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Tampa Bay's tight end position will look fairly different this year.
That's because the Bucs have made several changes at tight end. Anthony Becht and Jerramy Stevens were allowed to test free agency, and neither player has returned.
Becht, a former first-round draft pick who joined the Bucs as a free agent in 2005, signed with the St. Louis Rams while Stevens, another former first-round pick, still is looking for work.
While Becht was considered a reliable blocker, the Bucs believe they found an even better one in John Gilmore, who signed with Tampa Bay as an unrestricted free agent out of Chicago.
The 6-foot-5, 257-pound Gilmore, 28, has caught just 21 career passes for 194 yards (9.2 avg.) and three touchdowns, so he likely will be featured as a blocker and not as a receiver in Tampa Bay head coach Jon Gruden's offense. The Bucs expect Gilmore to help build on Tampa Bay's production via the ground game, where the team ranked No. 11 overall in the NFL.
Stevens caught 18 passes for 189 yards and led Tampa Bay's tight ends in touchdowns with four in 2007, so his pass-catching ability could be missed, especially in the red zone.
However, Stevens and some of his past off-the-field baggage have been replaced by former second-round draft pick Ben Troupe.
Troupe (6-4, 270) played collegiately at Florida and has hauled in 106 passes for 1,056 yards and scored seven touchdowns in four seasons in the NFL. But he's had some trouble staying healthy, which is one of the reasons why the Titans allowed Troupe to get away in free agency.
Although he's been in the NFL one less season, Tampa Bay TE Alex Smith (6-4, 258), who joined the Bucs as a 2005 third-round pick, already has more catches (108) and touchdowns (eight) than Troupe.
But if he can stay healthy Troupe, who is a tremendous athlete, could really aid Tampa Bay's offense from a blocking and pass-catching standpoint and could even push Smith for more playing time.
The Buccaneers have Smith, Troupe and Gilmore under contract for the next two seasons, and the team should have a good feel for whether Smith or Troupe is the better pass-catcher and route runner by the time their contracts expire during the 2010 offseason.
Gruden's offense often times features plenty of two- and three-tight end sets, which means it's likely that Smith, Troupe and Gilmore will see plenty of playing time on game days regardless of how the depth chart shakes out.
Tight ends Keith Heinrich and Daniel Fells are also on Tampa Bay's roster, but they appear to be on the outside looking in.
The Bucs also appear to be set at tight end heading into the 2008 NFL Draft, although a few players, including Missouri's Martin Rucker, Michigan State's Kellen Davis and Cal's Craig Stevens, could pique Tampa Bay's interest in rounds 3-5.
In all likelihood one of those tight ends would have to fall in the draft in order for the Bucs to actually invest one of their five picks in a tight end since the team has to address some other perceived needs at wide receiver, cornerback, running back, defensive line and possibly even quarterback
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