Told you Bruce Arians uses tight ends.
In a Zoom call on Thursday in which Arians first addressed many of the social issues plaguing the world and where he stands, he also shed some light on what Buccaneers fans can expect to see from the offense in 2020. And despite the reputation Arians may have for not fully utilizing the tight end position, his prediction includes a lot of two tight end sets, called 12 personnel. In fact, that alignment is the Bucs' base package.
"We've always been a huge 12-personnel team – ever since Pittsburgh," Arians said, referencing his time as the Steelers' offensive coordinator. "That's our base offense. If those are the best matchups, then that's what we'll have. Each week is finding out the best matchups."
Indeed, looking back at 2019, though the production might not have been there for guys like O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate, their playing time was. Howard was on the field for 782 offensive snaps last season and an additional 78 on special teams – the most in his career. Those 782 snaps were 69% (nice) of the offensive total, meaning Howard was on the field over two thirds of the time for the Buccaneer offense even after missing four games. Comparing that to Howard's prior two seasons, it's still 174 more snaps than his 2017 total where Howard played the same amount of games under notorious tight-end users then-Head Coach Dirk Koetter and then-Offensive Coordinator Todd Monken. Brate was used a little more sparingly, playing 38% of the team's offensive snaps as he bounced back from hip surgery during the 2019 offseason.
Last season, the offense spent most of its snaps in 11 personnel (one running back, one tight end) 57% of the time but the second-most utilized formation was indeed 12 personnel. In fact, Tampa Bay deployed more than one tight end 27% of the time, whether it be 12, 13 or any similar variation. It shows the tight end position was a major component to an offense that had the most passing yards in the league (4,845) and third-most points (458).
"I love 13 [personnel], I love three tight ends out there," Arians added. "We have a package if you don't know how to stop it, it can hurt you."
That's what it's all about, after all. It's about utilizing your best players to outsmart and outplay the opposing defense. With the arrival of one of the greatest tight ends to ever play the game in Rob Gronkowski, the tight end unit is now one of Tampa Bay's strongest. Arians said he'll always put the 'best 11' players out on the field and one would have to think Gronk is now one of them. Therefore, seeing an uptick in multiple tight end utilization seems like a natural progression.
It isn't the only personnel group that Arians would like to see more of, either.
"I'd like to see us use some more four wide receiver sets if those guys show up," said Arians. "If you have a really good fourth wide receiver, there are very few [teams with] four good corners and nickels and dimes to come get them."
It's no secret that the Buccaneers boast one of, if not the, best wide receiver tandems in the league in Mike Evans and Chris Godwin. Both were selected to the Pro Bowl in 2019 and accounted for a combined 2,490 receiving yards and 17 of their receiving touchdowns, or 51% of the team's total in each.
But after the two elite receivers, the right to the third and fourth receiver spots is ripe for the taking, especially following the departure of Breshad Perriman in free agency this offseason. Will it be third-year receiver Justin Watson to step up? Second-year player Scotty Miller? Newcomer Tyler Johnson? Or someone else on the existing roster? It could even perhaps be a veteran that both Arians and General Manager Jason Licht are leaving a few spots open for as the team enters training camp later next month.
"I think we can get better at utilizing all our personnel groups," said Arians. "Eleven is kind of the standard in the league now but I'm really anxious to see the third, fourth, fifth receivers fight it out for that spot. But I know 12 personnel, we've got that for sure."