Top TEs talk, but won't work out

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers can't afford to be caught with only Alex Smith at tight end next season. So they'll have their eye on tight ends during this weekend's Scouting Combine. Unfortunately, two of the top prospects won't work out. Find out why in this premium article.

The nature of the tight end position in the NFL has changed, thanks to players like Kansas City's Tony Gonzalez and San Diego's Antonio Gates.

These tall, athletic tight ends have become two of the most feared pass catchers in the league.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are a bit exposed at tight end right now, with only Alex Smith under contract.

Anthony Becht has already said he will void his contract and become a free agent. Jerramy Stevens is an unrestricted free agent. Even Smith's future is cloudy as he enters the final year of his rookie contract. He's been solid, but not spectacular.

So the Bucs will certainly be looking at the tight ends during this weekend's National Scouting Combine, with the hope that maybe one that can become their Gonzalez or Gates.

But two they won't get to look at are Missouri's Martin Rucker and USC's Fred Davis. Both are considered among the top tight ends in this draft class. But both are nursing injuries and don't want to risk aggravating them. Rucker will wait for his pro day to do everything, while Davis will do the bench press and nothing else.

Each is out to prove to NFL coaches that they can be a complete tight end. For now, both are perceived primarily as pass-catching tight ends.

It's doubtful the Bucs will ignore either player (neither said on Thursday that they've met with the Bucs yet), given that both are considered potential first-day selections after terrific senior seasons in 2007.

Davis (6-foot-2, 251 pounds) won the Mackey award as college football's best tight end after catching 55 passes for 764 yards and 7 touchdowns his senior year. Davis has some swelling in his knee and will work out for scouts again in April.

Davis' pass-catching prowess isn't surprising. He started with the Trojans as a wide receiver. But his weight necessitated a move to tight end after his first year.

"When I came back in the fall I came back at 240 pounds and I told them I would try any position they wanted, and they said tight end," Davis said. "All I really had to learn was the three-point stance."

That weight is too big for a wide receiver. But it's just right for today's tight end. Tight ends are moving around in modern NFL offenses. They no longer play tethered to the left or right tackle. They set up in the slot, split out wide or even in the backfield.

The Bucs use plenty of two-tight end sets, and many times at least one of those linemen shift into a different position before the snap.

Davis did a lot of that at USC, but he knows his strength — and what will get him drafted — is his receiving ability.

"Getting downfield, stretching the field and being one on one with a safety, that's my strong point," Davis said.

Rucker (6-foot-6, 255 pounds) played in a spread offense at Missouri and catch 84 passes for 834 yards and 8 touchdowns last season. He has a couple of chips to get off his shoulder. First, he must prove he can play with his hand in the dirt. He split out wide quite a bit in Missouri's offense.

"I'm looking to be the complete tight end and there's no reason I can't do that," Rucker said.

The second is proving that he can block at a NFL level, something NFL coaches demand, even of players like Gonzalez and Gates.

"Everyone knows I can run," Rucker said. Everyone knows I can catch. The big thing they want to see me do is block."

And for that the Bucs — and everyone else — will have to wait until March 6 and 20, which are Missouri's pro days.

Matthew Postins covers the Buccaneers for and the Charlotte Sun-Herald in Port Charlotte, Fla. An award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers Association, he appears frequently on Scot Brantley Show from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WHBO 1470-AM in Tampa-Clearwater.

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