Do you remember Kellen Winslow Jr.? It seems like it's been awhile since he played for the Cleveland Browns, but he'll only be entering his second season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after head coach Eric Mangini traded him during the 2009 offseason.
While Winslow never piled on the touchdowns in Cleveland, he was always a reliable target for an often bad team. In case you forgot, in 2006 he had 89 catches for 875 yards and 3 touchdowns. In 2007, he had 82 catches for 1,106 yards and 3 touchdowns. Despite being on another losing team last season, he posted similar numbers from his time in Cleveland -- 77 catches for 884 yards and 5 touchdowns.
There's no doubt that Winslow is a talented tight end (as a receiver). After all these years, I still get the feeling that he hasn't really "broken out" considering his skill set. Sure, he'll never be your ideal blocking tight end, but he forces opposing defenses to account for him on every play. That is especially important in Tampa Bay, where the team is lacking any other proven receiving threats.
Some people have speculated that Winslow will be extremely pumped for this week's game against the Browns due to the chip on his shoulder he might have from Mangini trading him. Personally, I think Winslow is going to treat this just like any other game. The Browns don't need to be worried about Winslow being extra motivated -- they need to be worried about being able to cover tight ends period.
Covering the tight end was a problem for the Browns last year, and it continued into the preseason this year, even for teams who don't particularly excel at the tight end position:
- The Packers threw the ball to Jermichael Finley, who had 2 catches, 30 yards. If Aaron Rodgers had wanted to, he could've thrown it to him more (he's comfortable with spreading it around though).
- The Rams only completed 14 passes for 115 yards all game against the Browns, but guess how much of that production went to the tight ends? 7 catches for 74 yards, including a touchdown. These weren't known tight ends either; had you ever heard of Michael Hoomanawanui, Billy Bajema, and Daniel Fells prior to that game?
- The Lions targeted their tight ends often, as the unit finished the game with at least seven receptions spread over several low-key veterans.
- The Bears didn't play Greg Olsen much in the final preseason game, but that didn't stop him from floating wide open in the back of the end zone for an easy touchdown.
It's not about the stats, but rather how things looked on the field. Quarterbacks were too comfortable throwing the ball to tight ends who were beating our linebackers. The tight ends made it look effortless, and our linebackers looked helpless in coverage. We only saw T.J. Ward cover the tight end a few times, but it's something Mangini was asked about in Wednesday's press conference:
(On if T.J. Ward will have some responsibility covering Winslow Sunday) -- "There will be combinations of how we are going to play it. Some will be based on formation, some could be based on matchups. I’m sure there will be times where he will be in that situation. Yes, it’s tough, but it’s not going to get any easier for him as we go on. The guys that he’s going to be asked to deal with throughout the course of the year, they’re all pretty good."
I'm expecting the Buccaneers to look like a better offense than they are this weekend against the Browns' defense, but nothing too spectacular -- that is, except for Winslow. To this point, I haven't seen anyone on our team who can defend the tight end consistently, let only a rotation of players. Maybe we should try out what the Saints did against the Vikings Thursday, when they put Roman Harper on Visante Shiancoe in the second half.
What are your expectations for Winslow this week against the Browns? Can we limit his productivity, or is he going to explode?