craft, watched tape on his own. He'd come in early in the mornings and he'd talk about stuff. He'd go, 'Yeah, I was watching tape last night. I saw this, I saw this.' He was on top of his stuff. He was a really good pro and he was a good guy to have for all the young guys that we had. I remember Todd Heap came in as a rookie when we had Shannon, and he was a great mentor for him."
What kind of memories do you have with Shannon of winning a Super Bowl together?
"Shannon was unbelievable. Really good memories. One of the first memories I had, I think we were playing Jacksonville at home. May have been our second game, and he left during warmup. He just left and said, 'Hey, I've got to go in. I've got something wrong.' I looked at him and he goes, 'Don't worry about it, I'll be all right!' I didn't see him all of warmup, and he then he comes out in the game and played his tail off. I guess he went in, had his knee drained or something. He ended up catching the winning touchdown at the end. I think we had a seam route vs. Cover 2. He bent it in there vs. Jacksonville. We were behind and needed it. He came through and made a play. I was like, 'Man, what a committed warrior. What a guy that lays it out there for you. 'He told me, 'I'll be all right. I'll be fine.' I didn't know what to think. So that was a real cool story to start with. And then the Super Bowl run with those guys was just unbelievable. A leader and really helped us on the field, off the field, in meeting rooms, practice. He was the one telling us our defense was so good that year. He was telling us, 'Hey, if we get the lead, we don't have to throw the ball. Just give it to Jamal [Lewis] and we'll block our tails off.' He did a great job with all that stuff."
Out of everything, what's your favorite part of your job?
"I think just working with different people every year. It's a people business and dealing with different personalities, different people, getting to meet a lot of different people. That part makes it fun for me. And I like the challenge. Every week's a new challenge. It's something different: different defense, different ways to attack, different problems you have to solve. It's always changing, the people are always changing, the schemes change, how you attack people changes. So I think just being something different all the time is something I really enjoy."