WR Maurice Stovall has already proven to be one of the Bucs' best special teams players, and he's looking to make his mark on the passing game, too
Last December, a relatively meaningless pair of games was all that stood between wide receiver Maurice Stovall and his first taste of NFL playoff action.
Just help the Tampa Bay Buccaneers tune up for the postseason in a road game at San Francisco and the regular-season finale at home against Carolina, and then it would be time for the real deal – the playoffs. But on one fateful play against the 49ers, Stovall's hopes for postseason playing time were postponed.
Stovall ran a little slant in from the left side but was involved in a violent collision as the ball arrived. He landed awkwardly and suffered a somewhat unusual injury – a fracture to the humerus in his right upper arm.
Lying motionless on the field with his broken arm, rather calmly awaiting help, Stovall saw his dreams of helping the team advance in the postseason evaporate into the cool Northern California air. That was a disappointment, of course, but in the months since his injury, Stovall has kept a positive outlook and is seeking to return to full strength and resume his quest to contribute in 2008.
Up until his bad break in San Fran, Stovall believed that quest was headed in the right direction. He was still only peripherally involved in the offense – 10 catches for 86 yards and a touchdown on the season – but he had emerged as easily one of the best special teams players on the squad. With injuries nagging many of the team's receivers, there was the chance each week that he would emerge as the dangerous slot presence the Bucs believe he can be.
"I thought I was doing fairly well," Stovall said. "I thought I contributed to the team mainly in the areas of special teams and as much as I could on offense. So as far as playing as a team player, I feel I did very well. I was mad that I got hurt because I wanted to help the team out in the playoffs and the last regular season game, but at the same time, things happen and I'm glad that it happened toward the end of the season rather than the beginning."
Missing a playoff contest was difficult enough for Stovall, but even the notion of sustaining a severe injury was new territory for the young receiver.
"It was very tough," Stovall said. "I've never really had a major injury where I've had to sit out a game, and especially being laid up in the hospital. I've never had surgery. That was tough on me."
But while his body was at less than 100 percent, his strength of mind never wavered.
"Physically, of course I was down, but mentally my spirits were up," Stovall said. "I had a lot of support from the 49ers. Their head coach [Mike Nolan] came out to see me when I was in California, and I had a lot of support from my teammates and family.
"Basically, I was just approaching it like things happen for a reason. A broken arm is rare in football, especially the kind of break that I had. I just kind of looked at it as things happen for a reason. God intended for me to break my arm, but I was just thankful that it wasn't a neck or an ankle or a knee. It could always be a lot worse. You just always have to look at the bright side of things."
As cliché as that might sound, it's exactly what Stovall has done. He already possesses a reputation as a tireless worker, so it comes as little surprise that Stovall has devoted all his energy to his rehabilitation. Every morning, he arrives at One Buc Place early to work with team doctors and trainers, moving ever closer to full strength.
"I've been talking to the doctors and they're just telling me to take it day to day, just come in and do my rehab in the morning, and do what I can," Stovall said. "I started catching footballs last week, so I've just been working on my hand strength and strengthening my arm. I'm just basically seeing the doctors, getting X-rays and taking it day by day."
As the team's offseason program began in earnest on Monday, Stovall said he's not all the way back just yet. But by taking things slow and steady, he hopes to be back to full strength sooner rather than later.
"I'm not nearly 100 percent at all – maybe 50 or 60 percent, around there," Stovall said. "Some days it feels good, some days it doesn't. With an injury, you've just got to take your time. I definitely want to be ready for OTAs and training camp when we start doing official team activities and running plays.
"At the same, I don't want to rush my injury and fall on it or get hit and make it worse. So I'm just listening to the doctors and the trainers and just communicating with the coaches and just taking it from there."
Just as his enthusiasm, strong work ethic and positive mindset have helped him through the recovery process, Stovall expects those traits to lead him to a healthy, successful 2008 season.
"I've always tried to set goals for myself as far as maximizing my potential and doing the best that I can on the field, especially on game day," Stovall said. "I'm going to continue to train hard. That's instilled in me and always will be, so that's not a question. But at the same time, I'm just going to work hard this offseason, help the team out as much as possible, work towards being a leader and make plays when called upon, and everything else should take care of itself."