WR Maurice Stovall said his big game against the Dolphins started with good blocking up front
Antonio Bryant and Michael Clayton, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' top two wideouts, were inactive for Thursday night's preseason contest against the Miami Dolphins. That meant Maurice Stovall was not only in the starting lineup but also guaranteed to get plenty of attention from quarterback Byron Leftwich, who was himself fighting to win a starting job with the Buccaneers.
Talk about taking advantage of your opportunities.
While the night's main focus was on Leftwich and fellow QB competitor Luke McCown, Stovall himself made a strong case for the Bucs' third receiver job behind Bryant and Clayton. With six catches for 73 yards in the first quarter alone, including a number of key third down grabs, Stovall produced when and where he needed to: On the playing field against a strong opponent. Miami kept its starting defenders in the game until past halftime.
In the days leading up to Thursday's game, Stovall was fully aware that he would have a chance to stand out, but he said his preparation wasn't any different than it had ever been. Of course, the former Notre Dame star has always been one of the team's hardest workers on the practice field.
"I'm just trying to carry over the things that you do in practice every day, come out and play hard, and put good things on tape, knowing that you might not get that much time," Stovall said. "I think it's important to put positive things on tape while you're out there on the field.
"Any time you're in a game, whether it's offense, defense, or special teams, you want to put positive things on tape and show the coaches, staff and the players that you do belong on the team and that you want to play and that you're capable of making plays."
When Stovall and the coaches review Thursday's game film, they'll certainly see some positives from the fourth-year receiver.
Leftwich misfired on a number of his passes early in Thursday's contest, but looked Stovall's way on seven of his 17 pass attempts. Stovall hauled in six of those passes, including an 18-yard catch over the middle and two 21-yard grabs. Perhaps most impressive was the fact that each of Stovall's three long grabs came on third down, moving the chains and giving the Bucs a fresh set of downs.
"The coaches made great calls on those third downs because of the types of coverages they were playing, and I think we executed the right way as a whole offensive unit," Stovall said.
While Leftwich and Stovall certainly seemed to have a bit of chemistry working between them – Leftwich completed six passes to Stovall, but only three to his other teammates – Stovall credited the offensive gameplan more than anything for his large role in the offense.
"I think it was just the position I was playing," Stovall said. "The ball was supposed to come to my side of the field just because of the way the coverages were. Leftwich is a great quarterback and he always makes good reads. He had good delivery on the ball and put it in places where only I could get it."
Stovall also praised his teammates for giving him and Leftwich the chances to hook up.
"It all started with our blocking up front, a lot of good blocking, good protection from the O-line," Stovall said. "The quarterback had great delivery on the ball and put in places where only I could get it. Our receivers ran the right routes, and the tight ends ran the right routes, which allowed me to be open. I think those first couple of drives we had a positive outcome as far as moving the ball. We didn't finish off with scoring the way we wanted to, but we did a good, positive job of moving the ball."
As promising as Stovall's performance was Thursday night against the Dolphins, the true test is whether he can translate it into further success in next Friday's preseason finale, and – more importantly – the regular season.
Unfortunately, that final step has eluded Stovall in the early stages of his career, as his last two seasons have followed a frustrating pattern – strong showings in training camp derailed by injuries in the regular season.
But that hasn't slowed the tireless young wideout from continuing his hard work.
"I feel pretty good," Stovall said. "I'm just glad that I'm healthy. I think we're doing positive things on offense, and special teams, also. The way you feel after a game is different when you look at it on film. So we'll watch film [Friday] and Saturday, make the corrections, get better as a team, and prepare for our next opponent."
And while he couldn't remember the last time he'd made six catches in a game – much less in a single quarter – Stovall said he's looking forward to building on Thursday's effort and his next chance to post an excellent outing.
"It might have been in college," Stovall said with a laugh. "If not, maybe high school. But it's all about taking advantage of the opportunities that are given to you. We had great play calling by our coaches, great delivery by Leftwich, and great blocking up front."