TAMPA — If there was a single moment Bucs fans could cherish from the 2009 season, it was Sammie Stroughter leaping to haul in the winning touchdown pass from quarterback Josh Freeman to beat the Packers 38-28.
Not only was it Freeman's first NFL start — in those wonderfully nostalgic orange uniforms — but it broke a seven-game losing streak to start the season.
Freeman and Stroughter were rookies, and roommates in the offseason and on the road.
It is Stroughter's only NFL touchdown reception (he tied a club record with a 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against Carolina). But the significance is not lost on the former Oregon State star.
The 5-foot-10, 189-pound Stroughter was bypassed in last year's draft until the seventh round; he was the 233rd player selected overall.
Freeman, who at 21 was the youngest quarterback to start for the Bucs, still has a chip on his shoulder for being taken behind the Lions' Matthew Stafford and the Jets' Mark Sanchez.
"I'm really proud of him," Stroughter said, "to see how Josh is really, really hitting even harder, and the sky is the limit for him. He understands that, and it's also great to see the young nucleus around here and working out. We have the accountability to each other. That 3-13 (last season's record) will never happen again."
Much has been made about the Bucs' perceived lack of talent at receiver. But Stroughter, whose 31 catches for 331 yards were more than Maurice Stovall (24) and Michael Clayton (16), believes he can build on the chemistry he began to establish with Freeman.
"Grading myself with an evil eye, it was a good year, a productive year, especially being a seventh-rounder," said Stroughter, 24. "But for my standards … my expectations are really, really high."
Stroughter's season was cut short when he broke a foot bone during a punt return at Seattle and landed on injured reserve for the final two games of the season.
Stroughter was so eager to get back that he took just three weeks off after the regular season, returning to the Bucs' training facility Feb. 9. The first order of business was to rehabilitate from surgery to insert a screw into the broken bone in his foot.
Stroughter should be ready to go for most of the offseason workout program and has been spotted catching passes from Freeman for more than a month.
As a rookie, he was used mostly as a third-down slot receiver. But he expects to compete for a starting job this year.
"That's my focus, to be there as much as possible to help the team on first and second down, when I can play outside," Stroughter said. "Then I can move to the slot on third down.
"I'm going into the voluntary workout like I'm the man — period, point blank. Whatever role I have, I'm going to be the best, being the team's No. 1."
SUH OR MCCOY? If, in next month's draft, either elite defensive tackle is available at No. 3 for the Bucs — Nebraska's Ndamukong Suh or Oklahoma's Gerald McCoy — they would be thrilled. But which player is a better fit for Tampa Bay in coach Raheem Morris' defense?
ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay said Thursday during a conference call that McCoy is a better match for the Bucs because of his ability to rush the passer:
"Both players can play the run well, and both players can get after the quarterback. Obviously, McCoy is a more explosive pass rusher. Suh is a better fit as a gap-control defensive tackle who can really disrupt your blocking scheme and also go make plays after he's done tearing up blockers.
"Both players are great players. But I just think the fact that Tampa Bay needs some kind of impact pass rusher and guys who can get after the quarterback, to me … I would be rooting for McCoy to fall in there.
"Obviously, he's going to need to get a little bit stronger in the upper body. But you watch him on film, he stays low, and he has powerful initial punch, and he's good versus the run.
"He's as good as most other players in this draft. He's just not as good as Suh. Then you add the fact he can get after the quarterback, penetrate and disrupt even when he's not getting sacks, I just think he would be a better fit."