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The Bucs receiving corps could do wonders for program sales Saturday

With Mike Evans and Chris Godwin out, Jameis Winston will have some new targets against Houston.
 
Justin Watson (17) caught his first NFL touchdown pass two weeks ago. Now he qualifies as a senior member of the Bucs receiving corps.
Justin Watson (17) caught his first NFL touchdown pass two weeks ago. Now he qualifies as a senior member of the Bucs receiving corps. [ OCTAVIO JONES | Times ]
Published Dec. 18, 2019|Updated Dec. 19, 2019

TAMPA — The Bucs will be without both of their 1,100-yard wideouts Saturday when they host the Texans. And they have had to dig deep to find enough healthy bodies to field a receiving corps.

The Bucs placed Evans on injured reserve Wednesday with a hamstring injury, ending his season. Godwin left Sunday’s win over the Lions with a hamstring injury and wasn’t expected to play Saturday against the Texans at Raymond James Stadium.

Rookie speedster Scotty Miller went on injured reserve Tuesday with a hamstring injury suffered against the Lions.

Now, for the first time since August, you might need a roster to figure out who’s catching Jameis Winston’s passes.

The latest additions arrived Tuesday. Cyril Grayson Jr. is a former college track star who hasn’t played in a regular-season football game in eight years. Spencer Schnell is a familiar name from training camp, an undrafted free agent who fell just short of making the cut.

“Way too many guys show up on a Tuesday and have a role on (Saturday),” coach Bruce Arians said. “It’s not anything you’d liked to have, but you embrace it and get them ready.”

No one can replace Evans and Godwin. The duo have accounted for 58 percent of the Bucs’ receiving yards. The offense goes through them. And now their absences for the final two games of the season creates a much different dynamic.

Breshad Perriman is elevated to the No. 1 receiver spot. Coming off the best game of his NFL career — five catches, 113 yards and three touchdowns against Detroit — he should see more attention from opponents. Perriman has eight receptions of 20 yards or more over the past three weeks, tied for the most of any NFL receiver over that stretch.

Related: Bucs-Lions: Breshad Perriman's career day comes in a special place

“Whenever I’m out there, I’m going to do my job to the best of my ability,” Perriman said, “no matter if I’m (No.) 1, 2, 3 or whatever number you’ll want to go to.”

Justin Watson, who had just one career catch two weeks ago and had mainly been used on special teams, has seven catches for 76 yards and a touchdown in his past two games. Ishmael Hyman made a catch for a first down in his NFL debut Sunday, days after a promotion from the practice squad.

Arians mentioned using tight end Tanner Hudson in a receiver role, but he remained in the concussion protocol Wednesday.

So expect the Bucs to lean heavily on tight ends O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate. Howard has 13 catches for 180 yards the past three games, and Brate had 18 catches for 141 yards and a touchdown over his past five.

“I talked to O.J. and Cam this week,” said Winston, who is coming off back-to-back 450-yard passing games. “I was like, ‘Hey, y’all are going to get that rock,’ and they’re excited.

“We’re blessed to have elite NFL players in Mike and Chris, but (the others) got here for a reason, too.”

Related: Bruce Arians on Bucs' rash of hamstring injuries: 'Maybe I overworked them'

Grayson and Schnell are ecstatic about the opportunity to wear an NFL uniform again.

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Both had been pondering post-football futures. Before being signed to the Cowboys’ practice squad last week, Grayson tried life as an Uber driver and working for delivery services. He had just received his certification to begin substitute teaching. Schnell spent the past three months back home in Indiana, helping his mother flip houses as her handyman so he could make money and help pay rent.

Grayson, who will wear No. 15, never played college football, but he built an impressive resume in track as a member of LSU’s 1,600-meter relay teams, becoming a four-time NCAA champion and seven-time All-American. Despite not having played football since his senior year of high school, Grayson found his way to LSU’s pro day in 2017 and dazzled with his athleticism, running a 4.33-second 40-yard dash. The Bucs are his sixth NFL organization, and this week is his first time on an active roster.

“This is the first time I think when I got a phone call that I shed some tears,” said Grayson, who had a workout with the Bucs on Oct. 4. “(Just) that it came to pass, and that hard work does pay off and that I’ve made it.”

Schnell ranked third on the Bucs in receiving yards during the preseason. He was promoted from the practice squad Wednesday.

“It came back pretty quickly, actually,” said Schnell, who will wear No. 83. “I’ve always been kind of hard on myself to learn offenses, have high IQ, those kind of things, and going back through it, I learned it really quick and it’s been really easy for me so far.”

Texans coach Bill O’Brien said that he’s not sure what to expect from the Bucs’ receivers but that the Tampa Bay pass offense, which ranks first in the league with an average 308.8 yards a game, has a way of piling up yards.

“I’m not sure how they’ll do it receiver-wise, and hopefully we’ll be able to do what we do, and hopefully that will be able to hold up against them,” O’Brien said.

“I think that just knowing the way those guys are coached and the system they play in, they do a really good job in the passing game of attacking all levels of your defense. They’ll throw it quick, they’ll throw it intermediate, and they’ll take their shots downtown.”

Follow @EddieInTheYard.Contact Eduardo A. Encina at eencina@tampabay.com. Follow @EddieInTheYard.