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bucs1

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: June 15, 2007, 01:58:45 PM

From Buccaneers.com: http://www.buccaneers.com/news/newsdetail.aspx?newsid=5828

The Same, But More

The receiving corps is one of the few units not to undergo significant changes since the end of ‘06, but Buccaneer wideouts are still expecting their production to improve in ‘07


WR Ike Hilliard earns his quarterbacks' trust by paying attention to details and staying on top of the game in practice

Jun 14, 2007 -

There is a new-to-town quarterback at the top of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ (unofficial) depth chart. There are brand new Bucs running all over the field when the linebackers do their individual drills. The offensive and defensive lines are undergoing a full-blown youth movement. The safeties needed introductions all around this spring.

Meanwhile, in the wide receivers meeting room, very little has changed. There were no sad sendoffs or ballyhooed arrivals between last December and the start of work this spring. For the wideouts, what you saw (last year) is what you get (in 2007), at least in terms of personnel. That doesn’t mean the numbers they produce, as a group, will be the same, however.

“At the end of the day we have the same group,” said veteran Ike Hilliard. “We’ve just got to stay healthy and we’ve got to play at a higher level. We have to get the rest of our teammates a real reason to have hope offensively that we can go out and get the job done and help Joey [Galloway] out a little bit. He’s been the guy that pretty much carried our group.”

Obviously, some changes were needed on the Bucs’ roster after a 4-12 season in 2006. And many, many changes were made. Jeff Garcia, if he stays ahead in the competition, will start at quarterback. The defense may have a thoroughly new look after its first season out of the NFL’s top 10 in a decade. The offensive line is loaded with young players who could finally give the team a dominant unit up front.

Change can be good…the Bucs certainly hope so in the areas listed above. But change just for the sake of change isn’t necessarily an improvement. The Bucs will certainly move to improve their receiving corps if a viable opportunity arises, but assuming it does not, the team clearly feels comfortable with the group it has on hand.

That, at least, is Hilliard’s analysis of the situation.
 
“It’s good; we like our guys,” he said. “We’ve got a good group. It’s a vote of confidence for us. We can’t control what they do on draft day, obviously, what their reasons were to not go and get [Calvin] Johnson or what-have-you. I don’t think there’s any doubt on our minds as a team or in the entire organization that we’re going to be a better team. We just have to go out and prove that.”

Had the Buccaneers owned the second pick in the draft – where Johnson went to the Detroit Lions – along with their fourth pick – where they took much-needed defensive end Gaines Adams – they might very well have drafted the Georgia Tech receiver, too. Receiver might not have been the Lions number-one need, either, but it’s hard to pass on a player of his expected impact. However, Tampa Bay did not make a pitch to trade up with the Lions, contrary to pre-draft rumors, and thus didn’t give up any of the three picks they owned in the second and third rounds. Those picks, however, went to such need areas as guard, safety and linebacker.

Still, as Hilliard indicates, it’s not as if the cupboard is bare at receiver. Galloway has maintained his world-class speed even into his 30s and has played at a Pro Bowl level during his three seasons in Tampa. Michael Clayton has struggled with injuries the last two years but was a huge threat as a rookie first-rounder in 2004. Hilliard, the steady vet brought in after a very productive career in New York, has been everything the Bucs could have hoped for in a third receiver. Last year’s rookie, Maurice Stovall, came on strong when he got his shot at the end of 2006. Paris Warren is in his third year in the system. David Boston, the former Pro Bowler, is back to take another crack at the roster, and at resurrecting his career.

“We’ve all got to play better,” said Hilliard. “That’s why we’re here in OTAs, getting that done right now. It can’t get much worse than what happened last year. You can look at it that way to begin with. Then you break down each game and every play. You take the criticism, you have a thick skin, you allow the coaches to coach and you work on what you didn’t do well.”

Clayton can certainly improve on his ’06 numbers. Boston, who was close to making it back last season, could be a significant X-factor. Stovall and Warren could further emerge. And even Hilliard, who has little to prove in the NFL, could become more involved in the offense. That’s his goal as he navigates one of his clearest offseasons in awhile.

“I’m in a good place mentally,” said Hilliard. “This is the first time in a long time I don’t have a lot of things on my plate. This is really an opportunity for me this offseason to work on my craft again. It feels great. I just need to go out and put some pressure on our guys and put the pressure on my coaching staff to put me in the game if I’m out there producing in practice.”

In his two seasons as a Buccaneer, after eight with the Giants, Hilliard has caught 35 and 34 passes. He emerged immediately as a prime third-down target in 2005 and was clutch in that role again last year. Given the overall struggles of the Bucs’ passing game – ranked 25th in 2005 and 26th in 2006 – those are respectable numbers for a third receiver. Hilliard is only 31 and hasn’t taken too much thread off his tires the last two years, so it’s not unreasonable for him to shoot for an even larger role in 2007.

Besides, the thing the asset that has been most essential in his accumulation of 437 career catches for 5,251 yards and 30 touchdowns only gets better with age.

“I think at the end of the day what keeps me around is my ability to process information,” said Hilliard, who always speaks in very measured and rational tones. “I think a lot of the young guys have problems or don’t pay attention to detail. That’s why they don’t play as much, because they can’t think as much. I’m not the most physically talented and gifted guy, but I think the quarterbacks trust me and I’m going to do my best to continue to have that relationship. At the end of the day, you’re going to know where I am and I’m going to hopefully get it done, complete plays when my number is called, no matter what the situation is.”

In Tampa, that situation is status quo…with room for improvement.

Rusty

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#1 : June 15, 2007, 02:17:01 PM

What a pro.

                \'Every day above ground is a good day\'

GameTime

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#2 : June 15, 2007, 02:36:57 PM

i think our receivers will impress this year.

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Snook

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#3 : June 15, 2007, 03:31:07 PM

Ike's one of my favorite Bucs.  He's Mr. 3rd down.  I hope he can retire here.  He's nothing but class. 

Afterall, he's my favorite Gator.  Ever.


Tampa Bay Todd

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#4 : June 15, 2007, 03:34:45 PM

He's not the only one that expects a lot more from the receivers this year. Basically anything at all from Michael Clayton would be an improvement. I expect them all to hold onto the ball a lot more this year. Of course, I expected that last year, but that's what you get when you have high expectations I guess.


bradentonian

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#5 : June 15, 2007, 03:41:49 PM

I really was hoping Warren would step up this year and take over for Ike as Mr. 3rd Down.  Looks like that's not going to happen, though.


keeponbucn

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#6 : June 15, 2007, 04:57:55 PM

i think our receivers will impress this year.

Really? Damn, impress is a stretch. Let's just hope they show up first.
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