TAMPA — Tim Wright was flying under the radar this time last year for the Bucs. The converted receiver from Rutgers, even at 6 feet 4, faced taller odds of making the roster, much less playing in a regular-season NFL game.
But Wright's performance as a rookie was one of the few positive stories salvaged from the embers of 2013. He caught 54 catches for 571 yards and five touchdowns.
"I got great confidence from that," Wright, 24, said. "All I want to do is pick up where I left off and get better, and like I said, learn from the guys in our room."
It's a crowded room at the position, to be sure, full of players with the size and skills of NBA forwards who will create matchup problems for linebackers and safeties. The Bucs started by signing free agent Brandon Myers, 28, who has 126 receptions for 1,331 yards and eight touchdowns the past two seasons for the Giants ('13) and Raiders.
But the Bucs weren't done. Two weeks ago, they used their second-round pick on Washington's Austin Seferian-Jenkins. The 6-foot-5, 260-pounder had eight touchdowns for the Huskies and was the highest-rated tight end on the team's draft board.
For the most part, the position has been a wasteland for Tampa Bay.
In 38 years as a franchise, no Bucs tight end has had 1,000 yards receiving in a season. The closest was Kellen Winslow, who had 884 in 2009.
It remains to be seen how new offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford will utilize his stockpile. But it's clear he will have flexibility if he decides to go to a two-tight end, one-back set.
"I definitely think we've got the players," Wright said. "Just looking at the room and the size that we have and all the attributes we bring to the table. If they do put us in that situation, I think we'll succeed."
Wright has a lot of work to do as an in-line blocker, but he might be the team's most versatile tight end. Since he played receiver at Rutgers, he's an efficient route runner with better than average speed. You can play him at receiver tight to the formation, as a flanker, slot back as a sidecar to quarterback Josh McCown or split wide outside the hashes.
"Tim is a guy I should've talked about more because he's another guy who does something well, it seems like, every day," coach Lovie Smith said.
"Nowadays, with the emergence of the passing game, you've got to be able to pass to win. … We have a good matchup with Tim Wright. He, of course, can do things in line but he can split out, he can run all of the passing tree. He's natural moving out, running routes, too. I'm very pleased with him and all that he's done since Day 1. He's a guy who has been here every day."
Defenses will have to pick their poison against the Bucs' tight ends. If they split wide, do you put a corner on them?
If they stay inside as a tight end of flanker, do you use a safety or maybe linebacker on them?
Over the past few years, NFL teams are making better use of the tight end position in the passing game. Even the Bucs have gotten at least 60 receptions from the position in each of the past six seasons.
"I'm definitely loving the offense, the versatility, the things it allows our playmakers to do," Wright said. "We're put in positions to have great success and make big plays."
And tight end might no longer be a position that can be ignored in Tampa Bay.
Rick Stroud can be reached at [email protected]ay.com and can be heard from 6 to 9 a.m. weekdays on WDAE-AM 620.