When Kevin Ogletree comes to work every day at his new NFL home, One Buccaneer Place, he finds a locker room that in some ways reminds him of high school. Ogletree, who signed with the Buccaneers in March after four years with the Dallas Cowboys, is quick to qualify that he means nothing negative with that assessment. He is simply struck by the youthful enthusiasm and single-minded focus of the place.
"We're a lot younger team here," said the veteran wide receiver on Wednesday, after the Buccaneers finished up another OTA practice. "Guys are filled with energy and passion and emotion. Not that they weren't like that in Dallas, but here we're so young. It just feels like a high school locker room, kind of…not maturity-wise, but in wanting to just go play football."
Ogletree fits into that atmosphere. He is still just 25 and, for all intents and purposes, he is still looking for his first real, extended opportunity. He played in 29 games over the last two seasons in Dallas, even making two starts, and last year more than doubled his previous career total with 32 catches for 436 yards and four touchdowns. Still, much of that production was confined to the first month of the season, as was also the case in 2011.
This spring, as the Buccaneers searched for some options to compete for the third receiver job alongside the enormously productive duo of Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams, they took a look at those two Septembers on Ogletree's game tape. They witnessed a player who made an impact when he had the chance, and thought he could do so consistently if that opportunity expanded.
"When we were investigating wide receivers in free agency, we saw a guy who was productive," said Head Coach Greg Schiano. "Maybe it wasn't over the total overall span of the season, but when he was in there we thought he did really good things. I think he's really coming on, he's understanding our scheme and he's a guy that I think we'll help us. I think there's great competition there. He can play both inside and outside, which makes him a versatile guy."
The man who spent the most time in the third-receiver spot for the Buccaneers last year, Tiquan Underwood, is still on hand and certainly angling to hold onto that job. Two other young holdovers from last year's roster, David Douglas and Chris Owusu, are obviously hoping for a greater opportunity to play in 2013, as well, and the Bucs filled out the receiver room with some intriguing young options after the draft. It's a young and hungry bunch, and Ogletree is enjoying that dynamic as he tries to emerge as the front-runner.
"It's competitive," he said. "We've got some good guys out there, with Mike and Vincent and the rest of the guys that have been here. It makes coming to work competitive. It makes coming to work tough and fun and all of that at the same time. We have a good time competing with each other and when we get out here we do our best to beat the defense every day.
"I'm just trying be the best football player, person and teammate I can be here. I'm working on that every day, and it's fun coming to work here. It's a great opportunity for us as a team and for me as an individual to really help the team out."
Several other factors helped Ogletree decide to come to Tampa for that specific opportunity. One was another young and promising player on the roster, quarterback Josh Freeman, who last year broke franchise single-season records with 4,065 passing yards and 27 touchdowns. The Bucs' passing game frequently worked well with downfield throws last year, and Ogletree thinks it can continue to develop into an attack that is particularly vexing for opposing defenses.
"Josh's arm is a big reason I wanted to come here and be a part of that exciting offense," said Ogletree. "He likes to rip it, and hopefully we can cause some problems out there for some secondaries and really put them in a bind. Just being out there with Josh and the rest of these guys is a privilege. This has the potential to be the offense we know it can be."
Also helping Ogletree decide on the Bucs – and the Bucs decide on Ogletree – was the presence of new Wide Receivers Coach John Garrett. Garrett, who actually started his post-playing career as a pro scout with the Buccaneers in the early '90s, was Ogletree's position coach at Virginia for two years (2006-07). Garrett went to the Cowboys next, one year before Ogletree signed on in Dallas as an undrafted free agent. Garrett wasn't specifically the receivers coach in Dallas, but he was the passing game coordinator the past two years and he helped Ogletree begin to emerge as a viable NFL receiver.
"He's very adamant about detail," said Ogletree of his former and current mentor. "He's very specific and he loves football. Being out here, working and being around his coaching makes me a better football player and person."
As for that opportunity that Ogletree is chasing in Tampa, his second NFL home, it's not specifically the job of "slot" receiver that is often assumed. Certainly the third receiver will line up in the slot at times, but Ogletree says there's more to it than that, and he believes he has the diverse package of skills necessary to excel in the role.
"Our offense is so different than other ones – there's not really one person who's the slot receiver," he said. "We're in and out. We've got guys mixing in. There will be weeks where we'll be looking at one matchup and having a guy lined up at [a certain] place. Being versatile and being able to play inside our outside really helps me."