Robert Royal - 25 rec. 248 yards, 9.9. avg., 3 TD
Michael Gaines - 25 rec. 215 yards, 8.6 avg., 2 TD
Derek Schouman - 3 rec., 19 yards, 6.3 avg., 0 TD
In the 2007-2008 season the most nationally recognized Bills tight end had one reception for three yards. Kevin Everett garnered the national spotlight after an astounding recovery from a near fatal on-field injury to his cervical spine. While Everett was persevering off the field in his battle to walk again, teammates Robert Royal and Michael Gaines fought a battle on the field to validate the tight end position for Buffalo.
Despite the Bills finishing the season with the 30th ranked passing attack, Royal and Gaines offered considerable contributions as a dual-threat of receiving tight ends during the Bills rollercoaster 7-9 season. With constant unrest at the quarterback position, Royal and Gaines combined for 50 receptions and 463 yards and five touchdowns for the Bills. Those numbers although unimpressive individually, indicate a strong combined body of work from the tight end position, and suggests that the position may be used more next season.
The Bills lacked a superstar tight end such as an Antonio Gates or Jason Witten in the 2007 season and chose rather to distribute receptions fairly evenly between Royal and Gaines. To put their production in context their stats combined would rank them 14th in tight end receiving yards just behind San Francisco tight end Vernon Davis' 509 yards from scrimmage.
More importantly than receiving yards, Royal and Gaines combined for five of the Bills 12 receiving touchdowns on the season. The Bills showcased the importance of tight ends in their red zone offense week 14 against the Dolphins. Following a muffed punt by Dolphins rookie Ted Ginn Jr., Trent Edwards tallied his first of four passing touchdowns on a 13-yard play-action pass to Royal along the right sideline. Royal would reach the endzone a second time against the Dolphins for his third and final touchdown of the season.
For a team that struggled to find its identity in the passing game Royal and Gaines not only were important targets for J.P. Losman and Trent Edwards but also helped to pave the way for Marshawn Lynch and the Bills running game. At 6-3, 277 lb. the hefty Gaines played a pivotal role as a blocker for the rookie running back Lynch, en route to a 1,115-yard season. Gaines had by far the most productive year of his career for the Bills last season, prompting the Detroit Lions to sign him in free agency as a tight end and blocking back to help bolster its often-criticized running game.
Royal on the other hand was second on the team in receiving touchdowns and provided a consistency at the tight end position for the Bills. In his two seasons in Buffalo, Royal has started 30 out of 32 games and carried with him a yards per reception average of 9.9 yards. The Bills also signed Tim Massaquoi, a third-year player out of Michigan who was dropped by the Miami Dolphins after Week 9. Massaquoi received playing time in the Bills final four games but did not recording a reception in any of them.
With Trent Edwards all but locking up the quarterback position for the Bills, Royal will be relied heavily upon as a short route runner and important option in an air attack. The loss of Gaines to the Lions in free agency does not help the Bills uncertainty at the tight end position and subtracts a good blocking end from an offense that relies heavily on being able to effectively run the football.
To fill the void left by Gaines the Bills recently acquired free agent Courtney Anderson to a two-year deal. Anderson (6-6, 270 lb.) played in four games for the Lions and Falcons and did not record a reception last season. The Bills are hoping that a new environment is just the thing that Anderson needs to regain the production he had in Oakland where he had 62 catches and 763 yards in his first three NFL seasons. He may be the pass-catching threat the TE group needs.
The Bills also added journeyman tight end Teyo Johnson in the offseason. Johnson sat out the 2006 season and spent the spring of 2007 playing for Hamburg in NFL Europa before being signed to the Broncos and being put on injured reserve for the season after failing a physical. Derek Schouman and Massaquoi will also be fighting for a place on the depth chart in training camp. If all goes according to plan, bet on the tight end production from the Bills to be very similar to that of last season but not surpassing it by much, unless Anderson's potential finally translates to production.
Also, don't discount the Bills adding a tight end early in April's draft. There are at least three tight ends worthy of a second-round pick.
Contact Jeff Westfall at email@example.com