TE John Gilmore won't be satisfied unless he is delivering crushing blocks for the Bucs this fall
John Gilmore, former Chicago Bears tight end, was one of the first players the Tampa Bay Buccaneers contacted when the NFL's free agent market opened a month ago.
Jon Gruden got Gilmore on the phone and didn't even try to rein in his excitement about the Buccaneers' immediate future and Gilmore's place in it. On his end, the seventh-year tight end reacted just as positively, and before free agency was even two days old Gilmore had a new NFL home.
Everyone was happy. Of course, everyone is always happy at the start of a marriage. Gilmore, however, had the foresight to look ahead to when the relationship would be tested on the field, when certain expectations would need to be fulfilled. In fact, Gilmore admitted to Gruden that he might not be able to hide his displeasure if a certain aspect of the game wasn't going his way.
Had the Buccaneers just imported a skill-position prima donna, a locker-room wrecker who would obsess over his stats? Would Gilmore demand the football and complain if Jeff Garcia wasn't looking his way often enough? Would he pout if incumbent Alex Smith or fellow newcomer Ben Troupe hogged all the tight end receptions?
Uh, not exactly. This is a man who, six years ago, signed with the Bears and simply smiled when General Manager Jerry Angelo told him, 'I don't care if you catch a single pass.' Gilmore likes catching passes as much as the next guy, but he loves to block, and that's where he could potentially get irritated on the field. If he happens to whiff on a block, he won't be pleased.
"I take pleasure in blocking," he said. "You won't hear that from a lot of tight ends. I told Coach Gruden coming in, 'You throw me a bone every now and then in the passing game and I'll be happy, but if I'm not in position blocking where I'm supposed to, then I might be a little ticked off.' A lot of it's technique, and then strength comes into play, and a want-to to get it done. I think it's an attitude thing. You've got to want to go out and do it."
Look, John Gilmore is a blocking tight end. You know it, he knows it, and he knows you know it. In fact, he knew that's exactly the way every pro scout in the league would be labeling him as they prepared their highlight tapes for this year's free agency period, and he figured that would work in his advantage. Gilmore possessed a valuable commodity that happened to be in short supply this spring, and that's exactly where you want to be when the market opens.
"The market for a blocking tight end wasn't that great this year, so I felt like I would draw some interest," he said. "I really didn't know the Bucs, specifically, were going to get involved, but I was glad they did. I didn't say this up front, but after I signed I told them that this had always been one of my favorite places to play."
Tight end can be a difficult position at which to stockpile talent. The nature of the job requires the player to approximate the blocking skills (and size) of an offensive lineman as well as the route-running and pass-catching talents of a wide receiver. Obviously, some prospects tend to be noticeably better at one half of that equation than the other, with only a select few really excelling at both. Thus, you have some players that carve out a niche as a "blocking tight end" and others as a "pass-catching tight end." Think Mark Bruener in the former group, Ben Coates in the latter.
The problem with falling into the former group is that it's not the best way to become a household name. And for some tight ends, it's just that much fun. A player like Coates, who once had 96 catches in a season, wasn't going to be happy with being thrown "a bone every now and then."
That's not a problem for Gilmore. You want to throw it his way? By all means, he'll take it. But he's not out to convince anyone that he's been mislabeled.
"This is my seventh year in the league, man, and that's what I've been in position to do – block," he said, cheerily. "I'm not trying to reinvent the wheel now. If they want to get me more involved in the passing game, that's good too, but I've got to stick to what I know first. Everything after that is second. I'm going to focus in on what they want me to do in the running game and as far as the passing game, however they feel I can get involved I'm more than willing to do it."
If anything, Gilmore has taken the label of blocking tight end and improved it. He has his own term for what he can do on the football field, and it refers to the way in which teams use the running game to finish – finish a set of downs, finish a drive, finish a game.
"I consider myself a 'closer,'" said Gilmore. "That's my game. I'm the type of guy that wants to be in there on those short-yardage and goal-line situations, the four-minute offense, or any down-and-distance where we just need to pound the ball."
Gilmore is imposing at six-foot-five and 257 pounds, but he isn't lumbering. He's not a sixth O-lineman masquerading as a tight end. Scouts say he has good hands, and he can be a true weapon in the red zone, as three of his 21 career receptions have resulted in touchdowns. At Penn State, Gilmore was more heavily involved in the passing game, racking up 58 career receptions for 634 yards and three TDs. But he has just 11 catches in his last NFL seasons, despite missing only two games in that span. Plain and simple, Gilmore has been blocking his way to prominence in Chicago.
That won't change in Tampa, but his receptions total might trend upward. The Bucs make frequent use of multiple-TE sets, and Gruden likes to get those tight ends involved in the passing game.
"I know the way that Coach Gruden incorporates the tight ends into this offense, so I feel like my opportunity is a little bit better here than it was in Chicago," said Gilmore. "He gets the tight ends involved, period. Tight ends are in intricate part of any offense. You've got to get the tight end involved to open up other things. And I can catch the ball – that's not an issue. So I'm excited about that, but I also know what they brought me in to do."
He should expect to do it a lot.
"The tight end position is a big part of what we do," said Gruden. "We like him a lot as a blocking tight end, as a physical presence. He's going to play a lot for us. He's in our plans. We think he can have an impact on what we're trying to do."
Gilmore also knows that there are only so many passes to go around, and a lot of deserving hands in the tight end meeting room alone. He's had only a few weeks to get acclimated to his new team, but he's already impressed with the overall talent at his position.
"Arguably, I think we might have one of the better tight end rooms in the league right now, and that's a credit to the Tampa Bay Bucs," said Gilmore. "They just brought Ben Troupe in; they've got a young guy in Daniel Fells that they just brought in; Keith Heinrich, I think, is a heck of a tight end; and of course they've got Alex Smith. I think the core group of guys here is one of the best group of guys I've ever been around, as a whole.
"I'm excited to be here. This seems like a great ballclub, lot of potential. It's like the stock market; I think I got in at the right time."