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Stroud: Bucs need WR plan to catch on

TAMPA — Remember Bert Emanuel, the Bucs' erstwhile receiver? Signed as a free agent, he had been a pretty decent No. 2 for the Falcons. But in the lead role, he struggled — mostly with injuries.

The guy spent so much time in the trainer's room that he earned the nickname Hurt Emanuel.

That was back in the days when the Bucs didn't know how to select a receiver. Which brings us to today's game against the Bears.

At 36, Joey Galloway is, for some reason, the guy the Bucs were still hoping to build their passing game around. Statistically, he has been a game-breaker — three straight 1,000-yard seasons since arriving in a trade from the Cowboys.

But in the past year, his wheels have begun to fall off. He suffered a shoulder injury late last season and missed most or all of the final three regular-season games. Then he was so one-armed and ineffective in the playoff loss to the Giants that he walked off the field early and headed for the nearest operating table.

This offseason, Galloway suffered a groin strain that knocked him out of the entire preseason. And last week, he sprained his right foot and will not play today against the Bears.

Counting on Galloway to produce until he is 40 is like driving on the highway in the rain on bald tires.

So who is supposed to step up in Galloway's absence? Antonio Bryant, Ike Hilliard, Michael Clayton, Maurice Stovall or Dexter Jackson. Three of those guys have been hurt, one is 32 years old coming off shoulder surgery, and the other is a rookie.

"It's been kind of a collection of injured guys, talented guys," coach Jon Gruden said. "They work hard. We've got a lot of confidence in them. But Mike got hurt in the Jacksonville game and didn't play in Houston. Antonio got hurt. Maurice got hurt. Joey's hurt.

"We have enough guys, and … they're pretty darn good. We just got to try to get some continuity going and get some guys week in and week out to assert themselves and be healthy and be productive and get some plays."

Bryant offers the most hope for the receiving corps, and that's saying something. He was on the couch all of last season, had his knee drained several times during camp and looks like a guy still trying to readjust to the speed of the game. Today, he will be asked to move from flanker to Galloway's position at split end.

"No question, he's working himself back into it," Gruden said. "And we've asked him to do a lot. He played flanker the first two weeks, and he's playing different positions this week given the injuries. We all see the talent. He can run all the routes, he's a physical prospect, and we need him. He's working himself back into it.

"So is Clayton. So is Mo. (Stovall) missed a lot of time last year and hurt his elbow and missed a lot of the offseason. All these guys are young players. Dexter is learning how to play the game at this level, really. You take all that into account, we've still got to play the game (today) and need three or four of these guys to step up."

Gruden is right, of course. Because it's very unlikely any one receiver is going to get it done.

"In this system, it's really hard for one or two guys to stand out," quarterback Jeff Garcia said. "They're in and out of the game too much to really have that kind of consistent impact sometimes."

Sure, you can talk about the lean list of free agent receivers this year and the ridiculous salaries they commanded. Or you can lament that not one receiver was taken in the first round of the NFL draft in April. (Although moving up to get Cal's DeSean Jackson might have been a good idea in hindsight).

But if the plan was to squeeze another year out of an injured Galloway, or rekindle the lost spark in Clayton, or get more from Mo — right about now would be a good time for that plan to start working.

Stroud: Bucs need WR plan to catch on 09/20/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, September 23, 2008 5:32pm]
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