WR Paris Warren believes another year in the Bucs' system is helping him make his mark
There is a strange dichotomy that develops between teammates at the same position in an NFL training camp.
The isolated, intense atmosphere of camp breeds familiarity, draws young men into friendships based on shared experience. However, these same friends are also in strict competition with each other; a roster spot for one could mean a ticket home for the other.
So what do you do, when thrust into this position?
Most choose to ignore the fact that they are in head-to-head competition and simply strive to prove their own worthiness. Most also choose to help each other, and rely on each other's help, despite the underlying battle for jobs. That's the approach taken by second-year Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Paris Warren, the former favored target of San Francisco 49ers quarterback Alex Smith.
"For me, it isn't a competition for receivers," said Warren of the Bucs' suddenly intriguing depth at wideout. "Then again, I am always picking at their brains, trying to get all of the knowledge that I can, and just do what I can to help the team."
That being said, it doesn't hurt to be the one who happens to find the end zone when the games get underway. That was the case for Warren, and rookie third-rounder Maurice Stovall, when the Bucs played their preseason opener against the New York Jets on Friday night.
Working under the direction of impressive rookie quarterback Bruce Gradkowski, Warren and Stovall scored second-half touchdowns to lead the Bucs to a 16-3 lead over the Jets. Among receivers (discounting running backs), Warren and Stovall were the only men to catch multiple passes on a night dominated by defense and the Bucs' running game. Stovall caught a team-high three passes for 21 yards; Warren caught a pair of 11-yard strikes, including the go-ahead touchdown midway through the third quarter.
Warren, an outstanding route-runner who was drafted in the seventh round a year ago, knew he had to bide his time while the Bucs established their running game.
"We finally got them to play a little bit of man-to-man and I took advantage of it," said Warren of his scoring play, a simple square-in about a yard into the end zone. "Bruce is a great quarterback. He came in and showed a lot of composure. He just played relaxed. He never really tried to force anything. He did what he had to do."
Stovall added the clinching score early in the fourth quarter. Two plays before the touchdown, he took a short out and turned it into a 12-yard gain down to New York's six by swatting aside one potential tackler and surging upfield. On second-and-goal from the two, Stovall lined up in man-to-man coverage with cornerback Rayshun Reed and ran a simple fade, leaping over and around Reed to make the scoring catch.
At 6-4 and 229 pounds, Stovall has the size to be a serious red zone threat. That same bulk also makes the former Notre Dame star a valuable run-blocker, which is critical in the Bucs' offense.
"Some of the blocks he made [Friday night]…I realize it is a preseason game, but my God," said Head Coach Jon Gruden. "He's a very physical guy. He is a special competitor. The guy does not quit. He has a long way to go, I think, to make a real splash here. He understands that, but he's learning, he's working. He has a physical presence. We said that when we drafted him and when you look at this tape, you will see that."
Indeed, Stovall faces an intense learning curve in the Bucs' complicated offensive attack. Still, Michael Clayton excelled as a rookie in that system just two years ago. The more significant impediment to Stovall's immediate career might be the Bucs' depth at the position. That applies to Warren as well, though the second-year man is hoping his 20 months in the system will help him earn a spot this fall.
"Being here for one year, that really helps out," said Warren. "You know the system. You know a lot of the guys. You know certain plays and what you can and can't do."
Warren and Stovall hope they showed what they can do on Friday night. They certainly didn't make the Bucs' decision-making process at wide receiver any easier.