JACKSONVILLE, FL - JANUARY 1: Dallas Clark #44 of the Indianapolis Colts jumps over Akwasi Owusu-Ansah #41 of the Jacksonville Jaguars at EverBank Field on January 1, 2012 in Jacksonville, Florida. The Jaguars defeated the Colts 19-13. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have done a lot to shore up their receiving corps this offseason, but they've done very little to improve the play of their tight ends. And that fits perfectly with what they will attempt to do on offense: get the ball to their receivers and let their tight ends mostly just do the blocking. Letting go of Kellen Winslow to bring in a more banged-up and older Dallas Clark wasn't just a sign that they wanted a different kind of person in the locker room, it was a tip of the hat to a simple fact: tight ends won't be catching a lot of passes this season.
Mike Sullivan is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive coordinator, and his history shows this as well. He spent most of his career with the New York Giants where he coached the Giants' receivers and subsequently their quarterbacks. Obviously, given his background he's focused on receivers. We could see this in the Giants' offense the past seasons. Last season they had two different receivers surpass 1,100 receiving yards, while their most productive tight end (Jake Ballard) managed 604. This has been a theme throughout the years with the Giants: they have two or three receivers who eat up the bulk of the receptions, and then the tight end steps in in third place. The tight end is a compliment - and quite often, an unheralded player who manages to produce decent numbers out of nowhere like Kevin Boss and Jake Ballard.
That's a drastic difference with the Bucs' offense in the past few years. Kellen Winslow was clearly the team's focal point on offense. Winslow led the team in receptions the past three seasons, while also leading the team in receiving yards in 2009 and coming in second in that category in both 2010 and 2011. But Winslow is gone, and Dallas Clark has come in in his place. Clark should be expected to play a much smaller role on offense than Winslow did. The Bucs want to be a run-first team, and Clark isn't a good enough blocker to be a great fit in that sense. More likely, the veteran will play an important role on passing downs as both a pass-blocker and a receiver - but he won't be nearly as important as Vincent Jackson, Mike Williams, Preston Parker and others.
In a time when most of the NFL seems to be moving to a tight end-dominated offense, the Bucs appear to be moving away from one. Part of that may simply be a lack of players: they simply don't have a Rob Gronkowksi or Jimmy Graham on the roster. But part of that appears to be philosophical as well: receivers are better suited to being receiving threats almost by definition. Will this work? I don't know. But it will be interesting to watch.