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Wright Among Rookie TE Leaders

Posted Dec 19, 2013

Thursday Notes: Even though he only converted to the position this past summer, the Bucs Tim Wright has been as productive as any rookie tight end in the NFL this year...Plus injury updates and more



STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Tim Wright was undrafted and a receiver by trade six months ago, but he's now among the NFL's top rookie tight ends
  • DE Da'Quan Bowers was held out of Bucs practice on Thursday, as was WR Tavon Austin in St. Louis
  • Tampa Bay has a chance to record its lowest single-season turnover total ever
There were 16 tight ends selected in the 2013 NFL draft, including four in the first two rounds.  Tim Wright was not one of them.

It's hard to criticize the league's 32 teams for passing over the player who has become perhaps the most productive rookie at his position in 2013.  It wasn't that Wright was a lightly-regarded tight end prospect at the time.  It was more basic than that: Wright wasn't actually a tight end last April.

The former Rutgers receiver wasn't surprised to go undrafted after finishing his collegiate career with a total of 50 receptions, but he eagerly signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after the draft, reuniting with his original college head coach, Greg Schiano.  Before he left Rutgers, Schiano was strongly considering moving Wright to tight end to take advantage of a 6-4 frame that had room to grow, and that plan was still a consideration when the Buccaneers brought him aboard.  The decision to finally pull the trigger on the conversion was made during the team's June mini-camp, and it went into full effect in training camp.

Moves like these are generally longer-term projects, like the one that turned college basketball player and occasional football defensive lineman Demar Dotson into a starting NFL right tackle.  If that was the Bucs' plan with Wright, the plan changed when tight ends Luke Stocker, Nate Byham and Tom Crabtree went down with season-ending injuries in rapid order.  Suddenly, Wright was at the forefront, and lo and behold, he was putting up some pretty good numbers.

"I’m glad he’s here, because he’s been very productive," said Schiano.  "I read in somebody’s [article] – I don’t really pay a lot of attention to those numbers, but I guess his numbers are pretty high up there in rookie tight ends in the league. Thank goodness, because we’ve needed every contribution we can get offensively and he’s done that.”

Wright has indeed put up numbers that rank with the best rookie tight ends in the league.  He's tied for first in that group with 45 receptions, he's second with 486 yards and he's tied for second with four touchdown catches.  He is the only rookie tight end this year, so far, to have at least 40 catches, 400 yards and four touchdowns.  Here are the league's top five rookie tight ends, ranked by receptions:

Player

Team

Rec.

Yards

TD

1t. Jordan Reed

WAS

45

499

3

1t. Tim Wright

TB

45

486

4

3. Tyler Eifert

CIN

38

439

2

4. Mychal Rivera

OAK

34

341

4

5. Zach Ertz

PHI

32

399

4


In case you were wondering, Eifert was the first tight end taken in the draft, going 21st overall to the Bengals.  Ertz went high in the second round and Reed in the third round, 85th overall.  Rivera has been a sixth-round find for the Raiders.  None have done what they've done just months after first starting to learn the position.  Wright has made the most of his on-the-job training.

"It's going well," he said.  "I'm taking it day by day, learning as I go, reaching out to some of the older guys, some of the veterans, that have experience under their belt.  I'm just trying to learn everything I can and be a sponge."

It's a pretty strong class of rookie tight ends that Wright finds himself among.  Wright and Reed, for instance, have a chance to put up two of the better seasons by any rookie tight ends in the last 10 years.  With 45 grabs, both are already tied with Aaron Hernandez and Dwayne Allen for the fifth most by any rookie TE in that span, and the top figure on the list is John Carlson, at 55 for Seattle in 2008.

Obviously, it looks like Wright's conversion will stick and lead to a good NFL career.  Now that he is, in fact, a tight end, he's found reasons to enjoy the position despite some of its more physical demands.  Or perhaps because of them.

- Tim Wright is tied with Washington's Jordan Reed for most receptions by a rookie tight end
"I think it's cool because sometimes during the game, as a wide receiver, you want to get down and dirty and hit somebody in the mouth a little bit," said Wright.  "At tight end, you're allowed to do that, so it's a good position to be in."

As impressive as Wright's debut campaign will be, the full extent of his impact in the NFL will likely be determined by how good of a blocker he can make himself into.  The better his blocking, the more time he'll spend on the field and the less easily he'll be typecast by opposing defenses.  Wright knows this, of course, and he also knows he has to work hard to master the mental side of what has proved to be a more demanding position.

"The nature of the position, there are a lot of things you've got to look for.  You've got to look at the secondary, you've got to be aware of the linebackers and you've got to play with a big defender right in front of you.  That's probably the most challenging thing about being a tight end.  Things happen fast, especially when I first transitioned to tight end.  There were a lot of things that I had to learn, the ins and outs of the position, and then obviously matching up against guys who are more physically dominant than you are.  Those are the things you've got to adjust to."

* The outlook for Sunday's game in St. Louis got better for wide receiver Vincent Jackson (hamstring) and guard Davin Joseph (knee) on Thursday, but may have gotten worse for defensive end Da'Quan Bowers (knee), at least on paper. Meanwhile, the status didn't change for safety Mark Barron, but Schiano reported that there has been improvement in Barron's strained hamstring.

There isn't much reason for concern regarding Jackson and Joseph, who have been playing through their respective injuries for weeks and were both full-go on the practice field on Thursday.  Barron was limited again, however, and might have to manage his injury right up to game day.  Bowers may be in danger of missing a second game in the last six weeks after going from limited participation on Wednesday to no work on Thursday.

In St. Louis, wide receiver Tavon Austin missed practice for the second straight day due to the ankle injury that also kept him out of last weekend’s game against New Orleans.  Austin is the Rams’ second-leading receiver and a big play threat as a receiver, runner and kick returner.

“He’s a special player, man," said cornerback Darrelle Revis.  "When the ball’s in his hands, he does special things. He does miraculous things on the field. Coach has just been stressing all week, even on special teams and on defense, it’s know where he’s at at all times. Screens on offense, reverses, gadget plays, any trick plays, anything; just know where he’s at at all times and, especially in the kicking game, he’s dangerous as well."

Three Rams were added to the injury report on Thursday, two due to illness.  The full injury reports for both teams are below:

Buccaneers:

Player

Injury

Practice Status

DE Da'Quan Bowers

Knee

Did Not Participate

S Mark Barron

Hamstring

Limited Participation

LB Lavonte David

Hamstring

Full Participation

WR Vincent Jackson

Hamstring

Full Participation

G Davin Joseph

Knee

Full Participation

G Carl Nicks

Foot

Did Not Participate

DT Akeem Spence

Wrist

Full Participation


Rams:

Player

Injury

Practice Status

WR Tavon Austin

Ankle

Did Not Participate

CB Janoris Jenkins

Back

Limited Participation

T Mike Person

Illness

Did Not Participate

RB Daryl Richardson

Thigh

Did Not Participate

LB Will Witherspoon

Illness

Did Not Participate


* Tampa Bay's excellent 11 turnover ratio in 2013 has been the product not only of a defense that ranks third in the NFL in takeaways but also an offense that has been extremely good at protecting the football.  The Bucs as a whole have just 18 giveaways this season – 11 interceptions and seven lost fumbles.

Not only is that good, it's about as good as any Tampa Bay team has ever been.  In fact, this year's squad has an opportunity to set a new team record for fewest turnovers in a season, and that includes a 15-game campaign (1987), two 14-game seasons (1976-77) and even a nine-game season (1982).

It won't be easy, however.  To set that record, the Bucs will have to be turnover free for the final two games, keeping their final total at 19 instead of the 21 that it currently projects to.  The current record is 18, set by the 2010 team that only threw six interceptions but lost 13 fumbles.  And they'll have to start with a St. Louis team this Sunday that is tied for fifth in the NFL with 27 takeaways.

It is possible, of course.  The Buccaneers already have three games this season in which they did not turn the ball over, all of them since rookie quarterback Mike Glennon took over as the starter.  Reversing the trend that has seen a pair of giveaways in each of the last three games – altogether, a third of the team's entire total in 2013 – could give the current team the franchise record.

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