TAMPA — In a game in which eight different Bucs receivers caught passes, coach Dirk Koetter said two in particular — Russell Shepard and Donteea Dye — have helped their cases in what continues to be a wide-open battle for backup jobs.
"Those two guys made plays," Koetter said Friday, a day after the team's 17-9 loss at the Eagles. "I thought two guys stepped up and showed that they're in the mix."
Shepard was a fairly obvious choice — he caught the team's only touchdown and finished with three catches for a team-best 62 yards. But Dye had zero catches, with one negated by an offensive pass interference call against him that Koetter didn't necessarily agree with.
"DD made three really nice plays on special teams, and he had that explosive pass that got called back for an OPI," Koetter said. "Officials, I think, do a fantastic job, but it was just hard to find much fault with DD on that play. He made a nice catch, ran a nice route, spun out, had a good run. Bottom line, it got called back for a penalty on him, but those two guys, I thought, showed up."
It was a rough game for Kenny Bell, who fumbled the opening kickoff, leading to an Eagles touchdown, had zero catches on two passes thrown his way, and had an offensive pass interference penalty called against him. But Koetter said he still liked what he saw from the 2015 fifth-round pick out of Nebraska.
"I'm sure everyone is going to be crushing Kenny Bell (but) as far as offense goes, Kenny Bell beat his man multiple times and just didn't get the ball thrown to him," Koetter said. "On the very last drive he ran a little double move and was open, and we overthrew him. There's probably five plays in the game where Kenny did his job and got open. … Now unfortunately we fumbled the opening kickoff, and he had another penalty that hurt us."
The passing game as a whole had room for improvement — Koetter counted seven drops and said, "you're just not going to win games like that."
Mike Evans, Vincent Jackson and Adam Humphries have locked up jobs, but there are two if not three spots left for other receivers, and Koetter stressed that the next two weeks — with joint practices against the Jaguars on Wednesday and Thursday and two more the following week in Tampa against the Browns, in addition to both games, represent a huge opportunity for all the receivers.
"We're going to go six times, six days in the next two weeks against other teams," he said, "so there's plenty of evaluation to go."
Contact Greg Auman at [email protected] and (813) 310-2690. Follow @gregauman.