TAMPA — For tight end Jerramy Stevens, after sitting out a two-game suspension, just getting back on the field was big.
But if Stevens continues to make big plays like he did in Sunday's overtime win over the Bears, he could find himself featured even more in the Bucs offense.
The Bucs have sought consistency in their receivers. Stevens can help there, as the 6-foot-7, 260-pounder boasts a skill set akin to a receiver, with his speed and pass-catching ability. But his size creates matchup problems, as Stevens showed Sunday.
"I personally feel like some people on the Bears got exposed, but I'm not going to mention no names," he said.
Stevens said he feels he has put his past problems behind him, including his recent suspension for a 2007 violation of the substance-abuse policy. And Bucs coach Jon Gruden believes Stevens' "closure" will help.
"He is a problem for people, I think, in the passing game," Gruden said. "The better he gets as a blocker, the more he'll play. He clearly stepped up. He's made a lot of big plays for us the last four or five games he's played as a Buccaneer. I think now, with his closure, his future is on. The players like him and he really stepped up and made some key plays (Sunday)."
The biggest was a tying 1-yard touchdown reception with seven seconds left in regulation. Said corner Phillip Buchanon: "Stevens is starting to be clutch, he's making those big catches when we need him."
"I think everybody on the team knows I'm going to make that play," said Stevens, who had five catches for 61 yards Sunday. "When I came to the sideline, everybody was like, 'As soon as you split out, we all knew what the deal was.' "
Stevens, 28, said he's just glad to be part of a trio (including John Gilmore and Alex Smith) that he believes is, "the best group of tight ends in the league." They've combined for 15 catches and 177 yards in three games, but Stevens said the group is just picking up where it left off at the end of last season, when "I think we got the coaches' attention …when some of the receivers went down."
"Nobody is concerned about staying on the field," Stevens said. "We're just playing hard while we're in there. We've got a real good rotation. Gruden does a great job of getting us on the field and putting us in position to be successful."
Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected]