Wednesday evening’s practice ended in a way Buccaneers fans are hoping to see recreated again and again on Sunday afternoons.
Tim Wright, last year’s pleasant surprise at tight end, sliced through traffic and cleanly yanked down a tight spiral in the middle of the end zone; his 6-foot-4, 220-pound frame too much for the three defensive backs looking up at the ball enveloped by his monstrous 11 1/8-inch hands.
Wright announced his presence during a Week 6 home loss against Philadelphia by grabbing seven balls for 91 yards effort in the first start of his rookie season. By the end of the year, he represented one of the few bright spots in an otherwise miserable 4-12 campaign, leading all NFL rookies with 571 yards, 54 receptions. His five touchdowns in 2013 trailed only Detroit rookie Joseph Fauria in that category.
Adding to the impressiveness of those numbers is that Wright entered the league as an undrafted wide receiver out of Rutgers before moving inside to tight end last June. Now working through his second pro training camp in Tampa Bay and buoyed by the successes of 2013, Wright said his confidence and comfort level with his position and place on this team continues to build.
“I’m definitely more comfortable going into camp this year,” Wright said from the field after practice Wednesday. “It’s not having to stress and spend those crazy hours just trying to learn the position. Now it’s more looking at the defense and trying to see what ways can make me better from that end instead of trying to learn everything about the position.”
Factoring in Wright’s size (those mitts put have him in the top 3 percent of NFL tight ends, according to StrongRight.com), athleticism and familiarity with two positions, the second-year pro said he’s expecting big things in 2014 and beyond.
“I think my ceiling is very high,” Wright said. “Looking at it, I’m still a very young tight end in the NFL and just in the history of playing tight end for myself, so I’ve got a lot to learn still. I go out there with a beginner’s mentality every day and I just look forward to getting better every day.”
Without going into details, he also added that new offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford’s yet-to-be disclosed scheme has him champing at the bit to turn it loose against an actual opponent.
“It’s something special that’s coming,” he said with a laugh. “When we go with this offense that Coach Tedford has out on these games on Sunday, there’s going to be a lot of things going on. It’s going to be very special. Everyone is going to be utilized and it’s going to be good.
“It’s definitely going to open up and we’re going to keep the defense on their toes and give the fans a lot of fun.”
Head coach Lovie Smith touched on Wright’s potential and versatility during his Wednesday press conference.
“As you can see, we’ll have him split out from time to time. That seems to be trending in the league now, to have a tight end that you can split out and do different things with, and we have one, too, in Tim.
“He can line up outside in the true ‘Y’ tight end position, we’ve had him in the backfield, and he does give us a lot of flexibility.”
Speaking of flexibility, Smith and the Bucs hope to have plenty of that at the position in general – a welcomed change from the start of last season. Joining Wright in the tight end room this year is veteran Brandon Myers and second-round draft pick Austin Seferian-Jenkins. (Fourth-year veteran Luke Stocker and undrafted-free-agent Cameron Brate round out the team’s five-deep tight end situation right now.)
Rather than looking at the newcomers as threats to his playing time and production, though, Wright said he’s solely focused on helping the boost NFL’s lowest-rated offense out of the cellar and doesn’t view the signings as a show of concern from the front office.
“At the end of the day, it’s the NFL,” Wright said. “Things happen and you can’t control it. Just looking back on what I did last year, I was the sixth tight end coming in (to training camp) when I made the switch and there were a lot of guys in front of me. I played, I worked hard and guys went down with injury or guys got released and went to other teams, but I didn’t pay attention to that.
“I went out here with the same (mentality) this year,” he continued. “I know they went out and got a guy through free agency, drafted a guy, but at the end of the day I know we’re different kinds of players playing the same position. Those guys are bigger. They can hunker down and make those kinds of blocks, but I know I’m quicker, I’ve got the feet, I can run the routes, so I’ve just got to do my job.”
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