NFL Nation: Nate Byham

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Final power ranking: 27
Preseason power ranking: 22

Biggest surprise: Tim Wright came to training camp as an undrafted wide receiver from Rutgers. He ended up as the starting tight end. That happened because a series of injuries left the Bucs in desperation mode at this position. But let’s give Wright some credit for quickly emerging as a legitimate threat in the passing game. He still has room for improvement as a blocker, but the Bucs might have found something special in Wright.

 Biggest disappointment: Entering the season, the Bucs thought this would be the year that Josh Freeman firmly established himself as a franchise quarterback. That didn’t come close to happening. Freeman was late for several team functions and that put him on coach Greg Schiano’s bad side. It didn’t help as Freeman struggled in the first three games. The Bucs turned to rookie Mike Glennon and eventually released Freeman.

Biggest need: The front office and coaching staff made a conscious decision to let defensive end Michael Bennett, who led the team in sacks in 2012, walk as a free agent. The thinking was that Da'Quan Bowers was ready to emerge as a pass-rushing force. But Bowers never emerged and Tampa Bay’s pass rush wasn’t very good. Rookie William Gholston showed some promise as the season went on, but the Bucs still need to upgrade the pass rush in the offseason.

Team MVP: There really are only two candidates -- defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and linebacker Lavonte David. McCoy was outstanding, but I’m giving the nod to David. In his second season, David developed a knack for making big plays. People compared him to Derrick Brooks as soon as he was drafted by Tampa Bay. I thought that was a little premature, but I’m starting to think David can be the second coming of Brooks.


TAMPA, Fla. -- When the season started, there was some talk that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers could contend for a playoff spot.

After all, they added all-world cornerback Darrelle Revis and Pro Bowl safety Dashon Goldson in the offseason. The Bucs were the first ones to point to the fact they had eight guys on their roster who have been to Pro Bowls.

But, as it turns out, none of that’s mattered. The Bucs are 0-8 and their midseason grades are as dismal as their record:

TAMPA, Fla. -- Rookie quarterback Mike Glennon might not have his full stable of receivers when he makes his NFL debut Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals.

Coach Greg Schiano said that tight end Tom Crabtree has been ruled out. Schiano said Crabtree had a setback with the ankle injury that has kept him out since the preseason. The Bucs had been hoping Crabtree could play this week and take over the starting role. Previous starter Luke Stocker is on injured reserve. With Crabtree out, Nate Byham is likely to get the start.

Starting wide receivers Mike Williams and Vincent Jackson returned to practice on a limited basis Friday and will be listed as questionable. Williams said Thursday he expected to play Sunday. Kevin Ogletree, Eric Page and Russell Shepard are Tampa Bay's backups at wide receiver.

Bucs activate Demps, Stocker to IR

September, 23, 2013
TAMPA, Fla. – The Tampa Bay Buccaneers added some speed for their return game, but also lost a starting tight end Monday.

Former Olympic sprinter Jeff Demps, who had spent the last two weeks practicing with the Bucs while on the exempt list, was activated to the 53-man roster. But the bad news is the Bucs placed tight end Luke Stocker on injured reserve.

Demps, who also may get a look as a running back and receiver, could take over as the primary return man or share the duties with Eric Page.

With Stocker gone for the season, the Bucs are thin at tight end. Nate Byham started in Stocker’s place Sunday. Tom Crabtree has missed the first three games with an ankle injury, but coach Greg Schiano said Monday that Crabtree is making progress. If Crabtree is healthy by Sunday, he could be the starter against the Arizona Cardinals.

Buccaneers need more from tight ends

September, 17, 2013
TAMPA, Fla. -- Through two games, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have completed precisely two passes to their tight ends.

“We would like to have the tight end more involved in the passing game,’’ coach Greg Schiano said. “But you take what’s there. As it plays out and there’s more of an opportunity, I’m sure the tight end will get the ball.’’

There’s good news on the way. Tom Crabtree, who may be the best pass-catching tight end the Bucs have, has missed the first two games with an ankle injury. The Bucs have been getting by with Nate Byham and Luke Stocker. Byham has the two catches.

But Schiano said Crabtree is expected back soon. Adding Crabtree could give the Bucs a little more diversity in their passing game.

Upon Further Review: Bucs Week 2

September, 16, 2013
An examination of four hot issues from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 16-14 loss to the New Orleans Saints:

The soap opera continues. If you thought last week was bad with rumblings flying about coach Greg Schiano and quarterback Josh Freeman not being on the same page, wait until you see what’s next. Things are only going to get uglier after Freeman threw an interception, lost a fumble and again failed to complete even 50 percent of his passes. There is some sort of dysfunction going on between the coach and the quarterback, and that’s why the Bucs are 0-2. There has been a report that Freeman might demand a trade. The rumors aren't going to fade away. Instead, they'll keep growing.

[+] EnlargeJosh Freeman
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsAfter another subpar game, quarterback Josh Freeman is on the hot seat.
No trust? Schiano didn’t even have enough trust in Freeman to throw a pass on third-and-6 late in the game. Instead, the Bucs called a running play and Rian Lindell then missed a field goal. In short, Schiano showed more trust in a kicker who was signed off the street than he did in his quarterback. If the Bucs go into their bye week at 0-4, which looks like a real possibility at this point, I think there's a very good chance Schiano will pull the plug on Freeman and hand things over to rookie Mike Glennon. And, based on what I saw from Glennon in the preseason, I don't think he's going to provide any sort of instant solution.

The vanishing tight ends. The Bucs targeted their tight ends just once the entire game. That resulted in a 34-yard completion to Nate Byham. But the Bucs need more than that out of their tight ends to take the pressure off receivers Mike Williams and Vincent Jackson. Tampa Bay has been playing without the injured Tom Crabtree. But the lack of production from this position so far makes you wonder if the Bucs should have added another pass-catching tight end in the offseason.

The defense isn’t bad. For the second straight week, the defense played well enough to win. Linebackers Lavonte David, Dekoda Watson and Mason Foster, defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, defensive end Adrian Clayborn and the secondary are all playing well. If you can hold Drew Brees & Co. to one touchdown, you should be able to win. The Bucs came up with four sacks and two interceptions, but it all was for naught because the offense didn’t do its part.

Tom Crabtree out for Buccaneers

September, 6, 2013
TAMPA, Fla. -- Tight end Tom Crabtree will miss the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ season opener against the New York Jets, coach Greg Schiano said Friday.

Crabtree has been out with an ankle injury. He had been projected to share playing time with Luke Stocker. Crabtree’s absence probably means more playing time for Stocker, and Nate Byham likely will be the second tight end.

In other injury news, Schiano still wouldn’t rule out the possibility of guard Carl Nicks, who is recovering from a staph infection, playing against the Jets. But it appears to be a long shot that Nicks will play in the opener. Nicks hasn’t practiced all week.

If Nicks is out, Schiano said the Bucs have plenty of options at left guard. But the coach said reserve tackle Gabe Carimi has gotten most of the first-team work this week.

Buccaneers to audition kickers

August, 20, 2013
TAMPA, Fla. -- Buccaneers coach Greg Schiano touched on a variety of subjects after Tuesday’s practice. Let’s take a run through the highlights:

Kicking it. Schiano said the Bucs will bring in several veteran kickers for auditions. Lawrence Tynes has been slow to recover from a toe injury. That’s left Derek Dimke as the only kicker in camp. If Tynes can’t get healthy, the Bucs could end up going with a kicker who is not presently on the roster.

Track or football? The Bucs made a trade for return man Jeff Demps, knowing that his short-term future was in track and field. It sounds like Schiano is getting a little impatient that Demps has yet to join the team.

“Supposedly he’s coming,’’ Schiano said. “I don’t know. I don’t worry about guys that aren’t here. Guys that aren’t here, they can’t help us win right now. He’s not helping us get better right now. He’s running track somewhere. When he gets here, if he can help us win, he’ll be a part of it. If he gets here and he can’t help us win, he can go back and run track. We’re here to win games and that’s what we’re going to do.’’

Cluster at tight end. Schiano said the competition at tight end has been a little clouded because Luke Stocker has been bothered by an injury.

“It’s hard to tell because Stocker hasn’t practiced very much,’’ Schiano said. “It seems like every time he gets going, something happens. It’s not his fault. It’s bad luck or whatever you want to call it. That has hurt the position. [Tom] Crabtree has worked his tail off. Nate Byham has worked his tail off. It’s just going to have to sort itself out. One of the key guys that we were counting on hasn’t done much.’’

Room for two. Schiano said the competition for strongside linebacker is very close between Dekoda Watson and Jonathan Casillas.

“They’ve taken turns going with the [first team],’’ Schiano said. “They’re driving each other. If we play two of them, that’s fine with me, too. They’re both key special-teams contributors. Jonathan does a little more in our sub package. I think there are going to be plenty of plays to go around for those guys, but they’re two key guys in our entire picture.’’
Pete Carroll, Jim Harbaugh Ric Tapia/Icon SMIPete Carroll's Seahawks and Jim Harbaugh's 49ers have continued their rivalry into the offseason.
The San Francisco 49ers' and Seattle Seahawks' 2012 battle for NFC West supremacy has turned into a perceived battle this offseason.

"It just feels like the Seahawks make a move, then the Niners make a move," former NFL quarterback Damon Huard said Wednesday during our conversation on 710ESPN Seattle. "The Seahawks sign Percy Harvin, then the Niners go get Anquan Boldin. The Niners just signed Nnamdi Asomugha, they signed Colt McCoy, and now it's the Seahawks' turn to sign a quarterback. It really feels like this competition that was so fun to watch last fall has carried over into the offseason between the Niners and the Seahawks."

That's what it feels like from this angle, too. So, when ESPN's Bill Polian listed 49ers general manager Trent Baalke among his top six executives Insider without a mention for Seattle counterpart John Schneider, I knew some Seahawks fans would take offense.

"Schneider should be on there," SamW9801 wrote in commenting on the Polian piece.

I'm going to ratchet up the discussion with an assist from Tony Villiotti of Tony identified ranges of picks by how frequently teams have found five-year starters within those ranges.

Using those general ranges, displayed at right, I've put together a chart at the bottom of this item comparing the 49ers' and Seahawks' draft choices since 2010.

Baalke took over the 49ers' draft room roughly a month before the 2010 draft. Schneider became the Seahawks' GM that offseason. The 49ers then underwent a coaching change after the 2010 season, at which point Baalke assumed the GM title officially. We might cut Baalke some slack for selecting Taylor Mays, a player then-coach Mike Singletary valued. There were surely other times when both GMs followed their coaches' input, for better or worse.

Seattle has drafted 28 players over this period, three more than San Francisco has drafted. The Seahawks had more to work with from a qualitative point as well. Their median choice was No. 130 overall, compared to No. 165 for the 49ers.

It's pretty clear both teams know what they are doing in the draft.

Aldon Smith, Anthony Davis, Mike Iupati and NaVorro Bowman have earned Pro Bowl and/or All-Pro honors for the 49ers. Russell Okung, Earl Thomas, Russell Wilson, Kam Chancellor and Richard Sherman have done so for the Seahawks.

Both teams have found franchise quarterbacks after the first round. Colin Kaepernick was chosen 36th overall in 2011. Wilson went to Seattle at No. 75 last year.

Neither team has missed in that first category, which includes players taken among the top 13 overall picks. Smith and Okung are elite players at premium positions.

Both teams have unanswered questions in that 14-40 range. The 49ers are waiting on A.J. Jenkins to produce. The Seahawks haven't gotten much from James Carpenter. But in Iupati and Thomas, the 49ers and Seahawks found players among the very best at their positions. Kaepernick's selection puts this group over the top for San Francisco. Seattle got eight sacks from Bruce Irvin as a rookie in 2012, so the Seahawks aren't far behind. It's just impossible to overlook the value a franchise quarterback provides.

Seattle has the edge in the 41-66 range. Mays is long gone from the 49ers. That leaves LaMichael James for the 49ers against Bobby Wagner and Golden Tate for Seattle. Wagner was an instant starter at middle linebacker and a three-down player who commanded consideration for defensive rookie of the year. Tate blossomed with Wilson at quarterback.

The Seahawks also have an edge in that 67-86 range, having selected Wilson.

Seattle holds a 7-3 lead in number of picks used between the 87th and 149th choices, a range producing five-year starters 16 percent of the time, according to Villiotti.

Both teams used picks in that range for players whose injury situations dragged down their draft status: Joe Looney in San Francisco, Walter Thurmond in Seattle. Both teams found starting linebackers in this range: Bowman to the 49ers, K.J. Wright to the Seahawks. Both teams found developmental running backs in that range: Kendall Hunter to the 49ers, Robert Turbin to the Seahawks. Both teams found Pro Bowl players: Bowman in San Francisco, Chancellor in Seattle.

Sherman, arguably the NFL's best cornerback, gives Seattle an edge in the 150 through 189 range of picks. Both teams found backup tight ends there. Anthony Dixon (49ers) and Jeremy Lane (Seahawks) have the potential to expand their roles.

The 49ers found starting fullback Bruce Miller in the final pick range, which runs from 190 to the end of the draft. Seattle found a projected starting guard there in J.R. Sweezy. Malcolm Smith is a candidate to start at linebacker for Seattle. Miller and Sweezy both played defense in college. Miller has already successfully transitioned to offense. Seattle thinks Sweezy will do the same.

Summing it up: Both teams can feel good about their draft performance over the past three seasons. I doubt either team would trade its picks for the other team's picks. That makes sense. Teams draft the players they like best. The 49ers have six projected 2013 starters to show for their choices. The number is eight for the Seahawks, not counting Irvin or Tate. Seattle has had more choices and higher quality choices, and more openings in the lineup to accommodate those players. I think that shows in the results.

Almost all of the offseason talk about the Tampa Bay Buccaneers has focused on a defense that ranked No. 31 in the NFL last season. But there’s one huge need on the other side of the ball that hasn’t drawn a lot of talk.

The Bucs need a pass-catching tight end. All the other teams in the NFC South have one (Tony Gonzalez in Atlanta and Greg Olsen in Carolina) or two (Jimmy Graham and Benjamin Watson in New Orleans).

But the Bucs, who like to say one of their priorities is to surround quarterback Josh Freeman with talent, have a gaping hole at tight end.

They have not re-signed free agent Dallas Clark. They did add Tom Crabtree, but he never has caught more than eight passes in a season. Crabtree can compete with Luke Stocker, Nate Byham, Drake Dunsmore and Zach Miller for the role as the complementary tight end. But the Bucs need a pass catcher.

The problem is, there aren’t a lot of pass-catching tight ends left in free agency. Take a look at our Free-Agent Tracker. Clark is tied for the highest grade among the unsigned unrestricted free agents. And the guy he’s tied with is Kellen Winslow, who I highly doubt will be returning to Tampa Bay anytime soon.

The Bucs may have to bring back the aging Clark, who was decent last season, but not nearly as prolific as he was in his prime in Indianapolis. Unless some veteran gets released, there aren’t many other proven pass catchers on the market.

The draft features two premier tight ends in Tyler Eifert and Zach Ertz. But it’s hard to imagine the Bucs using the 13th overall pick on a tight end when they have such big needs on defense.

Maybe the Bucs will draft a tight end after the first round. Or maybe they’ll find one somewhere else in free agency.

But the Bucs have to find a pass-catching tight end for Freeman somewhere.
NaVorro Bowman has joined Daryl Washington and James Laurinaitis as NFC West inside linebackers with new contract extensions in 2012.

The San Francisco 49ers announced a five-year deal with Bowman after ESPN's Adam Schefter tweeted that an agreement would be imminent. Bowman, who earned All-Pro honors as a first-year starter in 2011, is now signed through 2018.

This is fantastic news for 49ers fans fearful the team might not find the resources to keep two stars at inside linebacker. Perennial Pro Bowl choice Patrick Willis already received a big-money deal. Getting Bowman's deal done now, while he had another year on his contract, surely allowed San Francisco to get better value. Bowman, meanwhile, gets long-term security earlier than most players can command a lucrative second contract.

The 49ers have done a good job identifying their best players and extending those players' contracts. Left tackle Joe Staley, tight end Vernon Davis and Willis are among the players San Francisco retained in advance of free agency. Those players were first-round draft choices. Bowman's case was a little different because he was a third-round pick and therefore had not received money even close to commensurate with his contributions.

With Bowman signed, free safety Dashon Goldson stands out as the one highly productive player with an uncertain future. Goldson earned Pro Bowl honors in 2011 while playing on a one-year deal. The team named him its franchise player for 2012. That move gave Goldson a raise to $6.2 million. The team could use the tag on Goldson again for a 20 percent raise.

Bowman's deal comes two-plus months after Washington (Arizona Cardinals) and Laurinaitis (St. Louis Rams) reached extensions. Laurinaitis was a second-round choice in 2009. Washington was a second-rounder in 2010.

Bowman is part of a 2010 49ers draft class featuring Anthony Davis, Mike Iupati, Anthony Dixon and Kyle Williams. Taylor Mays, Nate Byham and Phillip Adams were also part of that group.

Three things: 49ers-Texans

August, 18, 2012
Three things to watch for Saturday night in the San Francisco 49ers' second exhibition game, this one at Houston (8 p.m. ET):

1. Receiver mix. This game would seem to provide an opportunity for showcasing various combinations at wide receiver. The 49ers have suffered injuries at tight end. Delanie Walker is recovering from a knee injury. Nate Byham reached an injury settlement with the team after experiencing additional knee trouble. Having fewer front-line tight ends should leave more opportunities for wide receivers, at least in theory. And the 49ers do have renewed depth at wideout. I'll be watching to see if the connections Alex Smith made so frequently in practice this week -- to Mario Manningham, Randy Moss and, of course, tight end Vernon Davis -- carry over into the early stages of this game. It's also not yet clear which receiver will start opposite Michael Crabtree, and whether that other starter will be more than a rotational player.

2. Backup QB race. Colin Kaepernick has established himself as the likely No. 2 quarterback. That appears to be partly because veteran Josh Johnson hasn't done much to change the coaches' minds. Johnson and 2011 undrafted free agent Scott Tolzien could be fighting for the third job. The 49ers would seemingly want some experience behind Smith, but not simply for the sake of having experience. Johnson got only four pass attempts in the preseason opener. Tolzien got 13, completing 10 of them for 84 yards. He threw one interception. We should have a better feel for the backup situation coming out of this game.

3. Perrish's push. Perrish Cox, sidelined last season while facing sexual-assault charges (he was acquitted), is making a strong push for playing time as the nickel corner. He showed well on special teams and in the defense against Minnesota last week. Let's see how he and No. 1 nickel corner Chris Culliver perform. Update: With Seahawks-Broncos also on the mind, I initially projected Cox facing his former team. That happens next week, when the 49ers face Denver. My bad.
The injury Ryan Williams suffered during his second NFL exhibition game was relatively unusual for football players.

"My kneecap was in my thigh," the Arizona Cardinals' running back said during a team-produced video on his rehabilitation. "It was just kind of like, 'What?' "

A torn patella tendon ended Williams' rookie season before it officially began.

The running back expects to return for training camp and the 2012 regular season. Cadillac Williams and Earnest Graham returned from similar injuries, but each situation is different. The Cardinals cannot know how the knee will respond. No one can.

Cadillac Williams returned, only to injure his other knee. Suffering a second injury so quickly complicated comparisons to other running backs returning from a single torn patella.

Ryan Williams is not yet even 22 years old, however.

"He has youth on his side, for sure," ESPN injury expert Stephania Bell said Thursday. "What you worry about is, it takes a lot to get any kind of explosiveness or power back. You're not talking about strength, but quickness."

Williams, a second-round choice from Virginia Tech, impressed the Cardinals with his ability to change directions without losing much speed.

"It is reasonable he could be back when the season starts," Bell said, "but will he really be back? That is going to remain to be seen and like these guys coming off ACL surgeries, it may take a while to see what his max is that he can return to."

The Cardinals need Williams in part because their primary back, Beanie Wells, has struggled with injuries, fighting through knee trouble last season after undergoing surgery.

Four additional injury situations to monitor, one per NFC West team, as the offseason continues:
  • Arizona: Kevin Kolb, quarterback. Concussion problems have sidelined Kolb each of the past two seasons. Symptoms lingered last season. Quarterbacks are going to take hits unexpectedly, sometimes to the head. Can Kolb stay on the field?
  • Seattle: Sidney Rice, receiver. Rice has undergone surgery on each shoulder. One surgery repaired damage suffered during training camp. The other repaired damage incurred during college. The hope is healthier shoulders will allow Rice to improve strength throughout his upper body.
  • San Francisco: Josh Morgan, receiver. The 49ers were relatively healthy last season, but losing Morgan to a broken ankle cost them as the season progressed, particularly late. Morgan is without a contract for 2012. He has been working out at the 49ers' team facility. Getting him back would help the offense.
  • St. Louis: Rodger Saffold, pectoral. The Rams had injuries throughout their roster, especially at cornerback. Saffold's ability to play four positions on the line, including left tackle, makes him more valuable than members of the secondary. Saffold has said he hopes to be ready by April or May, according to Howard Balzer. He suffered a torn pectoral while lifting weights in mid-November.
Coaching changes and overall franchise instability tend to have long-term ramifications.

While Aaron Curry's new contract with the Seattle Seahawks comes after an organizational overhaul in the Northwest, Taylor Mays' trade from the San Francisco 49ers to the Cincinnati Bengals reflects changes in Santa Clara.

Mays no longer fit with the 49ers after the team fired coach Mike Singletary and replaced most of his staff. The 49ers made it clear Mays had little value to them when they notified teams throughout the league of the 2010 second-round pick's availability.

Teams had to know Mays would be a candidate for release, but the Bengals aren't exactly the most attractive suitor from a free agent's perspective. That might explain in part why Cincinnati swung a trade instead of taking their chances.

The trade will return an undisclosed draft choice, ESPN's Adam Schefter reports.

Mays joins 49ers castoffs Nate Clements and Manny Lawson on the Bengals.

The 49ers are fortunate most of their 2010 draft class still fits following the change from Singletary to Jim Harbaugh. First-rounders Anthony Davis and Mike Iupati are starters. The team thinks third-round linebacker Navorro Bowman has a bright future. Sixth-rounder Nate Byham was emerging as a top blocking tight end before suffering a season-ending injury.
Matt from Toronto asks whether the NFC West has the best group of tight ends in the NFL.

Mike Sando: I'll need to take a closer look as time permits. It's tough envisioning one division having a more capable group, however.

The San Francisco 49ers' Vernon Davis is looking like a perennial Pro Bowl type. Delanie Walker plays extensively for the 49ers and could see his production spike under new coach Jim Harbaugh. Third tight end Nate Byham was emerging as one of the better blocking tight ends in the NFL before suffering a season-ending knee injury recently.

Seattle added a Pro Bowl tight end when signing Zach Miller from Oakland. The Seahawks already had John Carlson, who caught two touchdown passes against New Orleans in the playoffs last season. Carlson's production had been in retreat before then. Miller's addition calls into question Carlson's future with the team. For now, though, he's another starting-caliber tight end. Backup Cameron Morrah emerged as a receiving threat for Seattle on occasion last season.

The Arizona Cardinals used a 2011 third-round pick for tight end Rob Housler before using free agency to sign Todd Heap and Jeff King. They still have Stephen Spach. Housler appears as though he'll need some time to develop, but the Cardinals like his talent. Heap is 31 years old, so the Cardinals are catching him on the back side of his career. But he still caught 10 passes in a playoff game last season.

The St. Louis Rams used a 2011 second-round pick for tight end Lance Kendricks. They still have Mike Hoomanawanui, who showed promise as a rookie last season. Injuries were a concern for him. They still have Billy Bajema as well. The Rams plan to play Kendricks extensively, and early reports from training camp appear positive.

Sounds like something for me to speak to Davis about following 49ers practice, which is under way.