Saturday, June 23, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Tampa Bay Buccaneers make moves to shake up their receiving corps

TAMPA — No decision in the NFL is made in a vacuum, and that was evident during this week's flurry of moves in the Bucs' receiving ranks.

The team Thursday released its top slot receiver, Preston Parker, and replaced him with preseason darling Tiquan Underwood. That affects several players, and there are related decisions, each shaking up the receivers in different ways.

The Bucs also this week re-signed Jordan Shipley, we now know, because No. 2 slot receiver Sammie Stroughter is headed to injured reserve with a foot injury. They subsequently decided to sign Chargers practice squad receiver Chris Owusu, one of quarterback Andrew Luck's top targets at Stanford last season.

Here's where it comes full circle: 2010 second-round draft pick Arrelious Benn, who is expected to see an expanded role with his knee injury healed, could get action as a slot receiver now the position is vacant.

What it all means is that the lineup of receivers on the field Sunday against the Cowboys will be very different. The moves are "what we think gives us the best chance to win this week," coach Greg Schiano said. "We have long-term plans. There's no doubt. But then you have to, week to week, do what you think is best."

The beginning of the end for Parker came when he lost his special-teams duties in the preseason after his late-season struggles with fumbles on special teams last year continued. Parker then began the regular season with no catches in two appearances.

With the moves, new roles are beginning to come into focus.

Stroughter assumed the punt-return duties for Parker, but his injury likely means the job will fall to Shipley. "In college I returned (punts) my last couple of years and had some success there," the former Texas star said. "My rookie year (with the Bengals), I got to do some in preseason. … It's been one of my favorite things since high school."

Schiano and offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan envision a bigger workload going forward for Benn, who was relegated to special teams in his debut Sunday against the Giants (he returned kickoffs). Though Benn has not been utilized as a slot receiver before, the Bucs are strongly considering using him there alongside starters Mike Williams and Vincent Jackson in three-wide-receiver sets.

"I think he is a functional receiver in all positions," Schiano said. "Without giving too much away, we're going to mix things up as we grow in this offense. I don't think we're married to just what you've seen so far as far as distribution of wide receivers."

Coaches crave Benn's physical running style and explosive speed; he displayed both on his 55-yard return to open the second half Sunday. "There's certainly a talent factor that he has," Sullivan said. "The size, the speed, the productivity."

Underwood brings speed to the roster, which he narrowly missed making during the Bucs' final cutdowns. Schiano said releasing his former Rutgers player was among the most difficult choices. Sullivan said bringing Underwood back allows the Bucs to take advantage of his "production and versatility," which he showed while leading them in preseason receiving (nine catches for 176 yards).

The Bucs' intentions for Owusu are unclear. Combined with Jackson, Benn and Underwood, Owusu gives the Bucs more of something they've lacked for a long time: speed. His 4.31-second 40-yard dash at this year's scouting combine was the second-fastest recorded.

Owusu is a possible return option. He averaged 26.6 yards on 78 kickoff returns at Stanford, tying a Pac-10 record as a sophomore with three returns for touchdowns (94, 91 and 85 yards).

Owusu was undrafted because he sustained three concussions in 13 months while at Stanford. Multiple doctors have cleared him to resume playing.

Times staff writer Rick Stroud contributed to this report.

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