December 23, 2012; Tampa, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers tackleDonald Penn
(70) rund out of the tunnel prior to the game against the St. Louis Rams at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Welcome to the next edition of our Training Camp Previews, where we go position by position to give you a look at how we feel each position will look heading into the regular season. We continue the series with a look at the Buccaneers’ tight ends and offensive line.
The plan is to take a look at each player and see what they’ve done in the past, and what sort of role we can expect from them in 2013. We’ll use our traditional “Good, Bad, Likely” format to give all possible outcomes for each position, and today we take a look at the men in the trenches on offense.
Nov 18, 2012; Charlotte, NC, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight endNate Byham
(82) celebrates with tight endDallas Clark
(44) after scoring a touchdown. The Buccaneers defeated the Panthers 27-21 at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
At tight end, the Buccaneers face a decision as to who they will feature on a weekly basis. This is one of the tougher positions to do any kind of predictions for, because camp and preseason performance will likely dictate who has what role headed into the season. Luke Stocker was a fairly high draft choice for a tight end, and will likely get the “first chance” to be the primary tight end in Tampa Bay this season. That said, Tom Crabtree is in town, and seems to have some untapped potential as well. He’s a bit rough around the edges and lacks in experience, but he’ll provide solid competition. Nate Byham is a guy I like to serve as a blocking tight end, as he did so very well in 2012. Zach Miller and Danny Noble don’t really stand out in any way, and will have to make some moves to break camp with the team, while Tim Wright is an intriguing prospect who is being converted from wide receiver to give a more dynamic pass catching option at tight end.
The Good: Stocker emerges as a clear-cut starter at the position, with Crabtree and Byham serving as backups and special teamers. Stocker has the physical tools the Buccaneers want at tight end, so he’ll be the preferred option to step up. Miller and Noble are let go, while Wright hangs on with the practice squad to keep learning the tight end position.
The Bad: Stocker continues to drop passes and fail to run good enough routes to get open, and remains a blocking option only. This leaves Crabtree to try to be the top receiving option at tight end, a role he’s not suited for quite yet. Byham fails to improve at all, and the “Tim Wright Experiment” doesn’t pan out.
The Likely: I have said multiple times that I think the Buccaneers will use their tight ends situationally, as they did last year. Dallas Clark was the passing tight end, and Luke Stocker was the running tight end. I feel like this is the most likely scenario, with Stocker earning the “starting” job but with Crabtree seeing the field as a pass catcher and Byham coming on to be an extra blocker.
On the offensive line, the outlook is really bright. The Buccaneers have a solid group of starters, and versatile depth. Donald Penn, Carl Nicks, Jeremy Zuttah, Davin Joseph, and Demar Dotson all return as starters to their respective positions, with the health of Nicks and Joseph being the keys to an improvement on last years’ excellent offensive line play, especially in the running game. Many have questioned Dotson at the right tackle position, but he performed admirably in 2013, beating Jeremy Trueblood for the job and holding it all season. Ted Larsen and Jamon Meredith return to provide versatile depth after being thrown into the heat of battle last season. Between the two of them, four of the five offensive line positions have backup. Gabe Carimi rounds out the versatile backups, as he can play either spot on the right side of the line, and has potential to develop into a franchise player on the offensive line once he’s healthy and gets acclimated to the NFL game.
The Good: The eight guys listed above head into 2013 healthy, and one or two of the remaining players in camp catch on as a practice squad players to provide insurance.
The Bad: Injuries during camp or the preseason.
The Likely: Hopefully all of the key guys remain healthy through the camp and preseason, and we get a chance to see the Buccaneers’ offensive line playing up to its full capacity.