Could second-year tight end Cole Turner become Eric Bieniemy's version of Travis Kelce for the Washington Commanders in 2023?
Eric Bieniemy knows how to draw up plays for a roving, athletic tight end. It's what he did for Travis Kelce for years as offensive coordinator of the Kansas City Chiefs, but now he can work some of the same magic for Cole Turner.
Although he barely made a blip as a rookie, 6-foot-6, 240-pound Turner has the traits to be a matchup weapon in Bieniemy's system. It's a scheme designed to isolate the best playmakers and force defenses into coverage mismatches across multiple levels of the field.
Bieniemy made Kelce a star by moving him away from the in-line position taken up by traditional tight ends. Turner was in the generic alignment when he made this catch against the Chicago Bears last season, highlighted by Washington Commanders' film analyst Mark Bullock.
The play showcased Turner's height, range and strong hands. All qualities Bieniemy can deploy more effectively simply by detaching Turner from the line.
Detached TE's importance to Commanders under Eric Bieniemy
Moving a size mismatch out into space puts opponents in an obvious bind. Do they shift a linebacker out to cover and take the risk of being outrun or does a defensive back claim responsibility for a taller, more physical target?
It's a conundrum few teams solved when Bieniemy and Chiefs' head coach Andy Reid were moving tight ends around to create big plays. One of their best ways to do it is by using 4x1 sets, four receivers on one side, with another isolated on the other.
The four-receiver side naturally draws a crowd, while the single-side receiver is left one-on-one. When that lone receiver is a towering tight end, it's a splash play waiting to happen.
Bieniemy crafted such a play for Kelce's backup Jody Fortson against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers KSHB 41 Sports producer Nick Jacobs highlighted how it worked.
One interesting wrinkle involved the Chiefs motioning running back Isiah Pacheco out of the backfield to create the four-receiver side. It's something Bieniemy could replicate with Antonio Gibson, who should get more work in the passing game this year.
Split Turner or Logan Thomas out wide and defenses will struggle to counter effectively in coverage. But the perimeter isn't the only area where Bieniemy can replicate Kelce.
Commanders TE Cole Turner needs more work inside
The other way to unlock Turner's full potential is to let him work from the slot more often. He played 32 snaps inside as a rookie, according to Player Profiler, but Bieniemy can increase that number significantly.
Using Kelce in the slot became the Chiefs' go-to move during Bieniemy's final season with the headset, per Next Gen Stats. Something that could be in Turner's immediate future, too.
Using Turner inside could cause havoc if he's paired with wide receiver Terry McLaurin playing an Art Monk-like role. Alternatively, having Turner line up inside can leave the Pro Bowl wideout to continue bossing defenses on the perimeter.
If Bieniemy opts for the latter approach, Turner needn't be lonely on the inside. Not when Curtis Samuel and Jahan Dotson can both thrive from the slot.
Creating some stacks inside can guarantee McLaurin his own share of one-on-one outside matchups. Those stacks would also give quarterback Sam Howell some quick and easy reads between the numbers.
Having Dotson and Samuel drag defensive backs underneath also means Turner gets free to run a linebacker of safety deep. That's a win-win for the Commanders' passing game.
Bieniemy taking the reins has generated anticipation the Commanders can match at least some of what the Chiefs do offensively. The easiest imitation is to use Turner the same way the respected figure utilized Kelce.