WR David Boston successfully worked the middle of the field against the Texans
Along the twists and turns of his professional career, wide receiver David Boston has taken a lot of steps. As a rookie in 1999, he stepped immediately into his team's starting lineup, playing in the season opener that year. Two years later, he took 1,598 yards worth of steps on his way to leading the NFL in receiving yards. Then in 2004, Boston stepped right off the NFL map when injuries limited him to four catches over two seasons while with the Miami Dolphins. Thursday night in Houston, he may have taken his biggest step in a long time.
Playing against the Texans in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' fourth and final preseason game, Boston – Tampa Bay's latest reclamation project – made his case to Bucs coaches. Boston knew that Head Coach Jon Gruden was going to give him an extended opportunity to prove his value, and the eighth-year receiver responded, snaring six passes for 77 yards.
"I've been taking steps for a long time, and I think tonight was another step in the direction that I am trying to go," Boston said.
That direction, specifically, is towards the Bucs' 53-man roster and through a rather intense competition at wide receiver. Joey Galloway hasn't lost a step and coming off a career year is the unchallenged starter. All indications point to Michael Clayton being healthy and returning to the record-setting form he displayed two years ago as a rookie. Third-round selection Maurice Stovall has played well during the preseason and training camp, and Ike Hilliard brings nine years of experience at the receiver position. Throw in Paris Warren, Mark Jones, a valuable return man, Edell Shepherd and Chas Gessner, who impressed during training camp, and it's easy to see why Boston is taking nothing for granted.
"I'm holding my breath, you know," Boston said. "I don't know. It's the NFL, and there are a lot of moves to be made. I just go out there and try to do the best job I can while the coaches are evaluating [us] so closely."
Thursday night it showed. Boston worked the middle of the field throughout the game, time and again finding the soft spot in the Texans' coverage schemes. Among his six receptions was a catch-and-run where quarterback Tim Rattay hit him in stride as he was streaking between the hashes. Boston pulled in the pass and sprinted away from his defender for a 33-yard gain, setting up a 28-yard Matt Bryant field goal.
"It was a great pass and a great play, in all," Boston said. "The line did a good job of blocking, and Tim threw me a great ball over the middle, and then I was able to make the run after the catch."
At 6-2, 228 pounds, Boston would appear to be a naturally tough receiver who would be comfortable over the middle of the field, and based on his performance Thursday night, many would believe it's a natural fit for him. But Boston's speed and quickness kept him on the outside along the sidelines for much of his career. Thursday night's performance was the product of Gruden's offensive system, studying the opponent and focused preparation on Boston's part.
"I'm in a different system now, and I've always been on the outside – a lot of out-breaking routes and down-the-field things," Boston explained. "This kind of offense gives you your chance to run routes up over the middle of the field, and that's something I've got to get more comfortable with, and I'll get better at each day.
"I think that's the big key for me, just to go out there and not be nervous. It's going out there and just being comfortable and letting my athletic abilities help me play and compete with the guys.
"I've come a long ways in three of four weeks. Each week I get more and more comfortable, and that's the whole key. I was really prepared well for this game. Coach [Richard] Mann, our receivers coach, and [Offensive Quality Control Coach] Nate Hackett really prepared me well for this game, and I think that was the big difference for me."
Boston said Bucs coaches "harped" on the fact that the Texans were susceptible over the middle of the field and worked with him in practice on exploiting that weakness.
"Our coaches told us all week that some of the in-breaking routes would be open, and we just did a good job of studying the film and getting over the middle of the field," Boston said. "Coach Gruden called plays where I was able to get open, and that worked out.
"I've just been concentrating on doing the little things I've got to do to make myself better. Only time will tell whenever I'll be back to that kind of shape."
Boston's desire to regain his all-pro form and willingness to do whatever is asked of him was evident to quarterback Chris Simms throughout training camp.
"David Boston is a heck of a player, one of those rare guys in this league you can call a true freak, and he is just physically gifted," Simms said. "He works extremely hard, and he will do some great things for our team."
Even higher praise came from Gruden.
"He's real committed and serious on making a comeback [from] the conversations we had before we got started," Gruden said. "When I'm talking about a comeback, I'm talking about getting it all back. He's a fierce, reckless and great football player. I don't know if it's all back, but some of it's back, anyway. It's good. I'm really proud of him."
Yes, Thursday night in a state known for the "two-step," David Boston took a step in the right direction.