Spring practices amounted to one big lost opportunity for Jason Croom.
The Buffalo Bills’ only incumbent tight end, Croom was sidelined for the bulk of the spring because of a hamstring injury. Although not a serious problem or one that is expected to keep him out when training camp begins next month at St. John Fisher College in Pittsford, it nevertheless cost Croom the chance to show the team he’s ready for an expanded role in 2019.
With projected starter Tyler Kroft sidelined because of a broken foot, a job is there for the taking.
“That’s the unfortunate part, right? The time that Jason has missed, the time that Tyler has missed and the continuity with (quarterback) Josh (Allen),” coach Sean McDermott said. “With that said it offers an opportunity for someone else to step in and get some valuable reps.”
In the spring, those beneficiaries were rookies Dawson Knox and Tommy Sweeney. If Croom is to once again earn a spot on the 53-man roster, he’ll likely have to beat out Sweeney – a seventh-round draft pick – to do so. As a third-round draft pick, Knox will have a spot. So, too, will veteran Lee Smith in a blocking role.
Depending on Kroft’s availability at the start of the season, there may be only one job up for grabs – and that’s if the Bills keep four tight ends.
A 6-foot-5, 246-pounder, the 25-year-old Croom was originally signed by the Bills as an undrafted free agent in 2017. He spent most of his rookie year on the team’s practice squad before an impressive training camp last summer earned him a job behind Charles Clay.
Croom actually outproduced Clay in 2018, a big reason the latter was released this offseason, but that didn’t stop the Bills from adding to the position through both free agency and the draft.
“They’re going to do what they’re going to do,” Croom said about the Bills’ decision makers back in March, before the team added so many tight ends. “All I can do is when that ball comes my way or a play comes my way, my results better be to make a play. That’s all I can do. I really don’t ever concern myself with anybody else.
“Really, it’s another opportunity for me to step up. That’s what’s been pushing me even harder this offseason.”
Putting in the work has never been the issue with Croom. A converted wide receiver at the University of Tennessee, he consistently is one of the last players on the practice field – that is, when he’s available to participate.
“Athletic guy who can catch, has some run-after-catch ability, and is still learning all the things (that come with the position),” offensive coordinator Brian Daboll said of Croom toward the end of last season. “Tight end is a tough position to play. Usually when you're playing out on the perimeter, you see the game through a little lens, and then when you get in there, that's a lot of different things that go on. I think Jason's improved since he's been here. We're going to have to have a good offseason.”
Being hurt during the spring wasn’t a good start in that regard, meaning Croom has plenty of catching up to do when training camp starts.
“I want to be somebody that this team can count on,” Croom said. “Each and every day, you've got to prove that.”