Today, he hardly recognizes his position. From his new post as St. Augustine's University's offensive coordinator, Ben Coates tracks the game's best tight ends.

Yet these so-called tight ends are different.

"It's a changing of the guard," Coates said this week. "Basically, you look at it and it's becoming more of a passing league. Everybody wants to see the quarterback throw it 40 times a game. It's all fine and dandy, but the teams that win the Super Bowl aren't those kinds of teams.

"They're teams that run the ball."

True, the Seattle Seahawks did run the ball. But the classical, complete tight end is an endangered species. Part of it is by choice — teams prefer more athletic options at the position. Part of it, Coates believes, is supply. The proliferation of spread offenses in college football squeezes out the Coates-built tight end.

So the Green Bay Packers have some tough decisions to make at the position. The to-do list probably isn't complete.

They re-signed Andrew Quarless. They're waiting on Jermichael Finley (neck). They hope Brandon Bostick, a Finley Lite, develops. They could gamble on athleticism in the draft.

Fielding a complete tight end would absolutely help in the NFC, where Green Bay must get past Seattle, San Francisco and Carolina. Finding the complete tight end is the problem.

"There are very few of them in the league right now," Coates said. "A lot of them would say, 'Yeah, I'm a complete tight end.' But if you look at the tape and watch the games, 'Wait a minute. You got help from the running back and the tackle. Come on man!'"

Call the 1990s a glory era of sorts for tight ends. A five-time Pro Bowl pick, Coates caught 490 passes for 5,471 yards with 50 touchdowns in New England. At 6-foot-5 and 245 pounds, Coates was an imposing, surprisingly nimble receiver in the open field — and he could shift inside to block for Curtis Martin.

He wasn't alone. Coates is quick to rattle off several two-way tight ends, including Green Bay's Mark Chmura.

That core of tight ends — the

Chmuras, the Novaceks, etc. —

is different from this one.

He's a fan of Jason Witten, because Witten will "do all the dirty work." Elsewhere, it gets dicey.

"Antonio (Gates) is a pretty good guy," Coates said. "I don't see him doing a lot of blocking — they always bring in another guy to block. (Tony) Gonzalez, same way. They bring somebody else in to block and send him out on a route. They're great athletes. I just don't see them having to block a lot."

Many teams believe the trade-off is worth it. Scouts search under every rock. Even UW-Milwaukee post player Demetrius Harris drew heavy, immediate interest last year before making the Kansas City Chiefs' practice squad.

There's no denying that 4.4 speed and a 37-inch vertical at tight end can dizzy a defensive coordinator. Do you cover Jimmy Graham, Julius Thomas, Finley with a linebacker? A safety? A prayer? In every way, the modern game is trending toward more passing, so it makes sense to flex out large athletes.

Yet a tight end capable of blocking a defensive end can make life complicated, too.

After playing, Coates was the Cleveland Browns tight ends coach for two seasons. Kellen Winslow Jr. did have 89 receptions for 875 yards with three scores in 2006, but Coates saw how difficult it is to scheme with a tight end who can't take on ends alone.

In the run game, options are limited. Send in a block-first backup and you're basically telegraphing a run.