Monday, October 10, 2022

Bucs OC Has High Praise For Rookie TEs


By Bailey Adams

Oct. 7, 2022


One of the main themes of the Bucs’ offseason was the question of whether future Hall of Fame tight end Rob Gronkowski would return to the Bucs or not. He ultimately chose to retire, which is why it’s a good thing Tampa Bay invested in the position in the 2022 NFL Draft.

The Bucs knew that even if Gronkowski did decide to return, they would need to start thinking longer-term with the tight end position sooner rather than later. Gronkowski and Cameron Brate would’ve been one of the older tight end tandems in the league, after all. And that’s why the team spent a fourth-round pick on Cade Otton and a sixth-rounder on Ko Kieft.

Bucs TE Cade Otton – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

Both Otton and Kieft have yet to really take off, though both have shown some impressive flashes of their respective strengths. Otton flashed as a pass-catcher throughout training camp and the preseason, while Kieft has shown how impressive of a blocker he is. He also made a great 19-yard back-shoulder catch in Week 4 against the Chiefs, marking his first career reception.

Yes, Tampa Bay isn’t getting enough from the tight end position right now. It’s clear that this team misses Gronkowski, as you don’t replace a Hall of Fame tight end overnight. But the Bucs’ coaching staff clearly feels good about what it has seen from the two rookie tight ends so far this season.

Their ability to contribute on special teams certainly helps, and that’s been a big reason why they’ve been active on gamedays. Kieft has been active for the first four games, while Otton has been active for three of the four (he missed Tampa Bay’s game against the Packers due to the loss of his mother). That has left veteran tight end Kyle Rudolph, who signed with the Bucs at the start of training camp, as the odd man out.

Leftwich Offers Praise For Bucs’ Rookie TEs

Sure, special teams contributions have been the main plus for Otton and Kieft in the coaches’ eyes. But it’s clear that they think highly of both guys. Offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich had plenty to say about them during his press conference on Thursday.

Bucs TE Ko Kieft – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

Asked if Kieft would get more looks in the passing game after his catch against Kansas City, Leftwich was honest about where the big man is in the team’s pecking order. But he still praised his skill set and what he offers to the offense.

“He’s probably seventh or eighth on the list with the guys, but that’s why I don’t see him as a fullback as I said earlier in the year,” Leftwich said. “I don’t just see him as a fullback. He has certain skill sets that he can bring from a tight end position.

“But you can put him in the backfield and you can put him at the line of scrimmage. Ko [has] a skill set that’s unique to Ko – he can do more than you really think he can do. It’s good to see him get his first catch.”

From there, Leftwich was asked about Otton and he circled back to discussing how special he thinks both tight ends are.

“Yeah, and you watch these two guys (Kieft and Otton) that we’re talking about – you wouldn’t even know that they’re rookies,” he said. “These two guys are rookies in the huddle, playing at a high level [and] able to get the job done. That’s a special, unique thing – to get two guys in the same position, rookies, on the field at the same time and being able to trust in them.

“The way that they practice every day, they don’t have [mental errors], they don’t do the wrong thing – they always do the right thing. That’s what’s special about these two – you can put them in the huddle and feel comfortable that they’ll do the right thing. That’s unique, especially when you’re talking about rookies and tight ends because that’s a tough position to be a rookie at with all of the different things you’ve got to do from a position standpoint.”

It’s Time For Otton And Kieft To Give The Bucs More

Based on all of that, it’s certainly no surprise that the young rookies have been chosen over Rudolph on game days. Rudolph hasn’t done enough to take snaps away from them. And with Brate in concussion protocol, Sunday’s game against the Falcons figures to feature Otton and Kieft even more. Otton in particular appears primed to have an increased role as the season goes on. He played two-thirds of the team’s offensive snaps last week, due in part to Brate missing the second half.

Sooner or later, we’re going to see more out of Otton as a pass-catcher. He appeared to develop a solid rapport with Tom Brady during training camp, and that now needs to carry over into game action. Meanwhile, Kieft will continue to be Kieft. His blocking ability is extremely valuable, especially in the absence of Gronkowski. Both guys will need to give the Bucs even more, especially if Brate’s absence is a prolonged one.

Somehow managing to lure Gronkowski out of retirement at some point this season would still be extremely beneficial (even if it’s still in the “dream” phase rather than anything concrete). But early returns have shown that these two day-three picks have a little something special to offer Tampa Bay as the year progresses — and into the future.

Popular Posts