In the preseason, when jobs are on the line, the rhythms sometimes mean more than the numbers. The substitution patterns, the quarterback's eyes, the special packages – there are clues everywhere as to who is gaining favor and who is earning the prime opportunities.
But, hey, some good numbers don't hurt either.
Kevin Ogletree had a nice first night as a Tampa Bay Buccaneer, and it doesn't diminish that a bit that his team lost 44-16, though Ogletree's competitive spirit would probably say otherwise. This was Tampa Bay's 2013 preseason opener, and the Ravens turned a close game near halftime into a blowout with a flurry of special teams wins in the second quarter and a handful of second-half turnovers. Those issues were real and important, and will probably be addressed on the practice field in the coming days, but just as real were the positive signs on offense, with Ogletree prominently featured.
"I thought that we moved the ball like we wanted to and we got a lot practice plays in, stuff that we've been running," said the former Dallas Cowboys receiver who came to Tampa as an unrestricted free agent in March. "It was good to get out there and be in the huddle in a live-game situation, hear our quarterbacks spit it out and just run ball plays against a different team. It was really important that we handled that the right way and we had fun doing it."
Between the Buccaneers and Ravens, 156 different men saw action in Thursday night's game. Without a doubt, there were some big plays and some key scores from players on both sidelines who will either be free agents or reserves once the regular season rolls around. Still, Ogletree led all receivers in the game with five receptions for 65 yards, and that's a preseason stat line that could have some meaning.
Perhaps the simplest way to judge that performance is to note that Ogletree was the very first receiver to come into the game after starters Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams, and that Ogletree made that most of that chance.
"It just means I get that first opportunity," said Ogletree. "I think I deserve that. I think the coaches have seen enough to evaluate who's supposed to be in there. But that's not left up to me. My job is to go out there every day in practice, every day in the meetings, compete in the meetings, compete on the field, which is what I'm doing.
"It's what I've been doing my whole time in the career, competition. That won't change. My competitive edge won't change. This is something I want, so I'm going to grab it."
Ogletree was originally an undrafted free agent with the Dallas Cowboys out of Virginia. After four seasons in Dallas, including a 32-catch campaign last year he found a very interested suitor in the Buccaneers, who were hoping to get more out of their third-receiver position. Ogletree accepted that challenge, knowing he would be battling against the likes of Tiquan Underwood and Chris Owusu, and he thinks the process has gone well so far.
"It's still an adjustment, getting familiar and gaining the trust of your coaches and teammates and just homing in on your job and your assignments," said Ogletree. "Once you get past that, you can play football and kind of let your instincts take over. It is an adjustment learning a new offense, but that's coming along good. I'm putting in extra time in my playbook, and I think once that becomes muscle memory I'll be able to just play football."
Ogletree's muscles knew just what to do on the first critical play of Thursday's game for the Buccaneers. Facing third-and-seven at his own 36 after Danny Gorrer's interception had brought the ball back to the offense, starting quarterback Josh Freeman had dropped back and held tight in a collapsing pocket before delivering a strike over the middle to Ogletree. The resulting completion picked up 22 yards and led to the game's first score, a 29-yard field goal by Derek Dimke.
Again, the rhythm of the game, the play call based upon the circumstances, probably meant as much for Ogletree's Buccaneer future as did the positive outcome.
"It was a rehearsed play that we practiced a lot, and we got the look that said the ball should come to me," said Ogletree. "So that was just a blessing right there. We're going to make sure that we make third downs important. First and second down are just as important but when we get to third down we want to move the sticks, we want to keep the ball. Being where Josh wants you to be and being precise on your routes [is important]. It was good timing, it was a great throw by Josh and a great conversion for us early in the game."
Ogletree saw a good amount of playing time throughout the game, even into the second half, as he got an opportunity to establish a rapport with rookie quarterback Mike Glennon as well. In fact, Ogletree had another huge third-down catch in the third period that kept a scoring drive alive, leading to Dimke's third and final field goal.
Even that part of the preseason rhythm – still playing while most of the team's veterans had already put on baseball caps on the sideline – was a positive for Ogletree. He'll happily accept any chance he gets to fight for his job.
"I'm going to be battling my whole career," said Ogletree. "I'm an undrafted guy, so any opportunity in a training camp, in the preseason, to gain that respect and trust of coaches and peers, I'm down for that."