Monday, February 19, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bucs stock up on tight end talent

TAMPA — Rarely is the tight end a hot topic of conversation at Bucs camp.

Sure, Tampa Bay has had its share of standouts, from Jimmie Giles, who is in the team's Ring of Honor, to Kellen Winslow.

But it's hard to recall when the Bucs have had this much depth — and diversity — at the position.

It was a one-man show last season, with undrafted rookie Tim Wright, a 6-foot-4 converted receiver, racking up 54 catches. The Bucs added veteran Brandon Myers (6-3, 256) in free agency, and drafted Washington's Austin Seferian-Jenkins (6-5, 260) in the second round. Along with veteran Luke Stocker (6-6, 253), that's a crowded room of pass-catchers with NBA size that can create matchup problems.

"We've got a good group of tight ends — guys who can do it all," Myers said. "It'll be fun."

It might seem like a logjam, but coach Lovie Smith sees it as a luxury as he plans to dress three tight ends during games this season. He said they should each have plenty of work, potentially even on the same play as the Bucs follow the leaguewide trend using more three tight-end sets (instead of a fullback).

Both Seferian-Jenkins and Wright, for example, have the athleticism to line up out wide, making for a potential mismatch on a cornerback.

"It definitely makes it harder for a defense when you don't know exactly what players are lining up," Smith said. "It's one thing when they go three-receiver, we know it's a pass set and you can pretty much set your defense for that.

"But when you break the huddle in a personnel grouping it can be an empty group with everyone on the line of scrimmage or it can be a two-back set, it kind of limits you from doing too many exotic defenses, and that's what you want."

Only one time in Bucs history has a team had three tight ends with 20-plus catches; in 1985 Giles, Jerry Bell and Calvin Magee completed the feat. With Seferian-Jenkins, Myers and Wright, it could easily happen again.

"We feel good about those guys," quarterback Josh McCown said. "They're making plays, they're catching the ball when it's thrown to them. And they're able to separate and get open on routes and doing some good things in the running game, and that's what it takes."

Tight ends coach Jon Embree said each player brings something different.

Wright might be the most versatile, having been a receiver at Rutgers. Like the others, Wright has work to do as an in-line blocker (Pro Football Focus ranked him as the 52nd best run-blocking tight end last season, Myers was 41st). But Wright is a good route runner with speed who can line up at receiver, tight to the formation, as a flanker or slot back.

"He's a mismatch for a lot of people in the coverage game," Embree said.

Seferian-Jenkins had eight touchdowns for the Huskies last season and was the highest-rated tight end on the Bucs' draft board.

"Austin does a little of both very well, he can run very well for his size and has good, soft hands," Embree said. "And he's starting to come in the run game."

Myers, 28, who had 126 receptions for 1,331 yards and eight touchdowns the past two seasons for the Giants and Raiders, says he's healthy after an injury-plagued 2013. He signed a two-year deal in March.

"He's really crafty," Embree said. "Finds a way to get open."

Stocker, who spent most of last season on injured reserve, will have to battle for a roster spot.

"When you have one guy playing in multiple spots, it's tough," Bucs linebacker Jonathan Casillas said. "Now you've got multiple guys playing in multiple spots. That just adds to the diversity of our offense."

Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected] Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.

 
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