WR David Boston has looked explosive during the first three days of training camp
He came out of Ohio State as a much-heralded first-round pick and almost immediately set the league on fire. He appeared to be a cornerstone piece for his first NFL team but after just five seasons had moved on in a high-profile trade. He lost the better part of several seasons to serious injuries and appeared to have already put his best NFL days behind him. Then, with relatively little fanfare, he landed in Jon Gruden's offense and found new life, reemerging as one of the league's most explosive wide receivers.
That's the abbreviated version of the Joey Galloway story, of course, but a year from now and with just a few minor edits it could easily describe David Boston. Sure, Boston left the Arizona Cardinals after four seasons, not five, and as an unrestricted free agent, not a trade piece. And deeper under the surface there are plenty of other differences between the two former Buckeyes – size/speed particulars, personality styles, specific injury details – but their stories really are quite similar, and Boston's tale could be headed for the same happy conclusion in Tampa as Galloway's.
See, it's no coincidence that Boston has landed on the same team as Galloway. These days, it's easy to sell Tampa as an outpost for veterans seeking career resurrection. For reference, see "Jones, Thomas." Or "Hovan, Chris." Or "Griese, Brian." Or, of course, "Galloway, Joey." Some showcase their skills for a year and use their restored status to land a long-term job elsewhere, a la Jones. Some like it so much they figure out a way to stay, a la Hovan. Either way, both player and team benefit immensely.
Then there is the fact that Galloway himself is still around. Boston sees the presence of the veteran speedster as one of the main reasons he himself was brought in to the Bucs' attack.
"I'm just another guy who can go out there and hopefully make plays in a one-on-one situation," said Boston. "This offense is designed to create matchups and we have a lot of guys who have a lot of talent. Joey Galloway's coming off a big year last year and any other receiver who is playing across from him who has the ability to get open is going to create more one-on-one situations for him. So that's what I've got to do."
Boston, again like Galloway, is working on a prearranged schedule of just one practice a day as he finishes his comeback from the knee injury that slowed him in Miami in 2004 and 2005. Thus, through midday on Sunday, he had participated in just two of the Bucs' first five workouts, and yet he was the talk of camp. Few players have been more obviously outstanding through the first weekend than Boston, who has repeatedly gotten behind the defense for big gains.
"Yeah, he is [impressive]," said Gruden. "He's on a one-a-day schedule right now but he came out here yesterday and made three big plays. He's learning our offense, he's a quick study and he's a guy who's a lot like Mike [Clayton] from the standpoint that he's had great success, he's a young guy and he had a tough stage there in his career. Both those guys, if they come back for us, they'll help us tremendously."
If that happens, the Bucs could be loaded at the position. Galloway is coming off a Pro Bowl-caliber season and remains one of the fastest players in the league, and Clayton was one of the most productive receivers in the NFL in 2004. Ike Hilliard played with veteran savvy last fall, particularly on third downs, and Edell Shepherd showed flashes of big-play potential. The Bucs also drafted a big receiver, Notre Dame's Maurice Stovall, in the third round and have seen good things this weekend from second-year man Paris Warren.
That's a crowded field of roster hopefuls, but Boston feeds off that type of competition.
"I want to go out there and prove that I can still play," he said. "That's just one of the those things that's obvious, and it's driving me to go out there and compete. Like I said, I'm a competitor. It doesn't matter what I'm doing, I will go to the end. I will run through a brick wall until I win. I'm just glad my body can go out there, I can go out there and compete again and make plays in practice and show my talent."
Boston's talents were obvious early in his career. The eighth overall pick in 1999, by Arizona, Boston exploded in his second NFL season, catching 71 passes for 1,156 yards and seven touchdowns. He had 17 catches of 20 or more yards that season, a harbinger of his still unmatched 2001 campaign, when he caught 28 such long-gainers while streaking to an amazing 98-1,598-8 campaign. At the time, Boston looked like the league's next great star receiver, the prototype, featuring an unstoppable blend of size, speed and run-after-the-catch threat.
Could he be that again? Let's say this instead – why couldn't he be that again? Galloway proved in 2005 that he could still be that blindingly-fast deep threat of his NFL youth, even at the age of 33 and even coming off a serious groin injury in 2004. Boston will turn 28 the day after the Bucs' camp ends and he feels as if he has all the tools he had in his Arizona days before injuries knocked him off track.
Boston believes it's all still there.
"I'm a long ways away," he said. "My route-running's got to improve. There's a lot of things that I've got to do to improve and get back to that status. But the intangible things that got me there – being big, fast, strong – I haven't lost any of that. That stuff is there now, it's just doing the other things that I need to do to get back to that kind of status."
Clayton had the catch of camp, a leaping one-hander late on Saturday that had to be seen to be believed. Galloway continues to cut through the heart of the defense with his still-top notch acceleration. Hilliard has run some of the sharpest routes of the weekend. But it is Boston who has the most to prove and who has so far done the most to prove it. He can see the opportunity in front of him, the same one that worked out so well for Galloway and Hovan and Jones. He wants to seize it.
"This is an exciting offense," said Boston. "There are a lot of playmakers in this offense. There's a lot of talent and a lot of competition out there, so I'm excited to figure out my role on this team and try to maximize it."