Could tight end be a hidden strength of the Bucs?

by Gary Shelton on August 24, 2017 · 0 comments

in general

Thursday, 2 a.m.

We all love quarterbacks. Right up to the moment we don't.

Ah, but when things are going well, we all imagine ourselves with the ball in our hands, two minutes on the clock and a cheerleader waiting in the wings. We all imagine smiling in the spotlight as the confetti falls. We imagine fame and fortune and fun.

Or, maybe, you love the idea of being a wide receiver, of running in space and leaping to catch the ball. Maybe you imagine being a defensive end. Maybe you are consumed with the idea of a linebacker.

Me? I like tight ends.

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Stocker is the veteran of the Bucs' tight ends./STEVEN MUNCIE

Stocker is the veteran of the Bucs' tight ends./STEVEN MUNCIE

From the days of my boyhood, much of it spent watching John Mackey, the former Colt, bounce off of defensive backs, I have loved tight ends, that hybrid position between receiver and offensive lineman. Charlie Sanders. Mark Bavaro. Dave Casper, the Ghost. Jackie Smith. Mike Ditka.

I liked their routes, their toughess. Kellen Winslow, Shannon Sharpe, Rob Gronkowski, Tony Gonzalez, Keith Jackson, Ozzie Newson, Antonio Gates, Greg Olsen, Jason Witten. There is something about an athlete who can block Bruce Smith on one play, and go deep over the middle the next.

All of which brings us to the Tampa Bay Bucs. eho, frankly, are loaded at tight end.

If you're talking about unexpected success, this may be the deepest on the team.

Jameis Winston has always liked his tight ends./STEVEN MUNCIE

Jameis Winston has always liked his tight ends./STEVEN MUNCIE

Start with O.J. Howard, the team's No. 1 draft pick. Howard is still learning, but his physical attributes are inarguable. He won't catch as many passes as some think as a rookie, but he should get there. Look for the Bucs to spend a lot of time with two tight ends.

Then there is Cameron Brate, the underrated one. A lot of people have assumed that Howard will stroll into training camp and Brate will go sit down. It won't work that way. Brate has the great hands and the great chemistry with quarterback Jameis Winston.

The veteran of this group, of course, is Luke Stocker. Stocker has never been a star, but he's a solid blocker when he's healthy. Still, Stocker faces a challenge to his position because of all the young players on the roster.

Don't forget, for instance, another rookie in Antony Auclair. Coaches have raved about Auclair's physical ability since he was signed. Is there room for him? We'll see.

Then there is Alan Cross, a tough-second year player from Memphis. Again, the numbers might be a problem for Cross. He'd be a nice kid to hang onto.

Bernard Reedy makes  the catch as Jameis Winton looks on./STEVEN MUNCIE

Bernard Reedy makes the catch as Jameis Winton looks on./STEVEN MUNCIE

Together, their blends of skills should add up to something. Consider Brate's hands and Howard's speed and Stocker's toughness and Auclair's burst. Now throw in a quarterback like Jameis Winston, who has always liked to throw to his tight ends, and you have possibililties.

For a defense, the tight end is a frustrating opponent. You work your rear off to shut down the outside guys, and to seal off the run, and suddenly, this huge man is running down the seams, catching passes, destroying safeties. In the bad years of the Bucs, it seemed they never covered a tight end.

Trent Dilfer, the old Bucs' quarterback and a fine quarterback evaluator, once told me that New England's secret to Tom Brady's success was because of his blend of tight ends. It makes sense.

As a unit, this may be the most promising group of tight ends the Bucs have had.

Individually? Well, there is work to be done.

The Bucs' top five tight ends:

1. Jimmie Giles – A Ring of Honor selection, Giles caught 279 passes for 34 touchdowns. He always thought he should be catching more, but he had more moments than anyone at tight end.

2. Ron Hall – In nine seasons, Hall caught 230 passes for the Bucs. A willing blocker for Tampa Bay.

3. Kellen Winslow, Jr. – True, there is more to playing tight end that catching the ball. But Winslow caught 218 passes in just three years.

4. Jackie Harris – Harris was signed from Green Bay, and he proved to be a good player until the team let him go at age 30.

5. Dave Moore – The Bucs wouldn't throw Moore the ball for his first three seasons, and in his last three, he was mainly a long snapper. Still, Moore had 184 catches for the Bucs. A solid player.

Three to forget:

1. Jerramy Stevens – He wasn't worth the time the Bucs spent on him. One of the most embarrassing athletes to wear the Tampa Bay uniform.

2. Austin Seferian-Jenkins – He was dismissed from practice one day because he didn't know what was going on. The Bucs don't miss him.

3. Dana Nafziger – The burning question of who started at tight end before Giles is Nafziger, who started 11 games (and caught nine passes) in 1977. Nafziger stayed with the Bucs four more years, but he never started again and never caught another pass.

Running Back Jacquizz Rodgers looks for room./STEVEN MUNCIE

Running Back Jacquizz Rodgers looks for room./STEVEN MUNCIE

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