TAMPA — Looking back toward the line of scrimmage while running horizontally along the 35-yard line, Tim Wright grabbed a throw from quarterback Josh McCown during a recent training camp workout and immediately planted his right foot in the ground.
Just as Wright was beginning to make his turn upfield, linebacker Danny Lansanah came up from behind and threw a blindside hit that knocked Wright off his feet and momentarily left him lying in a heap along the right sideline, where a crowd of fans oohed and aahed.
As hard as Lansanah’s hit was, though, it was nothing compared to the blindside blow the Bucs threw at Wright during the offseason.
A wide receiver while at Rutgers, the 6-foot-4, 220-pound Wright stepped into the NFL as a rookie last year and made a difficult — yet successful — transition to tight end, catching 54 passes for 571 yards and five touchdowns.
Those receptions and yards not only were the most for a rookie tight end in the league in 2013, they also were the second most for a rookie tight end in the league in the past decade.
Impressive as it was, though, the Bucs’ new brass must not have been sold — the response by coach Lovie Smith and general manager Jason Licht was one that few, including Wright, ever saw coming.
First they went out in free agency and signed six-year veteran tight end Brandon Myers to a two-year, $4.25 million contract. Then they spent their second-round pick on Washington tight end Austin-Seferian Jenkins.
That was hardly the kind of endorsement Wright was looking for. But at a time when a lot of players might have found satisfaction in Wright’s accomplishments, it might have been the one he needed.
“What it did was drive me even more,’’ Wright said. “I mean, at the end of the day, it’s the NFL and there are things you just can’t control, and that’s how I looked at it, because in a way it sort of reminded me of last year.’’
A year ago at this time, Wright was a physically willing but undersized pass catcher whose head was spinning from the demands that came with having to learn a new offense and a new position. He also was sixth on the depth chart.
One by one, though, the tight ends ahead of him began to go down.
First, it was Tom Crabtree, a former Packer signed as a free agent and ticketed for the starting job. He suffered a severe leg injury in the last preseason game against Washington.
A month later, Luke Stocker went down and had to be placed on injured reserve.
Finally, Nate Byham went on injured reserve on Oct. 1, a move that left the Bucs will little choice but to play Wright.
He didn’t let them down.
After dropping a pass in the end zone in New England in Week 3, Wright found his bearings a week later against Arizona, catching five Mike Glennon passes for 41 yards.
He caught 18 more passes during the next four games, including two for touchdowns, and he got better as the season progressed, finishing with 16 catches for 167 yards and two touchdowns in the final three games.
In a season as dark as any the Bucs have had, Wright proved to be one of the legitimate bright spots, a real find for a team short on offensive weapons, particularly at tight end.
That is why the Bucs bolstered the position and why, given its current makeup, you can see why Wright might have a hard time matching his production from a year ago.
Wright doesn’t see it that way.
“Yeah, they brought a guy in through free agency and then went out and drafted another guy, but when you look at it, we’re three different kinds of players playing the same position,’’ he said.
“Brandon (6-3, 256) and Austin (6-5, 262) are bigger than me and they can hunker down and make the blocks, whereas I’m a quicker guy. Being a former receiver, I’ve got the feet and I can run the routes. Those are my strengths.’’
The Bucs plan to play to those strengths. Wright said he was told as much by Smith even before Myers and Seferian-Jenkins were added to the roster, and Smith doesn’t appear to have changed his plans.
“Tim gives us a lot of flexibility,’’ Smith said. “The trend in the league now seems to be to line your tight end up out wide (like a wide receiver), and with Tim in there, we can do that.
“So you’ll see him split out (wide) from time to time, and we can also line him up just like you would a true tight end. We can even line him up in the backfield. There’s a lot we can do with him.’’
The Bucs toyed with all of those options during the first week of camp, which is why Wright is confident the Bucs will do a lot with him. He’s equally confident he’ll improve on his production from a year ago, if only because he has a better feel for what he’s doing.
“I mean, not having to stress and spend all those crazy hours just trying to learn the position, and that’s huge for me,” he said. “That’s time that I can now (devote) to learning defenses, and that’s going to make me that much better, because (offensive coordinator) Jeff Tedford has a lot in mind for (the tight ends). There’s going to be a lot of good things going on there.’’
Wright’s eyes widen, and there is a noticeable gleam as he begins to talk about Tedford’s game plan. He refuses to provide details, but with a wink and a wry smile he offers up a hint.
“Let’s just say that everyone is going to be utilized, and it’s going to be good, going to be fun,’’ Wright said. “It’s going to be something special, and it’s going to keep defenses on their toes and give fans something to cheer about.’’
For Wright, that’s nothing new.