Bucs Get Bigger At Receiver

May 1 – Under former Bucs head coach Tony Dungy, both the Buccaneers and their fans had grown frustrated watching speedy, but undersized receivers try to work their way off of the line of scrimmage on Sundays. But with the addition of head coach Jon Gruden, the Pewter Pirates have evolved at the wide receiver position. They're much taller and much more physical. But does bigger necessarily mean the Bucs will get better production from their wide receiver corps next season?

Tampa Bay's wide receivers were a big reason why the Buccaneers offense never got their act together under former head coach Tony Dungy. The Bucs tried to address the position by drafting wide receivers Reidel Anthony (1997) and Jacquez Green (1998), but both were inconsistent and when their contracts expired at the end of the 2001 season, they were no longer welcome in Tampa Bay.

Both Anthony (5-11. 180) and Green (5-10, 175) are former Florida Gators, and both are known for their speed, not their size. But having speed in the National Football League will only get you so far as both receivers can attest to.

"The guys I've played with in my past (have been big)," said Bucs QB Brad Johnson. "It's a big receiver-type league. Corners are getting more physical and faster in this league. We have to have guys that can get off jams in this league. That's what we expect from our receivers."

After disappointing careers in Tampa Bay, the Buccaneers allowed both their No. 3 (Anthony) and No. 2 (Green) receivers to explore the free agent market and both landed in Washington with former Gators and now new Redskins head coach Steve Spurrier.

But with the addition of head coach Jon Gruden, an evolution of sorts has taken place at the wide receiver position. Tampa Bay has gone bigger at the position, and in a big way.

Tampa Bay added wide receiver Joe Jurevicius (6-5, 230) to their roster last month through free agency. They also drafted WR Marquise Walker (6-2, 219) out of the University of Michigan with their third-round selection on April 21. The Bucs added even more size to their offense when they signed free agent tight ends Marco Battaglia (6-3, 249) and Ken Dilger (6-5, 255) earlier this offseason.

"I think you have to look at the past history of offensive systems," said Brad Johnson. "That (tall receivers) is what they had in Oakland, and they were successful there. That's what we're going to have here. We've got guys that can catch the ball and guys that can make plays. I think that's what we were kind of lacking in the past. These receivers are going to be very physical and they're going to make a lot of catches."

Tampa Bay currently has 12 wide receivers under contract and of that amount, eight of them are 6'0" or taller. Take a look at Tampa Bay's current wide receiver corps.

Joe Jurevicius (6-5, 230)

Keyshawn Johnson (6-4, 212)

Marquise Walker (6-2, 219)

Milton Wynn (6-2, 212)

Jermale Kelly (6-2, 200)

Eddie Hardaway (6-1, 195)

Frank Murphy (6-0, 206)

Keith Poole (6-0, 193)

E.G. Green (5-11, 180)

Darryl Daniel (5-11, 190

Karl Williams (5-10, 177)

Aaron Lockett (5-7, 155)

The Bucs have obviously gone in a different direction, and one would be hard pressed to disagree with the change. Last season, Tampa Bay's wide receivers caught total of just four touchdowns. Although Johnson earned a trip to the Pro Bowl with 106 receptions, Tampa Bay's passing attack was inconsistent.

"It (having bigger receivers) helps your quarterback standing back there under duress," said Gruden. "When lanes are congested, it helps them see. It was really helping yesterday (last Thursday) when we were practicing in the red zone."

Gruden doesn't feel like he's doing anything out of the ordinary. In fact, he feels smaller receivers are a minority in the NFL.

"You can just look in the NFL and could probably count on your right hand the amount of receivers that play in this league that are under 5-foot-10," said Gruden. "And then you'd have to name them to me. Guys that play in this league are bigger guys. They're durable players that can run after the catch. The more diverse you are, the better. And certainly size helps you do a little more in my opinion."

The Buccaneers have added size, but some have raised questions about the lack of speed Tampa Bay has at the wide receiver position. Murphy and Lockett are arguably the fastest players on the team, and Green, Poole and Daniel possess some quickness as well. But by the time it's all said and done and Tampa Bay is ready to make a decision on their final 53-man roster, will there be room any of these receivers? After all, Gruden has suggested that his bigger receivers are a lot faster than advertised.

"There's two kinds of speed I see," said Gruden. "There's speed that you run on a clock indoors on a track at a combine. And then there's functional football speed."

Tampa Bay has some fresh faces at the wide receiver position, which has been welcomed by most. But in the end, Keyshawn Johnson feels that neither size nor speed will win football games.

"I don't think size has anything to do with it (winning)," said Johnson. "I think it has to do with your heart. If you have the heart, I don't care how big you are. If you're gutless, you're just gutless. You have to be physical on all plays. I think they've got guys in here that have heart in terms of wanting to go out there and take punishment opposed to turning it down. I think that's what they (the Bucs) were looking for. "

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