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Although it has five tight ends – Anthony Becht, Dave Moore, Billy Baber, Nate Lawrie and Robert Johnson – under contract for the 2005 season, Tampa Bay is in desperate need of another starting-caliber tight end in case something happens to Becht.
Tight ends Ken Dilger and Rickey Dudley are currently exploring their options as free agents, but neither player appears to be close to signing with a team, including the Bucs.
Dilger caught 39 passes for 345 yards and three touchdowns last season. While he managed to stay healthy throughout most of last season, Dilger’s age and nagging injuries are a concern. Dudley has finished the past two seasons on injured reserve.
Meanwhile, Tampa Bay has visited with David Martin (Green Bay) while expressing some interest in Freddie Jones (Arizona) and Itula Mili (Seattle). However, Martin and Mili re-signed with their respective teams, and the Bucs have not expressed much more interest Jones or Stephen Alexander (Detroit).
Bucs head coach Jon Gruden would love to feature more two-tight-end sets, but he doesn’t feel like he has the personnel to do so, or at least not yet. Heller would seem like one of the leading candidates to play alongside Becht, but he needs to become more consistent as both a blocker and receiver. Signing Becht was definitely a step in the right direction.
If Dilger decides to not retire and play another season, the Bucs would like to have him back as a backup to Becht.
Tampa Bay wants to get younger at the tight end position, but it might have to spend some money to do so. Becht was the best available tight end in free agency in the Bucs’ price range, and were able to convince him to sign with them despite the Jets offering him a much more lucrative contract. The Bucs were hoping Becht’s experience with quarterbacks coach Paul Hackett and offensive line coach Bill Muir in New York would be able to lure him to Tampa Bay and that certainly helped. The opportunity to become more of a pass-catching tight end and a red zone weapon was also an enticement.
Because of the fact that Gruden likes to feature two-tight-end sets so often, the Bucs will need to acquire another starting-caliber player to line up opposite Becht.
The draft will produce a couple of quality tight ends, including Heath Miller (Virginia), Alex Smith (Stanford) and Kevin Everett (Miami), but all three players will likely be first-day selections, which might be too high for the Bucs.
Should Tampa Bay fail to sign another veteran free agent tight end and choose not to invest an early draft pick in one in April, Gruden’s offense will be awfully young and severely lacking in terms of depth at the tight end position next season.
Current Position Grade: C
Buc Update Publishing Schedule (Dates subject to change)
Mar. 22 – Offensive Tackles
Mar. 23 – Centers/Guards
Mar. 25 – Defensive Ends
Mar. 26 – Defensive Tackles
Mar. 27 – Linebackers
Mar. 28 – Cornerbacks
Mar. 30 – Safeties
Mar. 31 – Kickers/Punters
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