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Tampa Bay appears to be set at tight end since starters Alex Smith and Anthony Becht are back for the 2007 season.
However, the Bucs have some depth issues at this position. Last year, the team traded the New York Jets for TE Doug Jolley, who became an unrestricted free agent in March.
The Bucs weren’t overly impressed with Jolley and are prepared to move on without him. They’re also without the 2007 sixth-round pick they gave the New York Jets in exchange for Jolley.
Tampa Bay was expecting big things from Smith last season. Bucs head coach Jon Gruden molded more of his playbook around Smith’s athleticism and pass-catching ability, but many of those plays never came to fruition after starting quarterback Chris Simms (Splenectomy) was lost for the season in Week 3 and rookie QB Bruce Gradkowski struggled in his place.
Smith, who has hauled in 76 passes for 617 yards and five touchdowns in his first two seasons as a pro, should be a much more productive receiver with Simms healthy again and veteran QB Jeff Garcia onboard.
Becht was also supposed to get some more passes thrown his way out of Tampa Bay’s two-tight end sets, but the problems at quarterback hindered this plan as well. Becht, a former first-round draft pick, has caught just 32 passes and one touchdown during his first two seasons with the Bucs.
Tampa Bay will once again lean on Becht as a run blocker, but the Bucs are also hoping to get him more involved in the passing game, especially with Smith likely to get attention from opposing defenders.
If the Bucs do in fact use their first-round draft pick to select Georgia Tech wide receiver Calvin Johnson, Gruden likely will feature less three-tight end sets and more three- and four-receiver sets as long as tackles Luke Petitgout and Jeremy Trueblood can hold their own in pass protection.
Last year, Tampa Bay invested a sixth-round draft pick in T.J. Williams, but his season ended before it even started when he suffered a torn Achilles tendon during a mini-camp practice.
The Bucs are hoping Williams or Keith Heinrich will solidify the No. 3 tight end spot on the team.
Dave Moore doesn't appear to be coming back for a 16th season in the NFL. That doesn't leave a huge void in Tampa Bay's stable of tight ends since he was used more as a long snapper in recent years. Moore hasn't officially announced his retirement, but it appears as though the Bucs believe he's done playing football.Â
There’s a good chance Tampa Bay will invest one of its 2007 draft picks on a tight end.
While the tight end position isn’t deep or full of talent this year, the Bucs have their eye on several players, including Iowa’s Scott Chandler, Minnesota’s Matt Speath and Delaware’s Ben Patrick.
The Bucs have had several free agent tight ends in for visits this offseason, including Seattle’s Jeramy Stevens, who was arrested in March for investigation of driving under the influence and possession of marijuana.
If Tampa Bay doesn’t draft a tight end, it could still sign a free agent to help add more competition and depth to this position.
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