TE Anthony Becht thinks he'll have a good number of catch opportunities in Tampa
If Jon Gruden wants to know why Anthony Becht, a young, well-regarded tight end who averaged 35 catches a year from 2001-03, suddenly fell to just 13 receptions in 2004, he need only walk down the hall.
Actually, down the hall and around the corner, which is the path from Gruden's office at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers headquarters to that of new quarterbacks coach Paul Hackett. Hackett was the New York Jets' offensive coordinator from 2001-04, which means he had a front row seat for the last four years of Becht's career in New York.
What Gruden heard from Hackett is the same thing he and the Buccaneer scouts had determined from video review and what Becht himself suggested upon signing with Tampa Bay on Tuesday. Becht's hands and routes didn't suddenly get 27 catches worse in 2004; rather, the Jets' offense focused on running the ball and, with starting QB Chad Pennington often hurt, spreading it around to many different receivers.
He's a productive player," said Gruden, the Buccaneers head coach and the new man responsible for working Becht into the offensive flow. "You can't just measure his production in catches. Last season I think he only had 12 or 13 receptions, but in previous years he has proven he can catch the ball. He wasn't utilized as a pass-receiver as much last year, for a reason that I know because the offensive coordinator is on our staff."
Gruden's choice of words is telling – Becht remained productive in New York's system despite getting fewer passes thrown his way. He still started every game and was on the field for most snaps because he is more than a one-dimensional player. Becht's blocking skills make him a valued commodity in the NFL, a tight end who can help you significantly on both sides of the offense.
"They obviously used him," said Gruden of Becht's five years in New York. "He started a lot of games. He's a guy who really did a lot of different types of blocking. He's a guy who did a lot of motioning, pulling on counters and things of that nature. He's a versatile guy, but I do think [blocking] is overlooked. All you do is write down that he had 10 catches or 13 catches. The guy has not been used like Jeremy Shockey or Shannon Sharpe. But we do expect him to deliver as a receiver, and he's a guy who's going to be a good solid blocker."
Make no mistake, Becht preferred his 35-catch seasons in New York, preferred to be utilized for all of his skills. Even if the 13-catch season isn't a blemish on his record, he wants to get back into more of a pass-catching role. He sees that opportunity in Tampa with Gruden.
"I was watching a little tape from last year and I think they had 60 catches, 58 catches, as a unit," said Becht, bracketing the total of 59 combined receptions by Ken Dilger, Will Heller, Rickey Dudley, Dave Moore, Nate Lawrie and Billy Baber in 2004. "That's probably 70, 75, 80 balls thrown in their vicinity. There's going to be some opportunities. I'm going to take advantage of it. I'm really looking forward to this opportunity. It's going to be an exciting time for me. I'm looking forward to getting in here and working hard and getting the offense down and learning what I have to do to get ready for the season."
Becht, who was originally a first-round draft pick in 2000, has hands and route-running abilities that are not in question. He would also like to prove that he can stretch the field a bit, something the Bucs have only really had in the last three years when Dudley was healthy.
"We were looking for a guy who can block, not only on the running plays but in pass protection, and when you throw him the ball he does catch it," said Gruden. "He's got very good functional speed. He wasn't a first-round draft choice because he doesn't have measurables. You're not a first-round draft pick unless you have good speed for your size. We think he can run, and hopefully he can prove he can get down the seam and make some plays for us."
The Jets didn't use Becht in that way very much but, again, this is a new opportunity for a player who has proven himself in a variety of ways. During his free agent visit to Tampa a few days before his signing, Becht got the hard sell from Gruden, who told the sixth-year player that this could be his launching pad to greater things.
"I think the thing that Coach was trying to tell me was, 'We want to hit you where you're supposed to be as far as your potential.' I think that is more receiving, helping the team move the chains, being that guy that will stretch the field a little bit. Getting the running game going is going to be an important deal, too. They definitely want to get the ball outside this year and you will need a guy that will be able to block defensive ends, and you just don't have tight ends that can do that."
Becht can. He has every day in practice for years against Pro Bowl defensive end Shaun Ellis. He has caught a lot of passes, too, the 2004 season notwithstanding. Basically, the Bucs believe that their new tight end can help them no matter what direction the offense takes, and that was the point in making him their first big catch of free agency.
"He's got the ability to be an all-purpose tight end," said Gruden. "We need him. We're very happy to add him to our football team."