Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Draft Watch - Tight Ends

As our pre-draft series of position analyses continues, we look at the Bucs’ small but important group of tight ends

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TE Dave Moore has been a very valuable Buc due to his versatility, and coach Ricky Thomas says Moore is still improving

More than 40 Buccaneers a day are participating in voluntary workouts at team headquarters this month. Though most of the daily work is in the form of individual position drills, the quarterbacks do like to toss a few passes now and then.

When the passers get together with the tight ends, the drill is hamstrung by some unusual math: the Bucs currently have five quarterbacks in town and just three tight ends.

That's okay – tight ends are used to doing double duty.

Tight ends have always been a bit of a strange breed on the practice field, a necessary mixture of offensive lineman and wide receiver. Some clearly excel in the passing game while others are blocking specialists. The most valuable ones, perhaps, are capable in both aspects of the game.

Will any such players be available in this weekend's NFL draft? Will the Buccaneers be in search of one?

Neither question has a simple answer on this day, the first because the available players are unproven commodities on the NFL level and the second because Buccaneer officials have recently grown as talkative as the Secret Service.

Perhaps it would help to take a quick look at the numbers.

Tight Ends Under Contract: 4 Pending Free Agents: 0 Typical Training Camp Tight Ends Total: 5 NFL Rushing Offense Ranking: 9 NFL Passing Offense Ranking: 26 Bucs Among NFC Leaders: None 2000 Receptions Leader (Tight Ends): Dave Moore, 29 2000 Receiving Yardage Leader (Tight Ends): Dave Moore, 288 2000 Touchdown Receptions Leader (Tight Ends): Dave Moore, 3 First-Round Picks Spent on Tight Ends, 1976-2000: 0 Total Picks Spent on Tight Ends, 1996-2000: 2

None of the Bucs' four tight ends are unsigned free agents at this point, but the team has already lost one player at that position in Patrick Hape, an unrestricted free agent who signed with Denver last month. Hape was a significant part of the Buccaneers' running game in recent seasons and a valued player, but it's possible that his role would have diminished in 2001 anyway.

Hape played about 43% of the team's offensive snaps last year under Offensive Coordinator Les Steckel, as the team ran mostly out of a one-back, two-tight end formation. However, new coordinator Clyde Christensen's attack will apparently make more use of a two-back, one-tight end system, with FB Mike Alstott on the field more often.

On the other hand, new quarterback Brad Johnson is an ultra-accurate passer who prides himself on spreading the ball around. While starter Dave Moore was the Bucs' leading passcatcher among tight ends with __ receptions last season, the tight ends might find themselves more involved in 2001.

So Tight Ends Coach Ricky Thomas may not have a large crew to work with, but it could be a crucial group. Only two tight ends return from last season – Moore and Todd Yoder – but Thomas believes his players can build on a strong 2000 campaign.

"As a whole, I thought the performance was solid last season," said Thomas. "Right now, we're working on the finer points of the game, the details. We've really got a good group of guys to work with."

Thomas' thoughts on each of his current tight ends:

Dave Moore: "Dave Moore is returning as the starter and he's only improving as a player. He's very dependable, very reliable. He doesn't make many mental mistakes, and he's very productive."

Randy Palmer: "Randy's over in NFL Europe. Once we put the pads on, I'll be able to evaluate him a lot better. He has some athleticism, and if he executes the fundamentals and techniques, that will give him a shot. For the most part, the tight ends that we bring in here have those characteristics to begin with. What we're able to get out of them from that point separates where they end up."

Damian Vaughn: "He's a hard-worker, I can tell that already at this point. He spent two seasons on Cincinnati's practice squad and I'm encouraged by his efforts at this point."

Todd Yoder: "Todd's a second-year guy who took about 25 snaps last year. This will give us an opportunity to find out what kind of player he can be, going into his second year. Like the rest of them, he has worked extremely hard this offseason, and he just needs to continue to do that."

Should the Bucs choose to expand the tight end position this weekend, they'll be choosing from another fairly small group, according to the draftniks. Among the players generally considered at the top of the tight end, uh, heap, in this year's draft are Arizona State's Todd Heap, North Carolina's Alge Crumpler, Notre Dame's Jabari Holloway and Dan O'Leary, Arizona's Brandon Manumaleuna and Penn State's Tony Stewart.

Will the Buccaneers reach for any of these players in the first round? Well, the franchise has never taken a tight end in the opening round; in fact, it has never taken one earlier than the third round, and not even that early since Harold Bishop in 1994.

Of course, Tampa Bay had never drafted a wide receiver in the first round either, until Reidel Anthony in 1997, and it had never before spent such a high pick on a kicker when it selected Martin Gramatica in the third round in 1999.

Tampa Bay has drafted two tight ends since Tony Dungy and Rich McKay teamed up, including Hape in 1997 and James Whalen last spring, both in the fifth round. Neither remain with the team, so perhaps the Bucs will go back to the well. We'll know soon enough.

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