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Crabtree Could Make a Difference

Posted Oct 9, 2013

Tampa Bay's offense hasn't received much production from the tight end position so far in 2013, but the potential return of Tom Crabtree this weekend could expand the playbook a bit

  • TE Tom Crabtree's presence will help keep opposing defenses honest due to his versatile blocking and receiving skills
  • The Bucs have just nine receptions this year from the tight end position, which has been hit hard by injury
  • Crabtree averaged 23.7 yards per reception for the Buccaneers in the preseason and displayed big-play ability in Green Bay
After sitting out the first four weeks of the regular season due to a high ankle sprain and then enduring the snail-like pace of the bye week, tight end Tom Crabtree was eager to get on the practice field Wednesday to begin preparing for what he hopes will be his Tampa Bay Buccaneers' debut.  So eager, in fact, that he briefly forgot one of the more important tools of his trade.

"I'm very anxious," Crabtree admitted at the conclusion of that Wednesday practice at One Buc Place. "I started going out there without my helmet today, I was so anxious.  I'm ready to go.  I felt good running around out there.  I'm still being smart with it, just trying to be healthy for Sunday."

It's safe to say the Buccaneers are just as anxious to have Crabtree back in the mix.  The team's tight end position has been a trouble spot so far, largely due to injuries.  The primary vision for the position in the spring, after the signing of the former Green Bay Packer in free agency, was a combination of Crabtree and third-year player Luke Stocker as something like dual starters. However, Crabtree suffered his injury in the preseason finale and Stocker has since landed on injured reserve with a hip ailment. Nate Byham, whose primary strength is as a blocker, took over the starting job with those two out but then suffered his own season-ending knee injury against Arizona.  Rookie Tim Wright, a converted wide receiver and undrafted player this past spring, has six of the nine receptions produced by the tight end position so far this year.

There seems to be confidence that Crabtree will be able to play this weekend against Philadelphia, and that's reflected – so far, at least – in the fact that he and Wright are the only two tight ends on the 53-man roster. As much as Wright is starting to look like an interesting weapon in the passing game, the presence of Crabtree would give the Bucs a much more traditional array of offensive options out of the tight end position. Given his origins as a receiver and his 220-pound frame, it would make sense that Wright is still developing as an NFL-caliber blocker.  Crabtree, on the other hand, is considered an excellent blocker who has also shown some big-play capability in the passing game.

- TE Tom Crabtree practiced without limitations on Wednesday
"You have Timmy Wright, who is a great mismatch in a lot of cases on a linebacker, as far as in the passing game, [but] we have to be smart about him with some of the things we want to do in the run game," said Offensive Coordinator Mike Sullivan.  "A guy like 'Tree, as he gets himself back in football shape and he's healthy and ready to go, we saw enough from him that we felt that there's a versatility there that allows us to keep him on the field and keep the defenses honest. Is he going to be in pass protection? Is he going to be blocking in-line? Is he going to release and do a vertical route or an intermediate route? That's probably the biggest strength he has and we're hoping he gets back on the field so we can take advantage of that."

Crabtree had three catches for 71 yards during the preseason. The very first time the ball was thrown in his direction – coincidentally by the team's recently-promoted starting quarterback, Mike Glennon – he picked up 61 yards on a breakaway play against the Baltimore Ravens.  That, coupled with his 16.8 yards per catch and four touchdowns in three seasons as a reserve with the Packers, have the Bucs hoping he can be a consistent producer at a position that hasn't contributed much to the offense yet.

"'Tree has a versatility that can present some problems for the defense and help us as an offense," said Sullivan. "He is strong enough and physical enough to do the things that you want to do in the run game – pass protection, if necessary – and yet still athletic enough and fast enough to win the one-on-ones, to get separation, short-area quickness that you want for some of your immediate routes."
I'm ready to go. I felt good running around out there. I'm still being smart with it, just trying to be healthy for Sunday.
-- TE Tom Crabtree

Surely, the Buccaneers would prefer to have all of their tight ends from training camp returned to health, but for now they'll turn their playbook attention to Crabtree.  He is not expected to be, nor does he view himself as, a savior for a Buccaneer offense that has struggled through the first quarter of the season.  However, he does think that offense is close to hitting its stride and he's happy that he'll get to be a part of it.

"It's a lot of little things that just haven't come together for us," said Crabtree.  "The other guys we have at tight end, unfortunately we've had some injuries, but the other guys, they're good players too.  We've just been unfortunate with injuries.  Hopefully I can get in there and add a little something, but more than that, we as a unit, we all know that it's just this close on a lot of things."