TAMPA — By fielding the NFL's least-experienced roster in 2010 while squeezing out 10 wins, the Bucs gained a reputation for their youth movement.
But there's young, and then there's the Bucs' receiving corps. The nine receivers in this training camp have a combined nine credited NFL seasons.
They can be a loose group. Preston Parker has a knack for cracking on teammates' appearances. Sammie Stroughter rarely stops giggling. Yet, when appropriate, this group takes on a serious demeanor.
"We're not giving you anything around here," said Mike Williams, the unit's rookie sensation in 2010 with 65 receptions for 964 yards and 11 touchdowns. "We're pushing each other. We're pushing every single day in practice. You have to earn it around here."
The youthful exuberance can fuel hours-long video game marathons, but it also is a chief reason these guys are consistently competitive. It's a trait they say is a reason many of them have had impressive showings not only in camp but also in games. They spend their practices attempting to one-up each other. When that results in performances coaches deem worthy of playing time, the newbies have taken advantage.
At different junctures last season, the Bucs played four rookie receivers and five with two years of experience or less.
Dezmon Briscoe spent the 2010 preseason with the Bengals, who had veterans Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens as receivers. The roles of such players are obvious from the start.
"I was drafted by Cincinnati," said Briscoe, in his second season, "and the older guys up there, they usually didn't take every snap as hard because they've been in the league awhile. Then I come here (after being released in September) and there's a bunch of young guys right out of college trying to earn a spot. That really motivates you to push yourself harder."
Said Micheal Spurlock, who at 28 joins 25-year-old Stroughter as the only Bucs receivers older than 24, "With a young group like this, every day you have to come out and be your best. A lot of times, (teams) keep four or five receivers. … Usually, about four guys are already locks."
Tampa Bay's is a different scenario. Williams figures to see plenty of balls again. Behind him, returning starter Arrelious Benn, also in his second season, has been limited by December knee surgery but is considered the No. 1 flanker. After that, there's nothing but opportunity.
There's the emerging Briscoe, who showed a taste of his abilities in the 2010 season finale (he had a 54-yard touchdown catch in a 23-13 win over the Saints). There's Stroughter, who isn't particularly fast, big or athletic but finds soft spots in zones. There's the potentially electrifying Parker, a onetime Seminole in his second season.
Not to be forgotten is Spurlock, who no longer can be described merely as a return man. Even Raymond Webber and Ed Gant, two undrafted free agents, are making things interesting.
Position coach Eric Yarber said different combinations of receivers might play from week to week. There may not be clearly defined roles, leaving those to be determined by what transpires in practices.
Briscoe is a good example. He spent five games on the active roster last season after being on the practice squad. Still, he has bypassed Parker (16 games on the active roster last season) on the depth chart and has been pushing for playing time with his camp performance.
"Young guys come here and know we're not scared to play them," Yarber said. "They know that if they put in the work, they'll get a chance. … They've worked their tails off."
If only the spirited atmosphere could affect others the way it did Williams last year.
"If it wasn't for that," he said, "there's no way I could have had the success that I had last year."