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Tampa Bay had a limited amount of money to spend on free agents during the 2005 offseason. Despite having some serious salary cap restraints, the Bucs managed to sign a few key players, including cornerback Juran Bolden, kicker Matt Bryant and defensive tackle Chris Hovan.
One of the other big-name free agent players the Bucs found a way to lure to Tampa Bay was tight end Anthony Becht, who spent the first five years of his career with the New York Jets.
Not only did they land him, the Bucs managed to sign the 6-foot-5 Becht to a five-year contract that included just a $260,000 signing bonus. That appeared to be quite the bargain for a player that had started all but four of the regular season games he had played in and helped Jets running back Curtis Martin win the NFL rushing title during his last season in New York.
One of the things that intrigued Becht the most about playing in Tampa Bay was head coach Jon Gruden’s desire to get him more involved in the passing game. However, that plan didn’t quite come to fruition, evidenced by Becht’s 16 receptions for 112 yards and no touchdowns in 16 regular season games with the Bucs.
Despite averaging just one catch per game, Becht suggested that his debut with the Bucs wasn’t all that bad.
“I thought I had a good year last year coming into this offense,” said Becht, who caught 133 passes for 1,164 yards and 17 touchdowns in five seasons with the Jets. “A lot of things get thrown at you, but I feel I was able to come in and learn it quick. Once I knew what my role was in this offense and what it can be, I personally wanted to put things together and do the training that I thought was necessary. I’ve basically gone from there.”
As soon as Tampa Bay’s season came to an end after a home playoff loss to Washington in January, Becht took it upon himself to do some of the necessary training that would allow him to become bigger for the running game and quicker for the passing game. So far, Becht’s workout regimen is working.
“I’m probably in the best shape of my career,” Becht said. “I’ve done some good things this offseason to help myself get a little quicker and a little faster. I’ve also improved my strength and gained a few pounds, but at the same time I’ve been able to get quicker. I’m 100 percent healthy. I’m looking to come into this season and make a big contribution in the running game and catch some more balls.”
Becht, who turns 29 in August, is up eight pounds (from 265 to 273) from a year ago, and his coaches have taken notice out on the practice fields of One Buccaneer Place during organized team activities.
“He’s looked like a different guy running around out here,” said Bucs tight ends coach/assistant special teams coach Ron Middleton. “He’s got some guru routine of his own and plus the stuff [Bucs strength and conditioning coach] Mike Morris is doing is helping him out. I just tell him, ‘Whatever you’re doing keep doing it because it’s working.’ He looks quicker and he looks leaner. Anthony is having an excellent offseason right now.”
Although he took it upon himself to get bigger and quicker, Becht, like many of his teammates, credits Morris, who replaced Garrett Giemont earlier in the offseason, for helping him get in great shape for the 2006 season.
“I’ve been doing a little bit of both,” Becht said of working out on his own and with Morris. “Prior to offseason workouts I was training with someone personal, but then I came here, and I can tell you that Mike Morris has a really good training program going this year. A lot of things have changed, and a lot of new things have been implemented. I’m all for it, and I know that the guys have really responded well to Mike Morris.”
The coaches didn’t ask Becht to get in better shape this offseason. He was self-motivated. However, there was and still are some motivating factors behind his drive.
Of course, one of them is Alex Smith, the rookie tight end from a year ago that burst onto the scene with 41 catches for 367 yards and two touchdowns. If he was going to be more involved as a pass-catcher in Gruden’s offense, Becht knew he had to become more athletic, like Smith.
“I would say that one of the reasons why Anthony wasn’t as involved in the passing game last year was because Alex was much further head athletic-wise,” said Middleton. “To get an athletic type like Alex Smith on the field and involved in the passing game is a positive. That’s not to say that A.B. wasn’t adequate, but you’re trying to get the best guy out there in those situations and playing toward each one of their strengths. Alex was more athletic, so we played to that strength. I think it could be a lot different this year. I mean, we’ll still get Alex in those situations, but Anthony has shown that his athleticism has increased with his workouts, so I see big things in the passing game from both of those guys this season.”
The Bucs were forced into this scheme more often than they would have liked due to some pass protection issues.
But featuring two-tight end sets has its advantages, and Becht’s ability to make himself even more athletic and versatile will only encourage the Bucs to use those types of formations often again this season.
“Absolutely,” Becht said when asked if the Bucs planned to feature more two-tight end sets in 2006. “There’s no question that is a very favorable formation for us. We do a lot of shifts and a lot of movements. It keeps the defense honest. Coach Gruden has confidence in that attack, and it works. Hey, I’m sure he’d like to split it all out and throw the ball around like crazy, but our best player right now is [running back ] Cadillac Williams, so we’re definitely a run team and we’re going to hit the pass off that.”
Speaking of Williams, Becht might not have caught a lot of passes, but he did play an integral role in helping the first-round draft pick out of Auburn earn NFL Rookie of the Year honors by doing the same thing he did for Martin in New York – run block.
“Anthony is the bell cow,” said Middleton. “When you talk about playing to guys’ strengths, A.B. is good run blocker. That’s not to say that Alex Smith won’t hit you in the mouth, but that’s A.B.’s strength. I expect Alex Smith to get more involved in the running game and A.B. to get more involved in the passing game this year.”
Even though he is getting quicker as a result of his offseason training, Becht doesn’t necessarily expect to catch the same amount of passes as Smith, or other Pro Bowl-caliber tight ends from around the league. Becht has embraced his role in Tampa Bay’s offense and is simply attempting to put himself in a position to better help the Bucs in the passing situations.
“Coming here, everybody wanted to put labels on me,” said Becht. “Obviously, my strength over the last couple years was producing a good running game and trying to be a edge blocker. I understand that. We can all talk about catching 40-plus balls and this and that, but we have Alex Smith in this offense to catch 50 balls a season. If I can catch anywhere between 25-30 balls this season that would be a huge year for me with Alex, [wide receivers] Joey Galloway and Mike Clayton all catching passes. I understand my role, and I know what they want me to do here.”
Last season, especially toward the latter part of it, Becht had some legitimate challenges to overcome, which limited his ability to become more of a pass-catching threat even when opportunity might have otherwise knocked.
Becht sustained a MCL sprain in Week 9 against Carolina. Although doctors recommended that he sit out at least two regular season games, Becht played through the ailment and the pain.
And in Week 15 against the New England Patriots, Becht sustained a significant ankle sprain. Once again, trainers wanted him on the sideline. Becht once again refused, citing the fact that didn’t want to sit on the sidelines while his teammates made a push for the playoffs.
“I had a couple of injuries toward the end of last season that really slowed me down in the passing game,” said Becht. “It’s just one of those things. When you’ve been around this league long enough you have to understand that injuries and what you can do with your body. We’re also in a situation where our team is a playoff-caliber team, and we’re getting to the playoffs. Our flow is good, and you really don’t want to mess anything up like that. I would have done anything to get back on the field, so our trainers worked hard and taped it up, did a couple of things, had me take a couple of pills and had me go back out there and play.”
Tampa Bay also received some inconsistent play from its offensive tackles, and in doing so asked Becht to do some unusual things, including pass block on a regular basis.
Pewter Report asked Gruden late last season why Becht had not been featured more in the passing game. At that time, no one outside of One Buc Place knew if Becht was to blame or not.
When given the opportunity, Gruden made it clear that Becht was not at fault for the lack of opportunities he was receiving in the passing game. Gruden also added, “Hey, this guy is doing things that we have no business asking him to do.”
While he wouldn’t elaborate on what Gruden meant by that statement, Becht smiled and acknowledged that he knew what his head coach and play caller meant by that notion.
“I know what he was talking about, but I can’t convey that to the audience that watches the game,” Becht said of Gruden’s statement. “My teammates, coaches and family know what I’m doing out there, and I know what I’m doing out there. I’m just trying to go out there and perfect it and do it the best way I can.
“I love Coach Gruden’s approach. I’d go out there and die for him because that’s the kind of respect I have for him. It was a good year last year, and I definitely want to build upon that.”
Gruden wasn’t the only one to some earn respect last year. Becht earned his position coach’s admiration by displaying an unselfish attitude and a tremendous amount of toughness while playing through injuries.
“I became a Anthony Becht fan last year,” said Middleton. “I told Anthony that I was against the move to bring him here last year. Now, I based my decision from watching him on tape, but after spending a year with this guy I can’t imagine being without him. He’s got leadership, toughness, physical ability and intangibles, and I think last year was the best year of tape he’s made in his career.
“He handled last year well. He never once complained to me about it. This guy is a rare breed and a class individual. He’s a true professional and a team guy. A.B. just wants to win, and he’s willing to do whatever it takes to do that. I mean, if we needed him to play guard, Anthony would actually go in there and do it if he thought that would help us win. You can’t help but love a guy like that.”
As if he hadn’t already shown that he was an unselfish player, Becht took another one for the team earlier this offseason when he restructured his contract per the request of Bucs general manager Bruce Allen.
Although the details of Becht’s restructuring aren’t yet known, it is believed that the Bucs guaranteed the $500,000 roster bonus he was scheduled to receive in March in order to free up some cap room.
Contracts are important to every NFL player, and Becht is no exception. Although he’s under contract through the 2009 season, the final three years of Becht’s deal are voidable, which means he could be entering his final season with the Buccaneers.
But when he decided to restructure his contract, Becht wasn’t thinking about that possibility. Instead, he jumped at the opportunity to help his team again, and if he continues to do that and work hard, Becht is confident that everything else will fall into place.
“I definitely have goals of getting another large contract at some point and working hard to earn that, but I also understand that we’re in a rebuilding stage, or at least that’s what we were in when I first came here,” said Becht. “Since we had a really good team last year, I knew a few more additions could really help the team out. The restructuring really didn’t take much out of my pocket – I think my whole contract in general is pretty generous, but if I can help the team out in anyway that’s fair for both sides, I won’t hesitate to do that. I love playing in Tampa. They respect me, and it’s a place where I feel I’m wanted. I just keep coming out here and working hard, and I know that my opportunities will come.”
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