Bucs' WR competition still wide-open
For first-year Bucs receivers coach Andrew Hayes-Stoker, the team's top two receivers -- veteran Vincent Jackson and rookie Mike Evans -- are both sidelined with hamstring injuries, allowing him to focus on the battle for the remaining roster spots.
Tampa Bay has 11 other receivers in the mix for what will likely be three, perhaps four openings on the 53-man roster. Bears coach Lovie Smith carried six receivers at the start of his final two seasons with the Bears, but has also said he plans to have five
"The battle is a daily grind," said Hayes-Stoker, who worked with Smith in Chicago. "You get one guy that shows up one day, and then you get another guy that will have a big day the next day."
With Jackson and Evans attending OTA practices but not participating, there are more opportunities for players who still need to make a case for themselves -- rookie Robert Herron would seem a safe bet as a sixth-round pick, but the first name Hayes-Stoker mentioned Tuesday was veteran Louis Murphy, a Lakewood and Gators alum who is playing for his fourth team in four seasons.
"Murphy's done a good job with the reps he's gotten, (Lavelle) Hawkins has done a good job. Skye (Dawson) has made a lot of plays as well," Hayes-Stoker said. "It's hard to say because it's basically a day-to-day deal as far as who's made more big plays and whatnot."
Smith had praise last week for receiver Chris Owusu, but already that's seven names for five or six spots. Other receivers may need to lock up a key role on special teams -- Eric Page did that last season, as could Dawson or rookie Solomon Patton. That could also be as a gunner -- Hawkins has had as many as 11 special-teams while with the Titans, and Russell Shepard was third on the Bucs with six special-teams tackles (and a forced fumble) as a rookie last season.
"I guess if there's a guy that makes a case for six, then (Smith) would be willing to do that, as long as that guy was contributing on (special) teams," Hayes-Stoker said.
There are still three other hopefuls on roster with good size, though they're facing tough odds -- second-year pro Tommy Streeter, who finished last season on the Bucs' practice squad, is 6-foot-5, and there are a pair of tall undrafted rookies in Boise State's Aaron Burks (6-3) and N.C. State's Quintin Payton (6-4).
Herron, who had nine touchdowns last fall as a senior at Wyoming, has turned heads in his first weeks with the team and continues to learn more of the offense along the way.
"He's done a good job -- the thing about Herron, you definitely see the explosive ability right away," he said. "You see the leaping ability, you see the speed. As far as the mental aspect of the game, he's doing a really great job. Now's the time to refine it, shave it down as far as some of the details."