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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Link Between Marrying the Run and Pass 

The tight end position will play a critical role in the Buccaneers retooled offense under the tutelage of Dave Canales

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During Thursday's training camp practice for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the tight end room garnered notoriety. Offensive Coordinator Dave Canales employed creative, multiple personnel groupings that accentuated the hybrid position, including three tight end sets on the grass. 

"Coach Canales has talked about marrying the run and the pass and we, as tight ends, we are kind of the link between those two things," said Cade Otton. "We get great opportunities in the play-action game and then, just at our position working the middle of the field. We are early in reads and it has been exciting seeing guys in the room make plays." 

In 2023, Cade Otton will step into the leadership role of TE1 in his second NFL season and Canales will strive to magnify his skillset, along with second-year mauler Ko Kieft, rookie Payne Durham and veteran David Wells. Canales is implementing a system that is similar to that of the Seattle Seahawks, where he served as the quarterbacks coach in 2022. The reworked offensive system will have an increase in movement including pulls, motion, wide and mid-zone, along with quarterback scrambles/bootlegs to generate a diverse ground attack to stimulate play-action.

Last year, the Seahawks utilized 12 personnel on 29.5% of plays, with Noah Fant, Will Dissly and Colby Parkinson serving as the beneficiaries. Both Fant (660) and Dissly (569) played 60% of Seattle's snaps, while Parkinson played 41% (443). For comparison, Seattle's third tight end on the depth chart, Parkinson, played significantly more than Brate (355 snaps) and Kieft (265 snaps) last year. The Bucs used 12 personnel 17.4% of plays in 2022 and that number will likely ascend for Tampa Bay in 2023 with the team's current roster and added emphasis on running the ball. If Thursday is any indication of things to come, tight ends will be a focal point of the reimagined system. The Bucs' tight end room has watched film of the Seahawks from the 2022 season, visualizing how they maximized the trio of tight ends. 

"It's fun," Otton stated. "Being able to see how they were used and kind of know the terminology behind what they were doing is always fun when you are watching another team and you know their offense. Then, being able to think of the formations and the motions of what they are doing and how the tight ends are fitting into it. Watching that and then to kind of project how we will fit in here, it looks promising."

Using multiple tight ends provides a personnel advantage in run blocking to fuel Rachaad White and the other backs. Defenses cannot explicitly key in against the run or pass because a tight end could step up to block or could run a route out of the slot or the outside, to generate advantageous mismatches with linebackers/safeties. Multiple formations and shifts prior to the snap, works to keep defenses off balance. 

A common theme in the modern NFL is for defenses to use a two-high shell coverage to combat two-tight end sets, working to eliminate the threat of a deep seam route. However, they are then vulnerable to hitches, corner routes and curls in the underneath/intermediate area of the field. On Thursday, both Kyle Trask and Baker Mayfield made several connections with tight ends – David Wells, Payne Durham and Ko Kieft – over the middle of the field. The threat of Rachaad White's pass-catching ability drew a linebacker in coverage in the base look to cover the flat, which generated opportunities for tight ends to take advantage of one less defender manning the middle. 

Kieft, a 2022 sixth-round pick, is primarily used as a blocker, bulldozing in the trenches, but he also has the capability of stretching the field when needed. Otton, the Bucs fourth-round pick last April, is the prototypical 'Y,' adept at both sustaining blocks and finding soft spots against zone coverage. The Bucs signed David Wells to the team's practice squad in September of last year, after releasing JJ Howland, to provide depth. Wells originally entered the league as a college free agent with the Dallas Cowboys in 2018. He spent time with the Kansas City Chiefs (2018-19), New England Patriots (2020-21), Atlanta Falcons (2021), Indianapolis Colts (2021) and Arizona Cardinals (2021-22) prior to signing with the Titans this past training camp. Wells has made several contested catches over the middle of the field during camp, boxing out defenders and moving the chains. 

In addition, Tampa Bay selected Purdue's Payne Durham in the fifth round (pick 171 overall) of the 2023 NFL Draft. The Bucs traded up from 175 to 171 in order to acquire Durham, giving the Rams' their seventh-round pick (252) and 175th overall pick. Durham served as a 'Y' tight end in the Boilermakers' spread offensive attack, dividing his snaps between the slot and inline. He has a large catch radius and adds another dimension to the Bucs' offense. 

Preseason will provide better clarity on what is to come from Dave Canales and cast, however, the inventive tight end usage has already sparked excitement on the practice fields at the AdventHealth Training Center.

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