Injuries have plagued Russel Gage Jr. since his arrival in Tampa Bay, derailing ascension. Two days into the NFL's 2022 free agency period, the Buccaneers signed Gage to bolster the receiving corps behind Mike Evans and Chris Godwin.
Gage had been a productive pass-catcher for Tampa Bay's NFC South rival, the Atlanta Falcons. He showcased the ability to stretch the field vertically and possessed the short-area-quickness to break inside on underneath/intermediate routes out of the slot. Gage was primarily featured in 11 personnel for the Bucs with Evans and Godwin last season, working interchangeably on the outside and in the slot.
In 2022, Gage accumulated 51 receptions for 426 yards and five touchdowns. He was projected to become an integral part of the Bucs' offense last season, but injuries hindered his progress on the field. Gage had a lingering left hamstring ailment throughout the season that forced him to miss time and prior to the Wild Card game against the Cowboys, he suffered a concussion on a touchdown catch the prior week against his former team, the Falcons.
Before OTAs, Gage once again sustained an injury. Head Coach Todd Bowles confirmed that Gage suffered a lower extremity leg injury, and the team took precautionary measures with his injury, gradually upping the workload and incorporating Gage into the 11-on-11 team period at training camp. With a bolstered workload, Gage continues to work towards peak form on the grass.
"He's going full speed, it's just a matter of getting him in camp condition," Bowles described. "He runs and plays but he's not running like the rest of them almost every play. That takes time when you get out of injury, but we expect him to be back taking almost every snap in about a week or so."
Reps cannot be imitated and as Gage continues to build chemistry with Baker Mayfield and Kyle Trask, in addition to learning the timing, tempo and spacing of routes in Dave Canales' new offensive system, Gage will take a step forward. For the fifth-year veteran, building an understanding of rhythm and where to be in certain situations on the field will cultivate growth.
Gage has the straight-line speed to play outside but also shows the quick-twitch agility and loose hips to line up in the slot. Gage's ability to generate yards after the catch will help solidify the Bucs' retooled offense. For him, the "new" system is familiar in nature.
"I really love the offense," Gage stated. "It is honestly something that I am used to. I remember being in Atlanta and we kind of took over the Kyle Shanahan offense and I see a lot of similarities in that. A lot of deep shots and quick game, but I am used to it, and I really like it. There will be a lot of explosive plays. He's [Dave Canales] is a take what they give you type-of-guy and I think that is essential for our offense getting the ball down the field … That is going to be big for me because I am a create separation type-of-guy. If it is quick game, I create separation, I catch the ball and I have room to run so It will tailor to me a lot moving forward."
Kyle Shanahan and the 49ers offense is a personification of the phrase, "personnel dictates philosophy." The system is geared towards getting playmakers in space, with Deebo Samuel, George Kittle and Christian McCaffrey serving as the beneficiaries. San Francisco utilizes an option game with an emphasis on the short-to-intermediate area of the field to open play-action. That system, with wide zone sprinkled in, will have similarities to the one Dave Canales is implementing in Tampa Bay. The Bucs' new system will aim to marry the run and the pass, adding movement to keep defenses off-balance, including wide and mid zone, misdirection/motion, bootlegs/scrambles and working the intermediate area of the field. When opponents are forced to allocate more resources to the run game or the threat of a quarterback keeper, the Bucs will take advantage of advantageous one-on-ones on the outside featuring Evans, Godwin and Gage.
Gage, a fierce competitor, is adept at generating separation with bounce through the stem and sell at the top of routes. Whether it is an out-and-up, a jet sweep, a crosser or a curl, Gage is dangerous with the ball in his hands. He is still getting his feet wet in camp but is beginning to make his presence felt between the hashes. Gage will be an under-the-radar candidate to keep an eye on throughout the remainder of camp as he further distances himself from injury.