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Tiquan Underwood passes Arrelious Benn among Bucs receivers

TAMPA — When it comes to how they reached their current stations in the NFL, Bucs receivers Arrelious Benn and Tiquan Underwood could not have taken more dissimilar paths.

Benn was an early second-round pick, the fourth receiver selected in 2010. He has started 24 of his 36 games and been said to possess elite potential.

Meanwhile, Underwood nearly became "Mr. Irrelevant" for being the final pick of the draft. Just three players were selected after him in 2009. And he has bounced around, now on his third team in four seasons.

Can you guess which receiver has been the bigger contributor for Tampa Bay?

It's Underwood, who has carved out a role in recent weeks — after being released on Aug. 31 and re-signed on Sept. 20.

"In the summer and in the preseason, I think I showed the coaches that I can learn this offense and they can trust me," he said.

"I got a few opportunities early when I got here, and fortunately, I made the play."

As a result, the opportunities keep coming, primarily at the expense of Benn.

Early this season, after the release of Preston Parker, Benn lined up in the slot — essentially the No. 3 wideout. Now Benn is limited to kickoff returns and the occasional snap at receiver. He has just four receptions after a combined 55 in 2010-11. For a heralded Big Ten player among Illinois' career receiving leaders, this has required considerable adjustment.

"It's a challenge when you're used to something but then you have to deal with something different," Benn said. "It gets tough. But you have to be a professional about it and know how to go about it the right way. You can't let it get to you."

Coaches love competition because it tends to make players better. So the Bucs are a long way from souring on Benn.

"It's all relative, and it's all competitive," coach Greg Schiano said. "But (Benn is) a good football player, and I'm glad he's on our team."

Meanwhile, Underwood, who played for Schiano at Rutgers, is a more competitive player than he once was. He played only sparingly in two seasons with the Jaguars, who drafted him in the seventh round. Jacksonville released him in 2011, and Underwood caught on with the Patriots, who dumped him at final cuts.

That's when reality set in.

"That was the first time I was on the street," Underwood said. "And it was months, too. It was shocking. But I just kept working out and stayed ready. I had five workouts and didn't get signed. But it really showed me that once I got back in not to take it for granted."

The Patriots brought him back, and Underwood tried to make up for lost time. But he failed to make good on some chances and lasted just eight games (including the postseason), released infamously the night before February's Super Bowl.

"Tom Brady throws me a ball down the seam, wide open, and for whatever reason, I don't make the play," Underwood said. "Things might have turned out different there. I still remember that play to this day. To capitalize on the opportunities here, it's been amazing."

In Tampa Bay, Underwood has a career-best 12 receptions in six games, including his first touchdown, and an average of 15.7 yards.

Unlike Underwood, Benn arrived not just hoping to catch on but to shine. It took only six weeks for him to carve out a starting role, and he had a career-best 15.8 yards per catch for the season.

Two injuries since have proved substantial obstacles. Benn tore his left ACL in the final game of 2010, the rehab limiting him throughout the following offseason. Then in the first practice of this season's camp, he sprained his right knee ligament and was out until Week 2. Now he's healthy, ready and continuing to adapt to his role.

"I just have to keep doing my job," Benn said. "Wherever the coaches want me to go or want me to do, that's what I do. I just have to stay ready. Whatever comes, I'll take it."

Stephen F. Holder can be reached at sholder@tampabay.com.

Tiquan Underwood passes Arrelious Benn among Bucs receivers 11/08/12 [Last modified: Thursday, November 8, 2012 10:53pm]

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