Bucs Woes Start With TE Position
The John Gruden era ended because of poor personnel decisions. Remember Dexter Jackson? Not the safety from the Superbowl team. The 2nd round draft pick out of Appalachian State that couldn’t even make the roster out of camp. What was the oft-cited rationale for Gruden’s firing? He couldn’t develop a franchise quarterback. Well he did draft Chris Simms. That still puzzles me. Why did he draft a lefty, long-ball thrower with a slow release for a West Coast system. It was like he was dragged kicking and screaming to it by management- especially since he verbally abused Simms every day as if he was the accidental kid he never wanted.
And then there was the even more puzzling attempt to woo Jake Plummer out of retirement. And his seeming obsession with acquiring Jay Fiedler. Then there was Bruce Gradkowski. And Josh Johnson. Good players but not really an honest attempt at drafting a future franchise quarterback. Gruden wasn’t a young player lover. That was the prevailing notion. Remember all the geriatric cast-offs that he brought over from the Raiders.
So ownership decided to go young- build through the draft, they said. With the young, fresh-faced Raheem Morris. Ok, we’ll proceed when you’ve finished laughing. New G.M. Mark Dominik’s philosophy will be about solid drafting. Like the Packers, Steelers and Patriots.
And so Josh Freeman is selected to start the new era. Finally the Bucs have their first legitimate franchise quarterback. Ok, the ride’s over. Did you blink? Loosey Goosey Raheem let things get sloppy. So now we bring in his polar opposite clinch-jaw Schianno- who eats Major Payne for breakfast. And once again we have more of a circus than Raheem’s first year when the offensive coordinator was fired a week before the regular season and the defensive coordinator in mid season. So after all of this experimental staffing are we no better off? Did we just waste the last 5 years? Is the problem Josh Freeman, Greg Schianno or hangover from the jovial Raheem regime? Well let’s take a look at what may very well have been the overlooked catalyst for all of this confusion- the tight end position.
Yes, you heard correctly, the tight end position. Dallas Clark caught 47 balls last season. Luke Stocker 16. Those are respectable numbers. Of the 12 playoff teams last year, only Seattle and Washington had less than 40 receptions from a single tight end. Seattle’s Zach Miller had 38. Washington can be explained by RGIII’s 815 rushing yards. Instead of a star, go-to tight end, RGIII’s safety valve was to pull it down and run it. In 2011 Kellen Winslow, Jr. caught 75 balls. Dallas Clark was a step-down with 45 but still a legitimate safety valve for a young quarterback. So what does the brain trust at One Buc Place do for Josh Freeman in 2013? Next to nothing. The tight end position is all but eliminated as a passing option.
The torch is passed to the very unproven Luke Stocker. The man only had 16 catches! This is your starting tight end? Are you kidding me? Oh, but there’s Tom Crabtree. He caught 8 balls last season. Let’s put all our chips on him. Oh, he’s injured and may miss half the season? And Stocker’s on IR?
Even if these two were healthy there is no excuse for downgrading one of the most important positions to a serious football team. How this was allowed to happen in mind-numbing. Right now the Buccaneers tight ends are on pace for 36 receptions. The starting quarterback is in the doldrums- of which he might not recover. A legitimate franchise quarterback who may be soon cruising Dale Mabry with Jamarcus Russell. Would this have happened if he had a Winslow-like, go-to big guy going across the middle? I doubt it. This league is all about creating mis-matches. No where does that manifest more evidently than a corner or linebacker trying to cover an elite tight end. Without that TE threat the defense can double the best receiver and your targets just got a lot harder to find. Just take a look at New England without Gronkowski. How much harder is it for Atlanta in the red zone without Tony Gonzalez. Having an elite tight end is essential for any team that wants to have a shot at the playoffs. Someone’s head should be on a stake. Is it Dominik? Schianno? Someone needs to offer an explanation for this debacle. 2013 is wasted. The years developing Freeman wasted. And now the head coach may just find himself going the way of Gruden and Morris. All because they overlooked the all-important tight end position.