Buccaneers head coach Raheem Morris has instilled the “next man up” motto on his young Tampa Bay team since the day the Glazer family handed him the keys to One Buccaneer Place. Sunday afternoon Preston Parker heeded his boss’s advice and became the next “youngry” Buc to make his mark, totaling 195 all-purpose yards between receiving, kickoff and punt returns.
With the Buccaneers down 17-0 at the half and potentially facing a 0-2 start, quarterback Josh Freeman rallied his teammates with the help of LeGarrette Blount, a rejuvenated defense and the little used second-year receiver from North Alabama.
Morris talked about Parker and his contributions to the Buccaneers victory.
“I think that was a situation of next man up,” Morris said. “Preston came in there and converted three third-downs for us. [He] made a huge play on the 51-yarder. Running away from people [and] being excited. He was great on the sideline. He didn’t look like a guy that was out there for the first time -- great in the return game. [He] racked probably about 200 yards of offense for us. He was explosive. He was dynamic and he was able to win on one-on-one coverage and Josh (Freeman) was able to find him. That was a result of Preston Parker finding a way to win.”
Parker commented Monday on his 51-yard catch and run in the third quarter that led to a Tampa Bay field goal and narrowed the Vikings' lead to 17-10.
“It felt like a dream, really,” Parker said. “I probably could have ran a little faster but I was like running and dreaming at the same time.”
The second-year receiver commented on the command Freeman showed in the huddle while leading Tampa Bay to the 24-20 come-from-behind victory.
“It's a whole 'nother Josh (Freeman),” Parker said. “I remember one time when we were in the huddle he kind of pushed me. He just takes control and everybody listens to him kind of like a god in the huddle. [He] calls the play and we go out there and just work for him.”
As an undrafted free agent from a small school, Parker’s road to the NFL hasn’t been easy. After being kicked off the Florida State Football team in 2009 it would have been easy to give up on his dream of playing professionally one day. Parker ended up at North Alabama for his senior season, where he caught 52 passes for 789 yards and six touchdowns but still faced an uphill climb to reach his goals.
“My whole life I have put in a lot of work,” Parker said. “ A lot of stuff happened that people don’t know about. Seeing it for myself and seeing how things are still unfolding is a great feeling.”
Coming into this season, Parker, who leads the team with 142 receiving yards on 10 receptions, had no guarantees of playing time or even making the roster for that matter. But that didn’t discourage him.
“Everybody worries [about making the roster],” Parker said. “But I didn’t let it affect my ability to go out there and work hard, practice hard and play hard.”
While he hasn’t developed the chemistry with Freeman that receivers like Mike Williams or Kellen Winslow have, Parker is happy right now just be a dependable option for the Buccaneers' star quarterback.
“We're getting used to each other but more him getting used to me, though,” Parker said. “He's already used to Rejus [Benn] and Mike [Williams], so [it's] just having another person out there that can help him in getting more comfortable to go to four or five receivers. I’m just letting him know I am there also.”
With Sammie Stroughter out for a least a few more weeks and Mike Williams drawing double coverage at times, Parker should have the chance to showcase his abilities in upcoming game situations.