The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and San Francisco face off this week, which means we have some new cross-blog content for you. David Fucillo of Niners Nation and I look at under-the-radar players on both side of the ball. David obviously looked at the 49ers' side of things, while I provided some thoughts on the Bucs.
The Tampa Bay offense has been anything but productive this season, but one unexpected player has slowly but surely turned into a formidable weapon for the Bucs: tight end Tim Wright. The undrafted rookie saw little playing time at the start of the season, but earned more and more time on the field and was on the field for almost every down this past week.
Wright's not an imposing blocker, even a capable one, but he's a great weapon in the passing game. As a former receiver he has the speed to threaten the seam, and the size to beat safeties and linebackers consistently. Watching the All-22 tape of Bucs games it's obvious that Wright is consistently getting open and is the team's top threat inside the numbers. Unfortunately, Glennon doesn't look his way as often as he should, but his 404 yards and three touchdowns on the season are more than respectable.
Going up against Patrick Willis and Navorro Bowman won't be easy for Wright, as those two are outstanding coverage linebackers, but he has the speed and agility to shake loose and get open. If Glennon dares pull the trigger down the middle of the field, Wright could have a big game against the 49ers.
The player to watch on offense will be fullback Bruce Miller. The fullback is a position that seems to be disappearing in this pass-heavy era of the NFL, but the 49ers are strong proponents of the position. Miller does great work as a lead-blocker in the run game, but this season he has taken on a significant role in the passing game. The 49ers let tight end Delanie Walker depart in free agency, and Miller has taken over his sizable role. Walker was not a traditional tight end, but rather was used in a variety of blocking schemes, and option in the passing game.
For Colin Kaepernick, Miller serves as a safety valve. Many of the 49ers receivers have been question marks for much of the season, leaving Miller on swing passes and dump-offs. Miller is actually the team's third leading receiver with 21 receptions for 217 yards. The return of Michael Crabtree should open the passing game more, but Miller is serving a vital role. You will likely hear his name called a fair amount.
Akeem Spence will be crucial on Sunday. The fourth-round rookie has been a very solid replacement for Roy Miller, who signed with Jacksonville this offseason. Spence hasn't been asked to do much as a pass-rusher, but he plays a crucial role in the team's run defense as the tilted nose. His role is generally to occupy two interior blockers, which requires tremendous strength and short-area quickness in this defense.
He'll have to play the best game of his career on Sunday against the 49ers to stop Frank Gore and company, but he has played well enough this season. He even has flashed a little pass rush ability, at times, although not consistently and it isn't his strength.
The 49ers have a stout defense with some big names, but one of the biggest additions this offseason was defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey. He came into the league with high hopes, but his time with the Chiefs was underwhelming. He improved toward the end, but never lived up to the draft expectations. The 49ers signed him to a 2-year deal to play nose tackle and some defensive tackle in the nickel, and he has done a great job. He entered the season as the backup at nose tackle, but after starter Ian Williams broke his ankle, Dorsey took over the starting role. He has done a fantastic job against the run when the 49ers play in their base defense. Justin Smith and Ray McDonald are more high profile, but Dorsey has been able to settle the middle of the line quite effectively.