TAMPA — Even as tight ends play expanded roles in offenses around the NFL, Bucs tight ends have had, at best, a secondary role in the passing game.
Just 11 of QB Josh Freeman's 65 completions through four games have gone to tight ends, nine to veteran Dallas Clark.
But that won't necessarily continue, coach Greg Schiano said. Recognizing Clark's ability as a sure-handed safety valve, Schiano said consistent involvement from the position will come — at the appropriate time.
"I think Dallas has had a big impact on our organization (off the field)," Schiano said. "On the field, I'm sure he'd like some more touches. Hopefully that'll happen.
"You can make it happen, but at what cost? You need to run the offense, and as we start exposing other areas, Dallas won't get as much attention. So, I think it kind of feeds off one another."
A former All-Pro, Clark, 32, has 436 receptions in his career but has battled a litany of injuries the past two seasons. This season, he looks healthy and has converted a couple of key first downs despite limited touches.
As the Bucs work to eliminate kinks from their new offense, roles will become better defined. Clark will be patient.
"Whatever (coaches) want to do, that's what we need to be ready for," he said. "A lot of it is what defenses present. You never want to force things. Obviously, you have to find out what the defense is going to give you and then find ways to attack it. That's always the first priority."
Second-year TE Luke Stocker is being counted on to support the running game as a blocker, and also has a touchdown catch, last month at Dallas. Rookie Danny Noble and new acquisition Nate Byham round out the tight ends on the active roster. Look for Byham to also have a role as a blocker.
FIRST IMPRESSIONS: Coming off their bye week, the Bucs on Monday got a jump on preparing for the Chiefs, a process that in other weeks would begin Wednesday.
Kansas City QB Matt Cassel suffered a head injury Sunday and Brady Quinn is likely to start against Tampa Bay, but the Bucs didn't seem concerned with who would be under center.
"They pride (themselves) on running the rock," CB Aqib Talib said. "The quarterback doesn't do anything but turn around and hand the ball off in that situation. As long as we knock that run out, we should be all right."
The Chiefs rank second in the NFL in rushing offense, averaging 180.8 yards a game.
GETTING THERE: CB Anthony Gaitor returned to practice, putting him closer to a return from a hamstring strain that has kept him out of all four regular-season games.
Gaitor might not play Sunday, but it's a step in the right direction after weeks of sitting.
"I'm getting there," Gaitor said Monday. "It's the first day. We're lucky we have an extra day this week. So I'll come in (today), get some more treatment, go out and run a little bit more and then take it from there.
"My main focus was to get healthy. There's no sense in me rushing. If I'm not healthy, I can't help the team. And with the position I play, I have to turn and run and have quick movements. That injury is nothing to play with."
Gaitor's impending return might prompt a mild shakeup in the secondary. CB Myron Lewis has been inactive for two of the first four games. The Bucs have seven cornerbacks, including Eric Wright, who returned to practice after missing last week with a head injury.