Saturday, December 16, 2017
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Depth a question for Bucs at receiver after Jackson and Evans

TAMPA — The Bucs purchased three cryogenic chambers for their training room that are set at minus-200 degrees to help players make a fast recovery. They may want to find a way to put receivers Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson in a deep freeze after every game this season, because if either gets hurt, Jameis Winston is going to be swallowing a lot of footballs.

That's because after Evans and Jackson, the Bucs don't have (m)any proven pass catchers.

Eight of the Bucs' 12 receivers are 24 or younger. If you don't include Louis Murphy, whose status is unclear because he is recovering from a torn ACL, Adam Humphries has the most NFL catches of the nonstarters with 27. But at 5 feet 11, he is strictly a slot receiver.

"You take a guy like Kenny Bell. Two days ago, he looked like the MVP out there, and then he disappeared yesterday," coach Dirk Koetter said Sunday.

And therein lies the problem. Bell, who calls himself "Afro Thunder," could be hair today and gone tomorrow. The fifth-round draft pick from Nebraska in 2015, who spent his rookie year on injured reserve, represents the Bucs' best hope of developing receiver depth.

"Kenny has worked awfully hard," offensive coordinator/receivers coach Todd Monken said. "Kenny has an upside. He has some juice. He has athleticism. He can get in and out of breaks; he can bend. He's got to be refined."

The refinement better happen quickly.

Jackson, who is 33 and possibly playing his final season, missed six games in 2015 with two knee injuries. The Bucs went 2-4 in those games, including 0-3 in the final three games of their season-ending four-game skid.

It's also not as if Evans has been immune to injury. In each of his first two seasons, hamstring issues led to missed time in the offseason and at least one missed game each year. "We're four days in," Monken said. "Let's just say what it is. He's gone four days (without being hurt)."

Bell tried to take advantage of what amounted to a redshirt season. The Bucs have shown a lot of confidence in him and the rest of the group by not bringing in established free agents.

"I was training with (former Packers receiver) James Jones this summer, and I thought we'd have him down here this summer, and we didn't," Bell said. "It speaks volumes for our (receivers) room and what (the coaches) think of it. But there's still a ton of work to be done. There's a big asterisk next to that. We're young, but we're expected to make plays. That's what needs to be done."

It's fair to say the Bucs would've liked to have added a receiver in the draft. Maybe they could have if they had not used a fourth-round pick to trade back into the second round for kicker Roberto Aguayo.

Instead, they have to hope somebody emerges from a group of receivers that also includes Donteea Dye (11 catches last season); Russell Shepard (seven career catches in two seasons); Evan Spencer, a sixth-round pick of the Redskins last year; Falcons castoffs Bernard Reedy and Freddie Martino; and Jonathan Krause (two receptions), who has had cups of coffee with the Browns, Patriots and Eagles in two seasons.

"I just think it's a sign of the NFL," Monken said. "You have your top-end guys and then you're always trying to develop younger players. They've got to start from somewhere, and then you've got to stick with them. If you're turning them over every year, they're always young. I like our group. Good group. They worked their rear ends off. Hard to say when you're not full contact and you don't get a lot of opportunities, but we have talent. Now it's just a matter of whether you can develop them, do you have time to develop them?

"We do have draft picks here. Kenny Bell and Evan Spencer were draft picks. They just happened to not play last year, but they got talent."

Koetter called the need to develop a receiver "real critical" during the preseason. For now, the Bucs aren't interested in bringing in veteran free agents such as Jones or Roddy White. They're sticking with the kids.

"No doors are closed right now for those receivers," Koetter said. "I like our talent there. I like all our young guys. That's what this preseason will be for."

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