Bucs' Page makes case to earn return job

Published Aug. 30, 2013

TAMPA — Generally, running out a kickoff from 7 yards in the end zone is not the best idea.

But Eric Page has never met a return opportunity he didn't like.

"That's the only way I know how to make a play," the Bucs rookie said. "I try to return everything I can."

The result: One of Tampa Bay's few memorable plays during Thursday night's 30-12 loss to the Redskins at Raymond James Stadium — a 105-yard, first-quarter kickoff return that started 7 yards into the Bucs end zone and ended at the Washington 2.

In keeping with the spirit of the evening, the electrifying return was nullified because of a Mike James hold, and the Bucs began the series on their 7.

But the play likely solidified a roster spot for Page, 21, and gives Tampa Bay, for the first time in a while, a legitimate return threat.

"He's put together some good work in this camp," coach Greg Schiano said.

Page's 30.5-yard return average entered the game 10th in the league among players with at least three attempts.

Last season, Tampa Bay was 30th in the league on kick returns with a 20.3-yard average. In 2011 it was 26th with an average of 22.6 yards.

"Just a great asset for the team," receiver Tiquan Underwood said of a more dangerous return game. "It just gets the offense flowing."

It appeared Page, 5 feet 10, 180 pounds, gave the Bucs a boost after the Redskins scored on their opening drive.

With what he described as "quick reflexes" and the ability to "read holes." Page didn't hesitate when he caught the kick and accelerated through a hole at about the 20.

"The blockers were great," he said. "I just ran to daylight. It was easy. Anyone could have done it. I just ran through the middle and made a cut on the kicker."

Page, who had three returns in the game for 69 yards, admittedly ran out of gas and was run down by Lance Lewis.

Page kicked himself a bit, saying, "I've got to finish the play," but added, "I was just happy we were able to break one out."

This has been a breakout preseason for Page, a record-breaking receiver at Toledo who signed with Tampa Bay as a free agent after last year missing training camp with the Broncos because of a torn ACL.

"Here's guy that we're bringing on, bringing on, and he keeps getting better and better," Schiano said. "And (Thursday) he did it again."

"Right now I'm in a pretty good spot," Page said. "I'm just glad to be here and moving on with my story."