Expect a wide-open battle among Tampa Bay Buccaneers' wide receivers at training camp

Vincent Jackson, a Pro Bowl receiver and a new Buc, is increasing the level of competition at the position.
Vincent Jackson, a Pro Bowl receiver and a new Buc, is increasing the level of competition at the position.
Published July 6, 2012

TAMPA — The Bucs report for training camp in three weeks, and when they do, perhaps no unit will be under as much scrutiny as the wide receivers.

Though 11 are on the roster, it's likely no more than five or six will make it past the final cut.

Of the 11, five were on last season's roster. Combine them with new additions Vincent Jackson (a Pro Bowl player and roster lock) and Tiquan Underwood, and throw in Ed Gant, who just missed making the cut last season, and you've got a crowd.

"(Backup quarterback) Dan Orlovsky said, 'I don't know if I've ever seen a top-five or six (group) in a receiving corps that's been this solid,' '' quarterback Josh Freeman said. "Everybody can go out and do it. I'm really looking forward to getting out there."

The addition of Jackson, who signed a blockbuster $55.5 million contract on the first day of the free-agent signing period, leaves the remaining receivers in a situation where they must work harder for the remaining pass attempts. During offseason workouts, Jackson was easily Freeman's top target, and that isn't likely to change in the regular season.

Jackson already has made an impact as a leader, but his other primary contribution might be bringing out the best in those behind him. "He's just made the whole (unit) better, and he'll continue to do that on a daily basis," receivers coach P.J. Fleck said.

Mike Williams, attempting to bounce back from a bit of a down year in 2011, is the presumptive No. 2 receiver. This is a different role for him after being thrust into the No. 1 spot his first two seasons.

Beyond Williams, anything is possible. Preston Parker, who emerged last season with 40 receptions, has excelled in the offseason. But during training camp and the preseason, Underwood, Gant, Dezmon Briscoe (six touchdown receptions in 2011), Arrelious Benn and Sammie Stroughter will have chances to state their cases.

"It's just a bunch of guys trying to make a name for themselves in this league," said Underwood, who played for new Bucs coach Greg Schiano at Rutgers and joined the club as a free agent this offseason. "That just brings about competition. Competition is always good, because that makes the cream rise to the top."

The group is young. Including Jackson, 29, the average age of the top eight receivers is 25. Briscoe, entering his third season, is 22. Benn, also entering Year 3, is 23.

That's why Fleck doesn't want development to get lost during the evaluation process. His advice?

"Right now, just worry about today," Fleck said. "Don't worry about the result at the end. … Every individual we have, we want them to say, 'What am I going to get better on today?' Then they go out and truly get better at that skill or that route. If they can get better like that every day and then stack a bunch of those together over the course of time — we're not going to become All-Pros tomorrow — it's going to be over time with the consistent commitment that they're making."

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another bountygate suit: The players association filed a lawsuit against the NFL on behalf of three players suspended in connection with the Saints bounty investigation, calling commissioner Roger Goodell "incurably and evidently biased." The lawsuit, filed on behalf of Will Smith, Scott Fujita and Anthony Hargrove in federal court, said Goodell violated the labor agreement by showing he had predetermined the players' guilt before serving as the arbitrator for their June 18 appeal hearing. Goodell denied the appeals. The union wants a judge to set aside earlier arbitration rulings and order a new arbitrator.

Information from Times wires was used in this report.