The Buccaneers were dead last in total yardage in 2013, and new offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford was hired by head coach Lovie Smith to make a dramatic improvement. Part of the success will hinge on the receivers corps, something many consider now a strength of the offense.
A big unknown heading into training camp is new offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford and what he’ll be bringing to the table.
What’s this year’s attack going to look like? How legit is all this “up-tempo” speculation? What’s the desired run-to-pass ratio?
Whatever the answers to a number of questions end up being, one thing is certain: improvement is a necessity.
Tampa Bay operated the league’s least productive offense in 2013 in terms of total yards from scrimmage per game (277.0). And dragging that figure down to anemic levels was the Buccaneers’ season-long struggles through the air. Then-rookie quarterback Mike Glennon made positive strides after taking over the offense Week 4 against Arizona, but Tampa Bay still finished at the bottom of the NFL barrel in terms of average yards passing per game (176.2) and yards per completion (6.2).
The new regime took its first step in addressing the team’s aerial woes in March with the signing of quarterback Josh McCown, aiming to bring a little veteran stability to the position.
While head coach Lovie Smith essentially anointed McCown as the Week 1 starter, determining the Bucs’ overall cast of targets for the 12-year pro to hit downfield remains a work in progress.
Tampa Bay entered training camp with 13 wide receivers, including four of five carried on last year’s final 53-man roster – Vincent Jackson, Chris Owusu, Eric Page and Skye Dawson. Russell Shepard, who ended 2013 on injured reserve, and Tommy Streeter, a 2013 practice squad holdover, are also in camp.
Aside from Jackson, the Bucs’ Pro Bowl leading receiver, those other five wideouts combined to catch 19 passes for 194 yards. And Owusu accounted for 13 grabs and 114 of those yards.
That dearth of talent led the Bucs brass searching for help via free agency and last May’s NFL Draft. Tampa Bay signed speedy sixth-year veteran and St. Petersburg native Louis Murphy Jr. in March and seventh-year journeyman Lavelle Hawkins a month later. The organization followed that up with the selections of first-round pick Mike Evans (Texas A&M) and sixth-rounder Robert Herron (Wyoming).
Evans, one of the three receivers considered locks for a roster spot along with Jackson and Herron, said after practice Saturday it was good to finally be out on the field getting a full session in.
“Today we didn’t look that rusty for it being our first real day,” he said. “Individually I feel good just to be out here coping with these guys and building continuity. It’s been great so far. I can’t speak for everybody else but I’m not fully satisfied with today because we left some balls on the field. But we can get better.”
Evans added that it’s not taking long to notice the difference in skill levels between college and NFL cornerbacks.
“I found out today, Alterraun (Verner) was right there and he didn’t budge,” he said. “I gave him so many moves and he didn’t budge. So you’ve got to be really technical and give it all you’ve got. At this level every inch matters. You need that inch to make the catch, so any separation you can get is great.”
Also factoring tight ends Tim Wright and rookie Austin Seferian-Jenkins into the offensive equation, Evans’ addition as the projected No. 2 receiver opposite Jackson has created a sense of optimism surrounding this passing attack’s potential. All four provide McCown with big, tall targets to hit downfield.
“(McCown) sees our frame and he’s going to throw it up there and give us a chance to make a play for him,” Evans said. “Scheme-wise, whoever’s in there is just going to have to make a play. We have a lot of good guys on this team, a lot of good receivers. We’ve just got to make plays.”
Which ones of those names will end up occupying the remaining two or three wide receiver roster slots is what the Bucs still need to determine. The remaining free-agent signings currently in the mix for a locker are David Gettis (fourth year), Quintin Payton (undrafted) and Solomon Patton (undrafted).
Owusu, Murphy and Page have an early leg up on the competition and special-teams versatility may likely factor into the front office’s final decisions. Page displayed his worth in that department last year as the team’s primary kick and punt returner. His performance on run-backs wasn’t exactly eye-popping, but he is the serviceable incumbent.
There’s a slight buzz going around camp about Hawkins catching on with the Bucs, but the veteran is also heading into his seventh NFL season and spent last year bouncing between three organizations after being released by Tennessee following the 2012 season.
Copyright © 2011 Pewter Report, PewterReport.com and Pewter Insider. All rights reserved. PewterReport.com, the official site of Pewter Report, is an independent source of news and commentary and is not affiliated with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers or the NFL.