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In Year 3 of Tom Brady, Bucs opt for proven worth over promise in choosing receivers

Two of the roster survivors have caught historic, clutch passes from the veteran quarterback.
 
Fourth-year Bucs receiver Scotty Miller was among Tom Brady's favorite targets in the first half of the 2020 season.
Fourth-year Bucs receiver Scotty Miller was among Tom Brady's favorite targets in the first half of the 2020 season. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Aug. 31, 2022|Updated Aug. 31, 2022

TAMPA — He acknowledged the position was a tough one to pare down, one of the two toughest on his roster.

But in the end, Todd Bowles insisted, determining the last three receivers for the Bucs’ 53-player roster came down to an ability to play special teams.

“Once you get down past the top four and five (receivers), you’ve got to have more value than just catching the footballs, because you won’t dress on Sundays,” the first-year Bucs head coach said Wednesday. “That was a big reason behind it.”

Still, another prerequisite seemed at play when the depth chart’s dust settled. After all, a couple of the roster survivors in the receiving room hardly possess a sprawling resume when it comes to special teams.

But they have made past teams special, by earning quarterback Tom Brady’s trust.

Take Breshad Perriman and Scotty Miller. The tandem combined for 29 special-teams snaps in 2021 but also combined for two of the most indelible scoring plays in recent Bucs lore.

In what likely is Brady’s final season in pewter, that proven connection with the 45-year-old quarterback overrode the potential of younger speedsters who arguably had better training camps. Two of them, undrafted rookies Deven Thompkins and Kaylon Geiger, cleared waivers and were chosen for the Bucs’ practice squad.

“I think that’s a big thing with Tom,” said Miller, who has 38 regular-season receptions in the Brady era and one game-altering touchdown catch in the 2020 NFC title contest.

“You’ve just got to be in the right spot, you’ve got to catch the ball when it’s thrown to you and stuff like that. So that probably played a part. But like I said, the guys that didn’t make the team were really good players, too. It was just a really tough room to get in and be a part of.”

To a degree, special teams likely was a consideration in determining the final receiver spots. Second-year return specialist Jaelon Darden, mostly ineffective in 2021 and the 2022 preseason, nonetheless logged 37 returns last season. Miller, who practiced punt returns Wednesday with Darden, has worked on kickoff coverage and as a gunner on punt coverage.

By contrast, Tyler Johnson, the 2020 fifth-round pick who was waived Tuesday, had 48 receptions in two seasons and logged 89 snaps on kickoff teams last year but didn’t contribute sufficiently as a returner or gunner, Bowles indicated.

Johnson was claimed off waivers Wednesday by the Texans.

“Tyler as a sixth receiver, to dress on Sundays you’ve got to be able to play special teams and contribute,” Bowles said. “Great pass receiver, very good catcher, he can catch the ball, very good player — no special teams value.”

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Then again, Perriman (one special teams snap in 2021) has none, either. What he did have was a walkoff 58-yard touchdown on a short Brady pass in an overtime win against the Bills last season. And his two-handed, toe-dragging catch of of a 24-yard Brady spiral in the season finale against Carolina gave the Bucs a halftime lead en route to a 41-17 romp.

Moreover, Miller was among Brady’s favorite targets during the quarterback’s first season in Tampa, collecting 70 or more receiving yards in four of the first seven games in 2020.

In Brady’s potential swan song in Tampa, those known commodities took precedence over the neophytes.

“I thought we had a lot of good players this year that could’ve played, and it came down to the end,” Bowles said. “But it’s always tough telling somebody they can’t make a team.”

Contact Joey Knight at jknight@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls

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