Bucs' Stocker will see serious competition at tight end
In an attempt to project the Bucs’ starting lineup last week, I penciled in Luke Stocker as the starting tight end.
But when discussing the tight end position, there’s a deeper conversation to be had. Stocker might be the incumbent to the job and he’s the guy you’d most expect to become the so-called starter – he already knows the offense, he’s the highest draft pick in the group and he has ability – but Stocker has company.
And that’s going to make tight end an interesting position to watch when training camp opens next week.
While it’s not a position that is featured in offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan’s scheme, keep in mind Dallas Clark – who no longer is on the roster – was targeted 76 times and caught 47 passes last season. So, there’s a role there that can’t be ignored.
Stocker, despite my guesswork, has significant competition. Most notable among his rivals is Tom Crabtree, signed from the Packers early in the offseason. But that’s hardly the end of the list.
Don’t be surprised when you start hearing more about guys like Nate Byham, Danny Noble and Zach Miller. None, including Stocker, is a very accomplished NFL player. But each has varying degrees of experience and intriguing skills.
Stocker and Crabtree have suffered from a lack of real opportunity. Stocker has played behind Kellen Winslow and Clark the past couple of seasons, while also dealing with assorted injuries. Crabtree, unfortunately for him, was buried in a deep tight end unit in Green Bay, thereby making him expendable.
Noble and Byham showed some flashes last season but were slowed by injuries. The Bucs think both have legitimate upside.
Even though it’s not a group that’s top heavy, it’s a good group in terms of depth. That’s why the preseason will be important, because there’s no firm pecking order right now. It’s one of the positions where things truly can change based on training camp and preseason performance.
Coach Greg Schiano and his staff certainly will be watching.
“The position as a whole, I think they’re working their tails off,” Schiano said during minicamp last month. “. . . Certainly we need to have production out of that position. So we need them to come up big.”