Since the Tampa Bay Buccaneers traded for Kellen Winslow Jr. the tight end has led the Buccaneers in receptions with 143 total. In fact, he led the Buccaneers in receptions in both the 2009 and 2010 season - hauling one more catch than rookie receiver Mike Williams last season. Clearly Kellen Winslow was a major focus of the Bucs' offense these past two seasons, but he has been absent these past two preseason games, ostensibly to manage his chronic knee injury.
Fortunately, Kellen Winslow will return to the field this Saturday, and this should give us a much better view of the Buccaneer offense. Kellen Winslow forces opponents to adjust their coverage, as the tight end presents a major matchup problem. As with most good tight ends, he's too big to be covered by cornerbacks, but too fast and shifty to be covered by linebackers. The Bucs have struggled to pass the ball consistently without him on the field, and this should change with the tight end back in the lineup.
He isn't the only tight end to return to the field, though. Luke Stocker is expected to play on Saturday after missing the first two preseason games with an injury.
The rookie tight end was drafted to give the Bucs more flexibility on offense on first and second down. While Kellen Winslow is a dynamic weapon in the passing game, he is largely useless as a run blocker (although he does try). Stocker gives the Bucs a more serious option to run and pass the ball with success while in the game.
Stocker's drafting also showed us what the Bucs plan to do: they want to tool their offense around the tight end position. It's no coincidence that the first thing the current regime did after gaining power was trading for a premier pass-catching tight end.
But these past two preseason games the Bucs have been completely unable to run their base offense. Ryan Purvis and Nathan Overbay don't present the kind of matchup problem Kellen Winslow presents, although both are decent run blockers. But without Stocker and Winslow, the Bucs couldn't execute in the passing game. Having both those tight ends back in the lineup will give a much-needed boost to this offense.
Of course, the Buccaneers still have their work cut out for them. The Dolphins have one of the better defenses in the league, and they will certainly challenge this offense. The way the Bucs play on Saturday will be a good indicator of how they will do in the regular season.