Saturday, August 7, 2010

The Potential Of The Bucs Wide Receivers

Today after the morning practice Buccaneers head coach Raheem Morris had this to say about his wide receiver corps:

"You have some guys in there who are physical beasts," Morris said. "These guys are all playing fast. I don’t know if we’ve seen this dynamic of a group in Tampa in a long time. Not to take any credit away from Joey Galloway or Antonio Bryant or what any particular person was able to do. But this type of a group, I don’t remember (from) being the DBs coach here and going out every day like, ‘Oh, man, Mike Williams, Sammie Stroughter, Arrelious Benn and seeing these guys move around like they do.

"Sometimes I sit back and talk to (cornerback) Aqib Talib and I let him tell me who he thinks is the best, or I let him pick his top six receivers. He changed 20 times yesterday. . . It’s a good thing."

I know some of the Buccaneers fans still smarting from our 3-13 season last year might be skeptical of this and to be honest to a certain extent so was I. So I did a little research on it and I'll give you my take.

First off lets talk about the better wide receiver groups we've had in recent history. In the 2002 Superbowl season we probably had the best output from our wide receiver group in the last decade. Keyshawn Johnson led the pack with 76 catches, Keenan McCardell had 61, Joe Jurevicius added 37 and tight end Ken Dilger hauled in 34 of his own.

The only other season that even approaches that kind of output, is the 2007 season but its really not even that close with Ike Hilliard collecting 62 catches, Joey Galloway adding 57, Michael Clayton with 22 and tight end Alex Smith with 32.

So is it possible that the guys we have now could equal or surpass the 2002 receivers?

I would say so.

Although our wide receivers are light on experience, they have potential out the ying yang. And really there's no rule that says rookie wide receivers can't contribute. In fact in my opinion rookie wide receivers and rookie defensive backs are the two positions that tend to be more ready to take the field as rookies than others.

Ultimately we will be able to answer the question definitively after the season and three things will likely make the difference on how much production this crop of receivers turns in.

First is how well we protect the quarterback. It won't matter if we have Jerry Rice and Randy Moss at wide out, if we can't keep Josh Freeman upright our passing game is going to suck. And I'm not just talking sacks either. Our offensive line is going to have to keep guys off Freeman so that he can set his feet in the pocket and deliver the ball. Last year he had some outstanding runs where he shook off defenders and got positive yards. But the last thing we want to have happen is that he gets used to having to escape the pocket all the time and ends up with bad mechanics.

The second predictor of production will be how well the receivers learn the playbook. One of the hardest parts of a transition from college to the pros is the mental aspect of the game. In order for a coach to put a player on the field he has to trust that he knows the plays. For a quarterback to have confidence in a receiver they have to trust that they will run the right route. One way or another we are going to be relying on two rookies in the passing game as well as a second year guy. They are going to have to show that they will be where they are supposed to be when they are supposed to be there.

Lastly the wide receivers will have to do the thing that sounds the easiest out of the three but tends to be the most hard, catch the ball when its thrown to them. When you think of the greatest wide receivers in the game they weren't always the fastest or the tallest or the biggest. But they all, universally, made the catch when it was their turn to make it. Jerry Rice, the greatest receiver the game has ever seen, turned a bunch of five yard slant routes into big plays. But the one thing you rarely if ever saw him do was drop those passes. He understood that before he could make something happen the first thing he had to do was make sure he had the ball and secure it.

I think that right now we have a bunch of guys with "sticky fingers" and no matter how young they are they have the ability to be productive. Arrelious Benn, Mike Williams, Sammie Stroughter, Mo Stovall, Reggie Brown, those guys can all catch the ball well, even in traffic.  And they all have enough speed and quickness to get open on a regular basis.

And then of course you have Kellen Winslow at tight end who is bound to put up big numbers as well.

So while Coach Morris' words may seem boastful at the moment, the numbers may just prove him right by the end of the year.

1 comment:

  1. Mark Dominik is building Tampa what might be an awesome team, for years to come.
    Our receivers look wonderful this year.