Saturday, September 22, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Chris Godwin already has earned a new role for the Bucs this season: starting receiver

TAMPA – No defensive back had done it the entire day, but it was my turn to try and stop Chris Godwin.

Fortunately, he had stayed 30 minutes after practice catching passes Saturday and was on a slow walk from the indoor facility to One Buc Place. It was maybe the safest time to try and go one-on-one with the second-year Bucs receiver.

"Last year I was a little bit under the radar, and I'm fine with that,'' Godwin said. "It allowed me to prepare as if I'm a starter, so you saw when I got my opportunities, I was able to take advantage.''

In fact, Godwin has played so well, he deserves to be called a starter, coach Dirk Koetter said.

"He sure does,'' Koetter said. "Chris is playing really well right now. We look at it as if we have four starting receivers. All four of those guys, the only guy that really hasn't been a starter (in the NFL) is Chris. The other three have been, and we believe Chris is every bit in that same category.''

The other three are Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson and Adam Humphries.

The Bucs don't open their preseason until Thursday night at Miami, and there are nearly five weeks until the games count.

But make no mistake, Tampa Bay plans to start Godwin opposite Evans at receiver this season.

Jackson, 31, only had 50 catches for 668 yards and three touchdowns last season. By all accounts, he's having a great training camp and still possesses rare speed to get behind any defense.

But Godwin, 22, is a more complete player. At 6 feet 1, 209 pound, has size to go with speed and a willingness to provide help as a blocker in the run game.

NFL depth charts typically list only two players at receiver, and the Bucs won't release one that matters until the week of their Sept. 9 regular-season opener at New Orleans. Regardless what it might or might not say, Godwin is well on his way to winning the job.

After watching Godwin make more contested catches in practice Saturday, offensive coordinator Todd Monken reiterated what he had said in May:

"That's why I said he's earned the right to be a starter."

Godwin's ascension began late last season. The third-round pick out of Penn State couldn't get on the field much as a rookie. But when he got his chance, he was a force. He made his first start at home against the Jets when Evans was suspended one game for unsportsmanlike conduct. Godwin responded with five catches for 68 yards.

The next week, when Jackson left the game at Miami with a stomach issue, Godwin made two clutch catches to help the Bucs secure a 30-20 victory. When Jackson missed the final two games with an ankle injury, Godwin stepped up with 10 catches for 209 yards, including a winning TD against the Saints.

"We have a lot of depth on our team, and we understand that,'' Godwin said. "But we also understand it's going to take all of us to get where we want to go.''

The Bucs plan to make use of all four receivers. Evans, who turns 25 this month, is the only lock to be on the field the majority of snaps. Who plays depends on the opposing defensive scheme, the down and distance and the game plan.

Increasingly during training camp, Jackson has been working in the slot when the Bucs go to three receivers. On some plays, they use four.

This is likely Jackson's final year with the Bucs. After this season, he will have been paid the $20 million in guarantees of his three-year, $33.5 million contract.

Godwin gives the Bucs more dimensions.

"Chris is as good of a blocker as we have, and he's willing to do the dirty work, and that weighs into it as well.'' Koetter said.

When Jackson was in the game last season, running to his side of the field wasn't a good option, and opposing defenses knew it. But it's Godwin's ability to use his big body to make contested catches that has the Bucs excited.

Every day in practice produces a new highlight reel for Godwin. Take what happened last week during a one-on-one drill.

M.J. Stewart was in great position to cover Godwin. But Godwin stopped and slipped inside the rookie cornerback, reaching his left hand over Stewart's head and getting his fingers on the ball.

Godwin's arm hit the top of Stewart's helmet, jarring the ball loose. With his left hand pinned on the helmet, Godwin tipped the ball up with his right hand, securing it against his right shoulder pad. At that point, Stewart fell and grabbed hold of whatever he could of Godwin's, pulling down on the receiver's face mask and nearly yanking him to the turf. Godwin secured the ball in his right hand, maintained his balance and slowly spun out of the grasp of Stewart, who was spread eagle on the turf looking up at his conqueror.

For good measure, Godwin ripped his loose helmet off his head and tossed it to the ground.

"That was an unbelievable catch by him,'' Stewart said. "I thought I broke it up, and he caught it.''

On Saturday, Godwin was blanketed by cornerback Ryan Smith but leaped over him to secure a touchdown pass from Ryan Fitzpatrick.

"He can make a 10-year career out of the way he played last year, but I don't think he wants to settle for being a guy that's going to be a role player, that is going to be a good No. 2 or No. 3 receiver,'' Fitzpatrick said. "At some point in his career he's got to strive to be that No. 1 go-to guy, and he's just going to continue to get better and better. I think I see that in him, too."

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