'It's time for him to show what he can do'

Bucs head coach Jon Gruden said it all on Wednesday when he told reporters that "it's time for him to show what he can do." He is Maurice Stovall, who scored a touchdown last Sunday but up until that point had done nothing all season. With Michael Clayton's injury, that must change against Jacksonville.

"The Magician" reappeared on Sunday in Detroit.

Tampa Bay head coach Jon Gruden gave second-year wide receiver Maurice Stovall that nickname in training camp, though it wasn't out of praise. Gruden implied that Stovall disappeared after his exceptional first week of training camp, and in doing so lost his chance to become a starting wide receiver for the Buccaneers.

Stovall won't start on Sunday, but thanks to injuries to Michael Clayton and Mark Jones, he can't afford to disappear again.

"He's a guy we think is a pretty good player and how good a player he is, he'll determine that," Gruden said on Wednesday. "We're anxious to see where he is. We're confident in him and we need him."

Stovall felt he did all he could do to earn a starting job during training camp and the preseason. But the Buccaneers went with Joey Galloway and Ike Hilliard instead. Stovall won't knock the decision. Hilliard is the team's leading receiver and Galloway has three touchdown receptions.

Nor will Stovall second-guess the coaching staff.

"I just feel like coaches make decisions that they're comfortable with," Stovall said. "The starters they had at the start of the season up until now are the guys they thought could get the job done. That's fine. I was still in the game on special teams. Right now I am up (to play). As far as the offseason, I don't dwell on it. I don't stress over it."

There's no time. Stovall will be the No. 3 receiver on Sunday against a deep, hard-hitting Jacksonville secondary. Quarterback Jeff Garcia will likely need a third option.

"I think he brings a certain attitude to the field," Garcia said. "He has a big body. Last year he showed he's capable of making plays out there. Now it's a matter of plugging him in and allowing him to gain confidence and giving him chances to make plays. He's capable, like he showed last Sunday, of positioning that big body to make a critical catch and score a touchdown."

Stovall's 4-yard touchdown reception — a slant in which he overpowered a cornerback to gain inside position — was his first catch of the season.

That was not what many envisioned for Stovall this offseason. Gruden believed that Stovall had made great strides in every facet of his game before training camp. And when the Buccaneers arrived in Orlando, it seemed Stovall made an exceptional play every day the first week of training camp.

But, slowly, Stovall faded. His critical second-quarter fumble against Jacksonville in preseason probably didn't help. By the time the Bucs arrived back in Tampa, Gruden made his "magician" comment.

"He's a magician," Gruden said on Aug. 22. "He disappeared on me for about 10 days, Stovall. I haven't seen him around here for about two weeks."

Gruden said later that he felt Stovall's legs were coming back, so perhaps Stovall simply hit a physical wall from the increased activity.

Or perhaps, as Gruden indicated Wednesday, Stovall had trouble grasping some themes in the Bucs' intricate offensive scheme.

"We move our guys around," Gruden said. "Ike Hilliard plays here and there. Joey Galloway moves around. And when you move receivers around, you have to move all of them. I think Maurice Stovall, his versatility, has picked up. He's comfortable playing on the weak side, the strong side and in the slot."

Whatever it was, Stovall lost his shot at the starting job after Hilliard's steady play in preseason.

Stovall won't dwell on the past.

"It's not something that I'm thinking about right now," Stovall said. "I don't care to. It's in the past. There are certain things you can't control. You can control what you do on film and what you do every day and how you prepare yourself."

Hilliard — who took the job many thought Stovall was playing for — believes he'll add something right away.

"I think we got a little taste last week (of what he can do)," Hilliard said. "Mo's going to be fine."

Stovall said that a football season — even a career — is a marathon. He admits to some disappointment at not making the starting lineup in the season opener, but realized quickly that didn't matter as much as being patient and continuing to work. The two receivers in front of him were playing at a Pro Bowl level. There weren't enough footballs to go around.

There should be a few coming his way on Sunday.

"There were great guys in front of me and I had to wait," Stovall said. "It didn't feel good. But at the same time it motivates me to keep working harder for a situation like this."

And Gruden made it clear he's watching.

"It's time for him to show what he can do," Gruden said.


Matthew Postins covers the Buccaneers for BucsBlitz.com and the Charlotte Sun-Herald in Port Charlotte, Fla. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association and has won national awards for his Buccaneers coverage from the PFWA, the National Newspaper Association and the Associated Press Sports Editors. He is also a contributor to the Scot Brantley Show from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WHBO 1470-AM in Tampa-Clearwater.


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