WR Sammie Stroughter posted career highs in receptions (four) and punt return yards (74) on Sunday before sustaining his season-ending foot injury
The debut NFL season for wide receiver Sammie Stroughter will finish with just one real disappointment: It ended two games early.
Stroughter sustained a broken foot near the end of another outstanding game Sunday in Seattle and will be placed on injured reserve. Stroughter will miss the final two contests of the year but is expected to return during offseason workouts.
Stroughter went out on a high note, though his season was marked as much by consistency as it was a few spectacular moments. The rookie wideout helped the Buccaneers earn their second win of the season by catching a career-high four passes for 46 yards while also picking up 74 yards on four punt returns. Stroughter's 33-yard return in the third quarter set up a Derrick Ward touchdown catch and was one of the key plays during Tampa Bay's 21-point rally after halftime.
Though he set a new personal high, Stroughter had caught at least three passes in seven of the Bucs' first 13 games (he was inactive against the New York Jets in Week 14 due to a lower back strain). He spent the entire season as the team's primary slot receiver, an achievement in itself for a player taken in the seventh-round of the NFL Draft just a few months earlier.
"What Sammie's done this year has been pretty impressive," said Head Coach Raheem Morris. "You're talking about a seventh-round draft pick, to come in here and not only make the team – which is a credit to himself – you're talking about a guy that's had a significant role all year as far as a third wide receiver in our Zebra package. You're talking about a guy who can go out there in multiple packages and go out and do things for you. You're talking about a guy that can punt return, a guy that can kick return. You're talking about a guy that gave us max effort all year.
"You're talking about one of the better football players on our football team."
Stroughter ranks third on the team with 31 receptions for 334 yards and one touchdown. He was also a force on special teams, averaging 29.5 yards on 11 kickoff returns and 9.9 yards on 12 punt returns. Stroughter's 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against Carolina in Week Six tied the team record for the longest in franchise annals.
Stroughter's long return tied the mark originally set by Clifton Smith just last year, during Smith's own impressive rookie season. Smith was the team's primary return man after his 2008 Pro Bowl campaign, a job Stroughter took over after Smith was placed on injured reserve following a second concussion. That means the Buccaneers have now lost two electrifying return men this season.
Yamon Figurs handled the punt and kickoff return duties against the Jets with Stroughter out. In Seattle, rookie running back Kareem Huggins was used on kickoff returns while Stroughter handled the punts. Those two players remain options in the return game for the next two weeks, but the team will consider other possibilities, including starting running back Cadillac Williams.
"Cadillac's the third guy on the depth chart," said Morris. "Now he moves to second, so I'm sure he'll be bragging about that this week in practice. He's always taking pride in that. I always give him jabs about his Auburn days when he used to let it bounce around on the ground, pick it up and make everybody miss. But Cadillac can go back and catch them as well. We've got some options at punt returner. You always hate to lose a guy and unfortunately this year we've lost two, and two really good ones at that. Cadillac would definitely be an option."