With his performance Thursday night in the Buccaneers’ preseason opener against the Ravens, Kevin Ogletree may be distancing himself from the pack in the competition for the team’s third receiver position.
The former Dallas Cowboy, who signed with the Bucs this offseason, was targeted eight times, catching five passes for 65 receiving yards. Four of his catches came on third down, with two setting up scoring drives.
Tiquan Underwood, likely his primary challenger for the third receiver position, was slowed earlier in camp by a hamstring injury. Chris Owusu, who came on strong recently in practices, made some noticeable mistakes.
Ogletree appeared the least affected by the bright lights or the rain.
“That was kind of strange…I took off the gloves, but we’ve had that in practice a couple times. You just make sure you look at the ball longer. It’s kind of second-nature just to grab it, tuck it, but with the rain, it’s kind of slippery so you’ve got to kind of watch it a little closer.”
Nevermind the fact that he spent the last four years in a dome and wasn’t used to the elements. It was his chance to make a statement.
“I wanted to play the whole game,” Ogletree said Thursday night. “I’m just trying to gain the trust of my teammates, my coaches, my peers, that I can make plays when we need them. We’ve got a lot of guys that can make plays around here, so just to be consistent and gain that trust — it’s big.”
Considering the Bucs were 23rd in the league last year in third-down completion percentage, having a trusted set of hands in the slot, with true speed, who can adjust on the fly, is a need for the Bucs offense.
Ogletree fulfills it, and continues to work towards establishing a rapport with quarterback Josh Freeman.
“He’s a good guy, on and off the field. On the field, he’s unbelievable. You want that guy to trust you. You want to be there for him. That being said, he’s the same person off the field. Just an unbelievable role model and a great person on this team and for this organization…always smiling, very positive, and loves the game.”
He’s also working to have a more comprehensive grasp of the playbook — not just the slot role.
“It’s very flexible,” Ogletree said of Mike Sullivan’s offense. “I can be inside, outside, and to be able to be trusted to be put in those spots is important because of our play-calling. We do a lot of things. We go four wide [receivers] with Vincent [Jackson] at tight end, we’ll mix it up a little bit.”
“So just knowing the offense, knowing the interchangeable positions so you’re not just thinking about one spot — you know the whole play so you can bounce around a little bit and it gives some flexibility.”
This isn’t the first time Ogletree’s had to fight to earn a job. Last year, he did the same thing in Dallas during training camp. Then in the season opener against the Giants, he burst out of nowhere with a two-touchdown performance that included eight catches for 114 receiving yards.
He had a big game against the Falcons last season too, and if you notice, Romo’s fourth-quarter 21-yard touchdown throw, much like the 10-yard touchdown against the Giants, came with Romo escaping pressure and improvising. Ogletree’s adjustments on those plays were critical.
His new quarterback, Josh Freeman, has made some of his best career plays using improv too, when he was flushed out of the pocket and had to think fast, scrambling to find a receiver who could get open downfield.
Freeman didn’t have as much success with that last year, but now that he has a year of Mike Sullivan’s offense under his belt, perhaps he can get back to his old self, possibly with an answer here.