WR Jacquez Green is at his best when he catches a pass on the run
(By Jim Gigliotti, NFL Insider for NFL.com)
When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers played the Minnesota Vikings at the Metrodome in Week 6, the biggest receiver on the field was one of the smallest.
At 5-foot-9 and 168 pounds, no one ever is going to confuse Tampa Bay's Jacquez Green with prototypical modern pass catchers such as the Buccaneers' 6-foot-4, 212-pound Keyshawn Johnson or the Vikings' 6-foot-4, 198-pound Randy Moss.
But on that Monday night in Minnesota, Green's 11 receptions for 131 yards dwarfed the statistics of Johnson and Moss.
That may have come as a surprise to many in the prime-time television audience, but not to the Buccaneers players and coaches, who have seen Green steadily emerge as a force in Tampa Bay's offense since he broke into the starting lineup seven games into last season.
"He's made tremendous improvement over the past year," says Charlie Williams, the Buccaneers' wide receivers coach.
Under Williams' tutelage, Green has evolved from primarily a speedster to a better all-around pass catcher.
"I think he's a little more polished, has a little better understanding of the game," says Tampa Bay head coach Tony Dungy, whose team will be trying to avenge a 30-23 loss to Minnesota and snap a four-game losing skid Sunday when it hosts the Vikings at Raymond James Stadium.
The Minnesota game was Green's sixteenth regular-season start since breaking into the lineup last October. In those 16 starts - a full season's worth - Green caught 68 passes for 1,108 yards. Those are heady numbers in any offense, let alone Tampa Bay's run-first system.
"Against Minnesota, some plays were called for him and on others he was the man open on the play," Williams says. "It was a matter of him making the most of his opportunities."
Opportunities in the passing game are coming more frequently of late for Green after he spent much of his first season-and-a-half in the NFL returning punts.
"The chance to go down the field and make plays is what I always wanted," says Green, whose 11 catches against the Vikings were the most ever by a Buccaneers' wide receiver (running back James Wilder holds the club's single-game record with 13 receptions).
"Green is coming into his own," says Johnson, who joined the Buccaneers in a trade with the New York Jets last spring. "He is playing really good football right now."
Perhaps no one has benefited more from the arrival of Johnson than Green. Though Johnson has not yet posted statistics at the pace he set from 1996-99 in New York, his presence has been a lightning rod for opposing defenses, which has helped free his teammate.
"I think we complement each other real well," Green says.
"Teams are rolling coverage over to Keyshawn right now," Williams says. "That's giving Jacquez opportunities to go one-on-one, and he's done a real nice job in those situations. He is hard to cover one-on-one."
That much the Buccaneers knew when they made Green their top selection in the 1998 NFL draft, in the second round with the No. 34 pick.
"We always knew he could catch the deep ball," Williams says, "but from day one this year he's been catching the ball well with his hands and working the intermediate routes."
At Florida, Green flourished in Steve Spurrier's "fun-and-gun" offense, earning first-team All-America honors after catching 61 passes for 1,024 yards and nine touchdowns in 1997. He scored 30 touchdowns in his three-year college career, many after catching the ball in stride and sprinting upfield.
The Buccaneers would like to maximize Green's speed in wide-open spaces by getting him the ball in similar fashion.
"Shaun King has done a good job delivering the ball," Williams says. "He is putting his throws right on Jacquez's hands and letting him run after the catch."
That was evident in Week 2 against Chicago, when Green took a short pass from King and sprinted 58 yards for a touchdown in Tampa Bay's 41-0 rout. Two weeks later, he had a 75-yard first-quarter catch-and-run against the New York Jets.
Though he does not rank among the league leaders with 26 catches through seven games, his receptions have gone for 467 yards.
"I just try to get yards," Green says. "If I'm getting yards, that means we're moving the ball on offense."
Green is averaging 18.0 yards per catch this season after averaging 14.1 in 1999. And with nearly 500 yards less than halfway into this season, he has a legitimate chance to become a 1,000-yard receiver.
That may not sound like much to fans of the pass-happy Vikings, St. Louis Rams, or San Francisco 49ers, but it's something the Buccaneers have not had since 1989.