WR Reidel Anthony has one of the highest touchdown-to-reception ratios in Buccaneer history
Football coaches who want to see a little more decorum from their players are fond of following a touchdown with the phrase, 'Act like you've been there before.'
Well, Tampa Bay Buccaneers fans know that Reidel Anthony has been there before. They remember his act.
Four times last season, Anthony, the Bucs' fifth-year receiver, reached the end zone. Each score was followed by a signature dance involving a little more hip thrust than most end zone artists employ. It was a sure ticket to the highlight reel.
Five games into the 2001 season, Anthony has yet to record a touchdown, but the issue of his celebration is still a topic of interest among fans.
"When people see me around they say, 'What's your new end zone dance?' Anthony revealed with a laugh. "I say, 'Wow, why can't I keep the same one?' Some people say they don't like it, some people say they love it. Hopefully, I can find the end zone soon. It's been five games, and this is really killing me."
The odds of that drought ending may go up dramatically if usual starters Keyshawn Johnson (hip) and Jacquez Green (groin) are unable to overcome their injuries in time to suit up on Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings. Anthony could leap from number-three receiver to go-to man in one fell swoop, and perhaps his first touchdown of 2001 will follow.
Anthony's celebration may change, too. Or it may not. That remains a closely guarded secret.
"That I cannot reveal at this time," he said, slyly. "I keep that to close friends, but I can't tell you right now. Stay tuned."
He might as well have been speaking about the news regarding Johnson and Green, a story that is likely to stretch into Sunday. While the team watched linebacker Derrick Brooks and running back Warrick Dunn in similar manners over the past two weeks, the sense each time was that both would play. There doesn't seem to be a strong guess yet as to the availability of either Johnson or Green, who are both listed as questionable on the Bucs' injury report.
At this point, it makes sense to just pencil Anthony in as a starter, because he has to prepare as if that were the obvious outcome.
"You never wish anything bad on anyone," he said. "Unfortunately, those guys are hurt. They'll probably be back by Sunday, but I still need to go out there and prepare and get myself better. If the opportunity comes my way, I'm more than willing and able to step up.
"I do that every week. It's not like I never started in this league, so why cheat myself? I'm just preparing like I do every week. Like I said, if the opportunity comes, I'm just going to go out, do my thing and hopefully help my team."
Opportunities – to Anthony, they have been the only thing lacking in his game since the 1998 season, when he filled this same go-to role quite ably, catching 51 passes for 708 yards and seven touchdowns. Since that year, Anthony has started just eight of the following 37 team games, usually serving as the third man behind first Bert Emanuel and Green and now Johnson and Green.
How he has capitalized on those opportunities is reflected best in his totals from 2000, when he caught just 15 passes but scored on four of them, a remarkably high rate. Down the stretch last season, Anthony made a number of big plays, including a spinning, 22-yard grab at the one-yard line that set up Warrick Dunn's game-winning touchdown against the St. Louis Rams on Monday Night Football.
This year, Anthony has four receptions, three of them for 40 yards in the Bucs victory over Green Bay two weeks ago, including a key 16-yard catch that preserved the team's game-winning drive.
"Reidel caught some big balls for us this year, caught some big balls in the Green Bay, caught a lot of big balls in the past for us," said Head Coach Tony Dungy. "We feel great about playing him."
In the Bucs other four games, though, Anthony has one catch for two yards.
"My opportunities are very slim," said Anthony. "When they come my way, I feel like I always do a good job. There's no more I can do than that, just go out and execute my position and help my offense.
"I feel like, when I've had opportunities I've made the most of them. That's what I'm doing right now."
In one manner, at least, that is irrefutable. Anthony has 16 touchdown catches among his 135 receptions, a scoring rate of just under 12%. Of all active Buccaneers, only TE Dave Moore, at 14%, has a higher rate. Of all wide receivers in team history with at least 50 receptions, Anthony's mark ranks third, just behind the rates of Bruce Hill (12.1%) and Morris Owens (12.1%).
And Anthony has the starting experience that must be comforting to a team that may have to put both of its usual starters on the shelf. After being drafted 16th overall in the 1997 draft – still the only receiver ever taken in the first round by Tampa Bay – Anthony started 26 games in his first two seasons, totaling 86 receptions for 1,156 yards and 11 touchdowns in that time.
"He's had a couple of good years, really played well his second year for us," said Dungy. Different things have happened and he hasn't been as productive as he would like. This may be an opportunity for him."
Those early starts all came with Trent Dilfer as the quarterback, and his four-touchdown campaign of 2000 occurred with Shaun King making the throws. While new Buc QB Brad Johnson has obviously forged a quick connection with Keyshawn Johnson and Green, Anthony has had roughly 20 snaps a game to work with the offense's new distributor of opportunities. However, this former Gator already feels quite comfortable with the former Seminole under center.
"Most definitely," said Anthony. "Brad's one of those quarterbacks that you can talk to and make adjustments during the game. He does a good job of communicating with all of the receivers. I don't think anyone on this team has a problem with him. He's a communicator."
Anthony has no doubt that he can immediately give Johnson that same open target that Johnson and Green have mostly provided through the first five games.
"I know I can play this league," he said. "I wasn't drafted in the first round for nothing. Check the past history. I feel like I go out and execute, whatever happens."