Friday, December 15, 2017
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Who will catch passes for Bucs (besides Vincent Jackson)?

TAMPA

The most impressive thing about the Bucs' three-day minicamp last week was how efficiently they passed and caught the football.

As the draft approaches, the perception has been that the team's biggest needs are receiver and guard.

That might still be the case, but there are fewer fears about if QB Josh McCown has anyone besides WR Vincent Jackson to throw to.

"There's an opportunity," coach Lovie Smith said. "If I'm a receiver, I would be doing everything I could to show coaches exactly what I have. This was a great chance to do it."

The Bucs signed only two receivers, Louis Murphy and Lavelle Hawkins. Tampa Bay is Murphy's fourth team in four season. But the graduate of St. Petersburg's Lakewood High and former Florida Gator has caught 121 passes for 1,744 yards and eight touchdowns. Hawkins, whom offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford coached at the University of California, caught 71 passes for 771 yards and one touchdown during five seasons with the Titans.

After that, there are relatively unknowns Chris Owusu, Eric Page, Tommy Streeter and Russell Shepard. All can run 40 yards in the 4.4-second range.

Owusu, at 6 feet, 196 pounds, caught Smith's eye.

"He has good size, excellent speed, and I've been impressed with how he's caught the football," Smith said. "I did see on his chart before we went on the field 4.36, and that gets your attention a little bit. He's run good routes and done some good things."

A wild card is former Gator Jeff Demps, who is listed as a running back behind Doug Martin and Bobby Rainey. He is an Olympic sprinter with 9.96 speed in the 100 meters.

Demps made a lot of plays last week, some as a slot receiver. A year ago, he was coming off a full track season and played only two games before sustaining a pulled groin.

"He is definitely the fastest guy in the NFL, and you see that quickness," Smith said. "We have to find a way to use that speed. He has good hands even though he dropped a long one."

The Bucs threw hundreds of passes during the minicamp. And although not many were in the air for very long …

"Not many were on the ground," Smith said. "Plus, just the tempo. Guys were not getting tired and continuing to run. Our glass is half-full. We wanted to see something like that. This is a good start. It's just telling you about the shape our players were in."

On the line: The team still might take a receiver in the first two rounds, but adding an offensive lineman is a must.

Guard is the biggest need. Patrick Omameh (who didn't appear in a game as a rookie last season), Oniel Cousins (six starts over six seasons) and Jason Foster (no games over two seasons) took the majority of reps with the first team. Carl Nicks still is mending from foot surgery and hopes to be ready for training camp, but the Bucs can't count on it.

It's possible the team drafts an offensive tackle at No. 7 overall and moves him to guard for a season or two. While it's hard to evaluate linemen during a minicamp without pads, the club can't ignore the position.

Bowers on alert: DE Da'Quan Bowers is recovering from an undisclosed knee injury, which lingered for most of last season and required surgery, and did not participate in the minicamp. But Bowers, who has just 5½ sacks over his three seasons, needs to get on the field soon.

"He's learning the system, and eventually, he'll get out there," Smith said. "I know rehab is going well. He's a good football player, but he needs to prove it right now. He'll get an opportunity. A player like that should be able to excel in a defense like ours."

Rick Stroud can be reached at [email protected] and heard from 6 to 9 a.m. weekdays on WDAE-AM 620.

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