Commentary | Tom Crabtree brings real hope to Tampa Bay Buccaneers

adell@bradenton.comAugust 11, 2013 

Buccaneers Camp Football

Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Tom Crabtree, left, avoids safety Dashon Goldson during NFL football training camp Thursday, July 25, 2013, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Mike Carlson)



Tom Crabtree seems like an illusion, but he is real.

Just ask Tampa Bay Buccaneers rookie quarterback Mike Glennon.

He was about to get sacked on his first professional play, but somehow found Crabtree, and the tight end turned his pass it into a 61-yard reception, mostly via his legs on Aug. 8 against Baltimore.

Crabtree is not fast, not quick, nor what you would call athletic. But he has this knack for creating Houdini-like moments.

The 6-foot-4, 245-pounder even generated humor out of ultra-serious Bucs head coach Greg Schiano, who took note of how Crabtree kept looking back for someone to catch him on the big pass play.

The Bucs' situation at tight end is far from a laughing matter.

Consider this: There were only three receptions by an NFL tight end last year of more than 61 yards, and the second longest belonged to Crabtree (72 yards).

The Miami of Ohio product might not be the long-term answer for the Bucs. But in this magical moment, he must have reminded quarterback Josh Freeman what it would be like to have a tight end who injects fear into defenses.

Tight end is the Bucs' weakest offensive position and a reminder of what they don't have. In the NFC South, the Saints have Jimmy Graham, the Falcons have Tony Gonzalez, and the Panthers have Greg Olsen.

The Bucs have incumbent Luke Stocker, who has been nursing a calf injury during camp. He ranked 39th among tight ends last year, averaging 10.3 yards per catch.

He might get beat out by Crabtree, a free-agent signee who spent the last four seasons with the Green Bay Packers and has a reputation for being a good blocker and coming up with big plays.

Crabtree caught only eight passes last season, but he led tight ends in yards per reception (25.4) and yards after catch (24.4). He also scored on a 26-yard fake field goal.

You want drama? Crabtree is your man. He even has 89,000-plus Twitter followers.

"I am not worried about getting a starting spot," Crabtree said. "They are leaning on me to do whatever is asked of me, to block or catch, and I am trying to do my best. Josh does a good job of talking to me and has an incredible arm."

Tight end has evolved into a critical position in the NFL with so many pass-happy offenses. There were four tight ends drafted in the first round last spring, more than double the average of the previous four years. More teams are using two tight-end sets and even picking their second tight ends in the early rounds.

Tampa Bay didn't use the tight end to a great extent last season, raising the questions of whether that was by choice or necessity.

Neither Crabtree nor Stocker have the versatility that teams are looking for in tight ends these days.

The good ones can play the slot or wide receiver or be an H back or a fullback and block.

But Crabtree has something that defies logic.

"He (Crabtree) is a football guy. He knows it and he loves it. He works hard. There are some things he doesn't do great, but we will work around that," Schiano said. "We got Stocker back some today (Saturday), which is good. We are starting to get the feel of what that mix can be like. That was a good play (61-yard pass reception). He just kept looking in the rear-view mirror, and that DB was chasing him."

Freeman ranked 21st in completion percentage when throwing under pressure (41.4 percent) last season and was tied with Tony Romo with the most interceptions (9) in those situations, according to Pro Football Focus. Having that tight end who can bail you out would be a nice option.

Freeman targeted tight end Dallas Clark 69 times last year behind only receivers Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams. Clark ranked 59th averaging 2.4 yards after catch and ranked 48th at 9.3 yards per reception.


The Bucs had their final preseason training camp day that was open to the public, and rookie defensive end Steven Means, a fifth-round pick, used it to make a statement, intercepting Freeman on a pass rush for a touchdown. "The coaches just told me 'Get off the ball more. Get around the edge more instead of running down the middle of the man.' That's something that I took into consideration and I started applying it today," he said. ... Receiver Chris Owusu,, who had looked good in camp but struggled against Baltimore will miss about a week with an injury, along with defensive back Danny Gorrer, who picked off Joe Flacco. ... That battle for the third receiver spot continues to heat up. Tiquan Underwood is back to health, Owusu is out, and Kevin Ogletree had a solid game against the Ravens. ... Schiano continues to apply the pressure on Da'Quan Bowers but the defensive lineman is taking it well: "Coach is a straightforward guy, and I respect him," he said. "He said he wanted more out of me, so it's my job to come out here and give him more, give him all that I have until I don't have any more."

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