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Owusu, Underwood Ready to Step Up

Posted Oct 28, 2013

With Mike Williams heading to injured reserve, the Bucs may need to use all their receiving depth to replace his production, but Tiquan Underwood and Chris Owusu are first in line to assume larger roles

  • WR Tiquan Underwood appears to be the next man up to take over as a starter for the injured Mike Williams
  • Second-year WR Chris Owusu may also take on a bigger role in the offense as the primary third receiver
  • The Bucs' receiving corps is mostly inexperienced behind Vincent Jackson, and it may take a committee approach to replace Williams' production
Tiquan Underwood knows what Mike Williams means to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and like everyone else he was disappointed to see Williams land on injured reserveon Monday.  Unlike almost everyone else, Underwood has the responsibility – or at least part of it – to replace what a healthy Williams would have contributed over the final nine weeks of the 2013 season.

"Mike Williams, he's such a competitor," said Underwood.  "I love being in the huddle with him. And then from the numbers aspect, the amount of catches and yards and touchdowns that you get from a guy like that…  Basically, we have Vincent Jackson '1' and Mike Williams '1a.'  As a collective group we're going to have to step in and try to shoulder the load."

Indeed, a critical part of the Buccaneers' offensive plan heading into the 2013 season was to attack downfield with a pair of big and physical receivers who were both dangerous enough to keep defenses from focusing too much on either one.  In 2012, Jackson and Williams combined for 2,480 yards and 17 touchdowns.  But little has gone according to plan for the Buccaneers' offense in 2013, and the loss of Williams is the latest hurdle to overcome.

It will likely take more than one player to reproduce Williams' production, but Underwood appears to be the first choice to step into the starting lineup opposite Jackson, largely because he is the only other receiver on the roster with any depth of NFL experience.  Second-year man Chris Owusu, one of four other receivers on the roster who are in their first or second seasons in the league, may be first in line to take over the important third-receiver role.

“Ti’s played in games at a higher level," said Schiano.  "Has he been perfect? No.  If he [had been], he would’ve been starting. But I think he’s the next guy up as far as experience. Then you start talking about, ‘Who’s the third receiver in the game?’ Chris certainly showed great promise. He’s got a nagging [ankle] injury that’s keeping him from practicing. It kept him from being active last week. How well will he be by Wednesday? How well will he be by Sunday? He’s going to be up, but at what percentage?"

-- WR Chris Owusu has six catches in two games played this season
"It feels good to get the opportunity," said Owusu, who was held out of the Thursday night game due to his ankle injury.  "We're going to miss Mike.  He's definitely an integral part of our offense and he's such a dynamic playmaker.  But that gives a chance to some other people like Tiquan Underwood and myself and [Eric] Page, and all the other guys on the team – [Russell] Shepard and Skye [Dawson] – to step up.  We know what Vincent Jackson's going to do for our team.  He's a big play-maker and we're just going to do the best that we can."

Owusu has six catches for 55 yards this season, with three grabs each in the Philadelphia and Atlanta games in Weeks Five and Six.  Underwood has four catches for 53 yards, most of it coming last Thursday night against Carolina when Owusu was out and Williams was running at far less than 100 percent.  Neither player was on the active roster before the Bucs' Week Five bye; Owusu was promoted from the practice squad and Underwood was re-signed after being waived in the final roster reduction to 53 before the start of the season.  Both players were with the team last fall, however.  Underwood spent much of the season as the team's third receiver and finished with 28 catches for 425 yards and two scores.  Owusu, a rookie last year, got a few late-season cameos and contributed one 24-yard catch.

Basically, we have Vincent Jackson '1' and Mike Williams '1a.' As a collective group we're going to have to step in and try to shoulder the load.
-- WR Tiquan Underwood
Underwood has shown some ability to get deep, averaging 15.2 yards per reception last year.  Owusu has mostly caught short passes out of the slot so far – and done well in that regard – but he does have very good speed and might be able to help downfield as well.  The truth is, the Buccaneers will probably use all, or at least most of, their receiving depth to piece together a Williams-like contribution, with a variety of play packages for Underwood, Owusu, Page, Dawson and Shepard.  At the very least, that will likely be the approach the team takes this weekend in Seattle.

"How are we going to win this game?" said Schiano.  "I think you’ve got to piece it together. This guy does this, this guy does that. We mix it together. We run the ball a little bit better.

“Mike’s been banged up for the better part of the year, I don’t think it’s going to be that much of a change. Relative to what could have been, sure. Mike’s a very fine player, but that’s part of life in the NFL. We need the next man to get the opportunity and we’ll go with that."