Bucs could get boost at tight end

TAMPA, Fla. -- Tight end has been the forgotten position in Tampa Bay’s passing game so far this season. That could be on the verge of changing.

Tom Crabtree, who missed the first four games with an ankle injury, participated fully in practice for the second straight day on Thursday and could make his debut Sunday against Philadelphia. That could be a big boost for an offense that’s only thrown nine passes for 75 yards to its tight ends.

In training camp, the Bucs thought Crabtree and Luke Stocker would be the two main tight ends. But Stocker went down with a season-ending injury and Crabtree has been sidelined.

“Remember in the preseason, in the first three games, and then Crabtree gets hurt in that Redskins game, we thought things were progressing," coach Greg Schiano said. “Obviously, he’s had a long gap between then and now. He’s practiced. He’s looked better each day. I think he’s going to be a productive guy.’’

In the preseason, the Bucs were thinking Crabtree would be their top receiving tight end. But, so far, Tampa Bay had to get by with Tim Wright and Nate Byham. But Crabtree could be the type of all-around tight end that the Bucs have been lacking.

“I think Tree has a versatility that I think presents some problems for defenses and helps us as an offense," offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan said. “I think he is strong enough and physical enough to do the things you want to do in the run game, pass protection if necessary, and yet still athletic enough and fast enough to win the one-on-ones to get separation, show the quickness that we want in our intermediate routes. (Versatility is) probably the biggest strength he has, we’re hoping he gets back so we can take advantage of that.”