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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Brate/ASJ: Competition or Combination?

They may be nominally battling for a top spot on the depth chart, but tight ends Cameron Brate and Austin Seferian-Jenkins believe they can combine to produce big numbers for the Buccaneers.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' corps of tight ends currently runs eight strong and includes dependable veterans (Luke Stocker, Brandon Myers), tantalizing young talent (Cameron Brate, Austin Seferian-Jenkins) and even a 2016 draft pick with a very versatile skill set (Danny Vitale). It is clearly one of the deeper spots on the Bucs' depth chart, a fact to which Head Coach Dirk Koetter has alluded on multiple occasions.

So perhaps the issue with the Bucs' tight end position isn't its depth, but it's breadth. That is, just how are Koetter and company going to spread these men out on the football field once the regular season arrives? That is a particularly significant question in regards to Brate and Seferian-Jenkins, who have seemingly spent training camp locked in a battle for the first line on one of the two "TE" spots listed on the depth chart.

The thing is, neither Brate nor Seferian-Jenkins seems to be viewing their situation as a head-to-head battle. The two young players essentially split the 2015 season in the role of the team's primary pass-catching tight end, thanks to an injury that kept Seferian-Jenkins out for much of the fall and gave Brate a chance to emerge. This year, they just might join forces to give the Buccaneers the highest level of production they've received from their tight ends in years.

Brate has followed up that surprise emergence in 2015 with an outstanding training camp, and his strong play early on coupled with some self-described "rustiness" on Seferian-Jenkins' part allowed the former Harvard standout to leapfrog his teammate on the depth chart. In recent weeks, Seferian-Jenkins has made noticeable strides on the practice field and in preseason action, prompting Koetter to even out the first-team snaps.

"Nothing's really changed on my end, I'm really excited to just keep working," said Seferian-Jenkins. Cam has been doing a phenomenal job, the whole tight end room has been doing a phenomenal job and nothing changed in our room. Everyone's trying to get better and there's a competition but there really isn't. There's a mutual respect that we're all trying to get to a higher place as a team and the further I can push Cam, the further Cam can push me, the further Cam can push Luke, I can push Luke, I can push Myers, Tevin [Westbrook], Danny Vitale, the better we will be as a group. So I know the media puts it as, 'Him vs. Him,' and it's really not. It's really about the tight end room being better."

]( season, in Koetter's first year running the offense, the Buccaneers had Luke Stocker on the field for 51% of their snaps. Those weren't all two-TE sets, but because Stocker is best known for his blocking he was paired with either Brate, Seferian-Jenkins or Myers on many occasions. The Bucs will likely use that approach plenty of times again in 2016, and in their most recent preseason game at Jacksonville they also ran a suite of plays out of three-TE formations. The question will be whether Koetter makes a point of putting Brate and Seferian-Jenkins on the field at the same time.

"Austin's a really good player, too," said Brate. "I think with both of us on the field definitely it will be good for us. I think we're both going to play a lot for us this year. I've been getting a lot of those reps early in training camp and it's good to even it out, both get some work. He looked really good on Saturday, had a good week of practice last week. It's going to be fun working with him."

While some teams have recently found success throwing to multiple tight ends – most notably the Patriots – that has not been a common approach in Buccaneer history. Last year was just the seventh season in team annals in which two or more tight ends each caught at least 20 passes, and as noted, that was more of a splitting of the role than a combo package. Only one time have the Buccaneers ever had two tight ends catch 30 or more passes in the same season, and that was back in 1985, when the trio of Jimmie Giles (43 receptions), Jerry Bell (43) and Calvin Magee drove the Bucs' passing attack.

It almost seems to be setting the bar too low to predict that Brate and Seferian-Jenkins become the Bucs' first 30-30 tight end combo in 31 years. Last season, playing in just 36% of the team's snaps, Brate caught 23 passes for 288 yards and three receptions. Meanwhile, Seferian-Jenkins was on the field for 45% of the snaps and posted a 21-338-4 line. If there is room in the offense for both players to up their snap totals significantly, they should cross that line easily.

"I think Cam's a phenomenal tight end in his own right," said Seferian-Jenkins. "I think he does a lot of good things well. I think we just play hard, we both play hard and we both like to make plays and we both like to catch the ball and we're both going to give effort and we're both good people. He plays really hard, he plays a physical game and he's not afraid to go in there and get hit. He's going to make the plays. He's going to do a great job and we're going to do a great job in the tight end room to elevate our team."

Koetter has reason to favor multiple-tight end sets, given the talent he has on hand. The Bucs still want to make the running game the centerpiece of their attack and can obviously set up a lot of different blocking combinations out of that grouping. However, it also presents a bit more mystery to the defense, which has to quickly figure out if either or both of the tight ends are going to release into pass routes instead. The Buccaneers did work Brate and Seferian-Jenkins into the game together on occasion late last season after the latter returned from injury but didn't have much time to develop that attack. By the start of the 2016, with both players proving to be dangerous weapons, that package could be ready to deliver.

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