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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Cade Otton, The 'Swiss Army Knife' of Dave Canales' Offense

The connection between the run and pass? A look at Cade Otton’s increased role in the Bucs reimagined offense

Week 1 Cade Otton story

In the modern era of the NFL, tight ends are no longer viewed as an extension of the offensive line. Instead, the menacing blocker has evolved into an invaluable pass catcher. A new hybrid breed has emerged, opening up playbooks across the NFL landscape. As more and more defenses are incorporating a two-high shell coverage to limit explosive plays over the top, tight ends are exploiting the underneath/intermediate areas of the field, which has forced defenses to adapt with big nickel groupings. Tight ends are now the pivotal connection in marrying the run and pass game. 

"There is an even bigger emphasis on having athletic, pass catching tight ends and running backs that are capable as receivers in the pass game," Bucs' Director of Pro Scouting, Shane Scannell, stated. "It has been going that way for a while, but having running backs and tight ends who are legit receivers allows the offense to use personnel groupings that would typically command the defense to play their base personnel package. This leaves fewer defensive backs on the field to cover. When you can have multiple pass catching tight ends and a pass catching back in the game, it allows offenses to come out in a typical run emphasis personnel grouping (12, 13, 21), but then come out in a spread formation and put the defense's lesser athletes in a bind.

"In turn, while defenses have been playing less and less base for a while, every year we are seeing more teams have both a normal nickel grouping but also a big nickel grouping. The nickel grouping usually has a corner playing nickel while the big nickel grouping has a safety playing the nickel position. In essence, that safety is supposed to be able to be more similar to a linebacker to stop the run but also a much more athletic matchup against these tight ends and running backs when the offense spreads out." 

Defenses cannot explicitly key in against the run or pass because a tight end could step up to block, sell a chip-and-release, or 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. For the Buccaneers, second-year player Cade Otton will have an increased role. Last season, Otton emerged as a breakout player in the Bucs offense and garnered the trust of Tom Brady in his rookie campaign. Otton solidified his role as Tampa Bay's prototypical 'Y' tight end, adding value as a pass-catching threat and as a blocker inline. Otton played 70% of the Bucs' snaps (803) and posted 391 receiving yards on 42 catches. He averaged 9.3 yards per reception, extending drives for Tampa Bay. The combination tight end showcased his dynamic skills and will strive to personify the mantra, 'Second Year Leap' in 2023. Otton will step into the role of TE1, and Dave Canales will vie to maximize his potential.

"He has already had a huge impact, so he is truly the Swiss Army Knife," said Offensive Coordinator Dave Canales on Otton. "He is truly the connection of the run and the pass game. We gave him the ball the other day and he got us 12 yards in an explosive play on a jet sweep just because he knows how to do everything. He is smart, he studies and he is dependable. Now, when you design passes, you do not design passes to go to everybody. Truthfully, you design passes to go to Mike Evans and Chris Godwin. Then, everybody else when they roll coverage and do all of that stuff, the ball goes to everybody else. Then, it ends up spreading itself out naturally." 

Otton, an instinctive route-runner and underneath threat, has the potential to make an immediate impact in the Bucs' retooled offensive system, featuring an emphasis on a wide/mid-zone and play-action-heavy based attack. No. 88 is able to consistently separate from coverage at the break point, secure the catch versus zone and he strikes at the point of attack while blocking. Otton could become Tampa Bay's X-factor in 2023, bolstering the team's reimagined offense.

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