TAMPA — Throughout the preseason, the Bucs have waited for Maurice Stovall to stake his claim to the No. 3 wideout spot.
Stovall made his best case yet Thursday night with six catches for 74 yards in a 10-6 loss to the Dolphins. Three receptions gave the Bucs first downs.
"I was really pleased about Stovall," Bucs coach Raheem Morris told WDAE-AM 620.
It was a big moment for Stovall, 24, who has yet to establish himself since being drafted in the third round in 2006. He has been snakebitten by injuries and made his impact primarily on special teams.
Coaches have seen Stovall, who has only 20 catches for 213 yards in 29 games, make plays in practice and training camp. They just wanted to see it happen consistently in game action.
With Antonio Bryant and Michael Clayton missing chunks of camp (and Thursday's game) with injuries, Stovall has been given plenty of reps. Morris said somebody would need to step up to grab the No. 3 spot among Stovall, Sammie Stroughter and Brian Clark, with Thursday being another measuring stick.
Stovall seemingly passed the test.
He got inside on two quick slants. One, on the first play from scrimmage, went for 8 yards. On third and 7 later in the drive, Byron Leftwich found him over the middle for an 18-yard gain. Late in the first, on third and 9, Stovall broke free for a 21-yard catch.
It was a contrast from the first preseason game, when Stovall missed two opportunities for big plays on catches with a high degree of difficulty.
He said earlier this week that getting more game experience has increased his comfort level in the offense.
"Any time you're in a game," Stovall said, "whether you're on offense, defense or special teams, you want to put positive things on tape and show the coaches and teammates that you want to play and can make plays in a game."
Joe Smith can be reached at joesmith @sptimes.com