For Bucs, Bigger Is Now Better At WR

April 20 - After years of watching smaller receivers like Jacquez Green and Reidel Anthony get outmuscled for the ball and pushed around by defensive backs, Tampa Bay has decided to push back by building a bigger receiving corps. The move towards a more physical group of receivers began in 2000 with the acquisition of 6-foot-4 Keyshawn Johnson and continues this season with the signing of 6-foot-5 Joe Jurevicius and the drafting of 6-foot-2 Marquise Walker.

Bigger is better. The position clearly needed an overhaul, but with the Bucs' selection of Michigan wide receiver Marquise Walker in the third round and the team's signing of Joe Jurevicius, Keith Poole, E.G. Green and Karl Williams in free agency, Gruden and general manager Rich McKay are bordering on overkill at receiver.

As the roster stands today, the 6-foot-4, 219-pound Johnson is the primary receiver, and Jurevicius, who is 6-foot-5, and weighs 230 pounds would line up as the No. 2. The 6-foot-2, 213-pound Walker, based on his eye-opening production at Michigan, would be the leading candidate for the third receiver spot.

"With Marquise Walker, Joe Jurevicius and Keyshawn Johnson, I know this, we've got the biggest wide receivers in the league, and that's going to be exciting," Gruden said. "Marquise Walker is a guy who scored touchdowns. He stepped up in big games and will be another legitimate big body, big target for us to throw to."

One can just imagine the smile on Gruden's face and the look of sheer terror that will come across the faces of the league's defensive backs when the Bucs get into the red zone and those tall, rangy receivers will be put in jump ball situations in the corner of the end zone.

As much as Gruden was enamored with Walker's size and how he, Johnson and Jurevicius would form the "Triple Towers of Tampa", the Bucs head coach loved how Walker produced in big games.

"He's another big receiver," Gruden said. "He was really the go-to-guy at Michigan. Marquise Walker is a guy that can come in immediately and compete. He has size and speed and a very big upside. He was clearly the go-to-wide receiver at the University of Michigan. He's been on very good football teams.

"This is a guy who, at the collegiate level, is what I call the go-to-guy. The "Iceman." He's a guy in that critical situation, the Michigan Wolverines look for. A couple of years ago in the Orange Bowl, against Alabama, everyone wanted to know who this guy was. Again, his statistics speak for themselves."

In 2001, Walker set school records with 86 catches for 1,143 yards (13.3 avg.) and 11 touchdowns, surpassing the efforts of predecessor David Terrell, who had 1,130 yards in 2000. He holds the Wolverines' career record with 176 catches, topping the previous mark held by Anthony Carter (161).

The addition of Jurevicius, Williams and Walker over the past two weeks will put pressure on Tampa Bay's holdovers at the receiver spot -- Milton Wynn and Frank Murphy -- to make the team this year. At 6-foot-2, Wynn has some size, but isn't polished. The 6-foot Murphy has blazing speed, but is still learning the position after playing running back in college. But both receivers have size on their side, which appears to be en vogue in Tampa Bay all of a sudden, and that might give them the edge over smaller receivers like Williams, Poole, Green and Darryl Daniel.

Gone are the days of smallish receivers like ex-Bucs Reidel Anthony and Jacquez Green get jammed at the line and outmuscled by 190-pound cornerbacks. Now it will be those 190-pound corners who will get pushed around by the Bucs' big receivers.

While the Bucs may be sacrificing speed at the receiver position for size -- neither Jurevicius nor Walker run faster than 4.5 in the 40-yard dash -- Gruden says that it's still possible for the bigger receivers to make big plays downfield. They'll just have to break tackles rather than outrace defenders.

And the fact that the Bucs will now boast one of the league's biggest and most physical receiving corps should a pay dividends when it comes to blocking on the perimeter for the running game. Gruden said that the number one goal of the Bucs' offense is to improve a woeful running game that ranked 30th last year. Tampa Bay has two big, physical backs in Michael Pittman and Mike Alstott and now has a trio of receivers who have the same traits to help those backs get into the secondary.

Size matters in Tampa Bay now. Small is out at the wide receiver position and big is in.

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Copyright 2002 Buccaneer Magazine/

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