Football fans, training camp is right around the corner and optimism abounds throughout Tampa Bay. But before the Bucs can make a serious playoff run, several positions will need to be solidified. PewterReport.com will take a look at some of these key positions over the next 10 days. First up – wide receivers.
With training camp just 10 days away, PewterReport.com is a taking a look at the Bucs roster where key and important battles will be taking place, beginning July 25 behind One Buccaneer Place. Sunday we preview the wide receiver position.
The Buccaneers, despite periods of inconsistency at times in 2012, produced their most potent offense in franchise history with 5,820 yards of total offense and 389 total points scored. A big part of their success was based on the play of their wide receivers. 2012 free agent acquisition Vincent Jackson was even better than advertised, bringing professionalism and displaying leadership qualities that were sorely lacking over the last several years. Jackson’s presence was a huge boost for Mike Williams who put up a terrific season, benefiting at times from the attention garnered to Jackson from opposing defenses.
But the No. 3 position was a bit of an enigma for Tampa Bay, first with Preston Parker, then Arrelious Benn, before Tiquan Underwood eventually earned the job. The Bucs are set with Jackson and Williams, but who will earn the No. 3 spot? Who will be the backups in case Jackson or Williams go down with an injury? That is is why the receiver battle will be one of most watched in training camp this season.ROSTER LOCKSVincent Jackson, Mike Williams
Both of Tampa Bay’s starting receivers are etched in stone heading into training camp barring injury. Jackson, Tampa Bay’s No. 1 receiver, had a tremendous 2012 season and there are no signs of him slowing down anytime soon. The veteran recorded 72 catches for 1,384 yards and 8 touchdowns in 2012. Entering the second year of his 5-year, $55 million contract and there is no reason to think Jackson isn’t poised for another big season.
As noted above, from Day One of OTAs in 2012, Jackson clearly took on the leadership role on offense and PewterReport.com noted last spring that it was Jackson who was always first in line during drills. Jackson’s success has helped ease the sting of the ghosts of the Alvin Harper and Bert Emanuel free agent blunders that still roamed the halls of One Buc prior to 2012.
Williams, a 2010 fourth-round draft selection, has been a very good player for the Buccaneers over the past three seasons. He has yet to post 1,000 yards in a season, but he has come close on two occasions. Last year Williams racked up 63 catches for 996 yards and nine scores. Williams is an ideal situation as the team’s No. 2 receiver behind an extremely talent Vincent Jackson. The Syracuse product will be a free-agent following the 2013 season if a deal is not completed before training camp, leaving some to believe that Williams will put up career numbers in hopes of scoring a big-time contract.
Williams has been a standout since his first practice in 2010, but still needs to develop more consistency in the short and intermediate passing routes. When a jump ball is thrown, Williams has shown the ability to out jump or tip a ball over a defender and demonstrate amazing concentration in bringing the ball in more times than not. But shorter routes, particular the quick slant, still is something the Buffalo native occasionally struggles with, particularly when he allows the ball to get to his body and opposed to catching it with his hands.ROSTER HOPEFULSKevin Ogletree, Tiquan Underwood
A new face walking around the halls of One Buc Place is former Dallas Cowboys receiver Kevin Ogletree. Tampa Bay hired John Garrett to be the team’s wide receiver coach earlier this offseason following the departure of P.J. Fleck. Garrett was the Cowboys’ wide receiver coach in 2012, where he coached Ogletree and the rest of the Dallas pass-catchers. The two have reunited in Tampa. Ogletree is in a great position to make a push up the Buccaneers’ depth chart.
Ogletree started the season as Dallas’ No. 3 receiver and had a few nice games. He eventually lost his gig when the team decided to give young receiver Dwayne Harris more chances at the slot receiver position in between Miles Austin and Dez Bryant. Ogletree is just 25 years old and put up some solid numbers for Dallas in a few games during the 2012 season. The former Virginia receiver caught eight balls for 114 yards in the season opener against the Giants, but his targets diminished quickly as the season went on. Sources tell PewterReport.com that the Buccaneers are very high on Ogletree and think he has the ability to solidify the slot receiver position.
The incumbent slot receiver for the Buccaneers is former Rutgers receiver Tiquan Underwood, who is best known for his speed and his outstanding hair. Underwood snagged 28 passes for 425 and two touchdowns last season and was third on the Buccaneers’ wide receiver depth chart by the end of the season. Underwood is a nice depth player, but he has a low ceiling and will likely never be anything more than a number three receiver. The Buccaneers knew that they needed to bring in some competition to challenge him, and that’s why they went and signed Ogletree. Underwood is a locker room favorite of teammates and the media alike, but had some key drops late in the season. Underwood needs to improve his concentration and go back to the Pee Wee football rule – catch the ball before you run with it.ROSTER BUBBLESDavid Douglas, Chris Owusu, Eric Page
, Derek Hagan, Terriun Crump, Carlton Mitchell, Jerry Johnson
Earlier this offseason, the Buccaneers signed speedy wide receiver Eric Page. Coming out of school, Page was touted for his speed and excellent production. He was signed by the Denver Broncos as an undrafted free agent following the 2012 draft, but Page was later waived after tearing his ACL before training camp. The 5-foot-9, 180-pound receiver was outstanding for the Toledo Rockets, as he ended his collegiate career as Toledo’s all-time leading receiver. The speed demon caught 306 passes for 3,443 yards and 25 touchdowns in just three seasons. Page was one of the best kick returners in college football throughout his career, and will fight to land the starting gig as the Buccaneers’ primary kick returner during training camp.
Another quick receiver that will be fighting for the starting kick returner job is former Stanford receiver Chris Owusu. The former track star ran a 4.36 40-yard dash at the combine last year, opening the eyes of scouts and talent evaluators around the league. Before joining Tampa Bay, Owusu was signed and later waived by the San Francisco 49ers, and also was on the San Diego Chargers practice squad. The 6-foot, 196-pound receiver will be on the roster bubble once again as the Buccaneers head into training camp.
Wide receiver David Douglas was talked up by the Tampa Bay coaching staff frequently throughout organized team activities and mini-camps. The second-year pro was swiped up by the Buccaneers off of the New York Giants practice squad in 2012. The former Arizona receiver played in one game in 2012, but failed to record any catches last season.
One of the most intriguing pass-catcher of this group of receivers is Carlton Mitchell, formerly of the University of South Florida. The former Bull was selected by the Cleveland Browns in the sixth-round of the 2010 draft but had a disappointing career for the Browns. But Mitchell is only 25 years old and has some impressive athletic skills. The 6-foot-3 receiver has the ability to run in the low 4.4 range in the forty-yard dash, making him an ideal player to invite to camp with no risk.
Derek Hagan is a notable player because he has great familiarity with the offensive playbook, as he was coached by Buccaneers offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan when he played for the Giants in 2008. Hagan was a member of the Oakland Raiders prior to joining Tampa Bay. He has never posted a season totaling more than 400 yards receiving yards during his 8-year professional career. Final Analysis:
PewterReport.com predicts that Ogletree will edge out Underwood and the
rest of the receivers to become Tampa Bay’s No. 3 receiver when training
camp concludes, but the battle should be one of the best ones to watch in camp. Underwood is ultra-competitive and won’t go down without a
fight. And don't automatically count out the other above-mentioned players, as one could
emerge from the shadows.–Eric Dellaratta and Mark Cook contributed to this report
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