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Buccaneers WRs coach confident in strength of receiving depth: 'Competition across the board'

The third year of the Tom Brady era in Tampa Bay might look a little different when it comes to whom he's targeting.

Mike Evans is back, as is Chris Godwin, but the rest of the group has to sort itself out. That process begins with spring workouts and figures to include some interesting competitors.

"Really, the way that I look at it and the same thing I'm telling the guys in the room, on this team we've got Mike and we've got Chris, and those two guys have established themselves in their roles and what they bring to the offense," receivers coach Kevin Garver said Tuesday, via the team's official site. "Besides that, it's open season.

"It's really competition across the board. They've all got different talents and abilities and bring something different to the table. But I'm really looking forward to the competition as this moves along here."

In 2021, Godwin and Evans led the Buccaneers in receiving, with each wideout finishing over 1,000 yards and 70-plus receptions. The two combined for 19 receiving touchdowns, while tight end Rob Gronkowski rounded out their podium with 55 receptions for 802 yards and six touchdowns.

From there, it was a collection of role-playing pass-catchers who filled in the gaps. Among them: Antonio Brown, Leonard Fournette, Tyler Johnson, Cameron Brate, Cyril Grayson, Breshad Perriman and O.J. Howard.

Brown and Howard are gone, and Gronkowski has yet to decide if he'll return for another season. The rest of the aforementioned group remains intact and welcomes a number of new additions headlined by free-agent signing Russell Gage, who moved from the division-rival Falcons to the Buccaneers with the hopes of playing the No. 3 receiver role in an offense quarterbacked by an all-time great.

Gage still has to learn the offense, but as long as he picks it up efficiently, the Buccaneers shouldn't end up missing Brown or Howard. They'll want Gronkowski back for 2022, but they're certainly not operating with a bare cupboard.

They will certainly want to get some of the younger, less-experienced receivers more reps before the Bucs ask them to play a more important role. That will be a necessity for players like Scott Miller -- a speedy receiver whose injury issues limited him to just five catches after recording 46 between 2019 and 2020 -- Grayson and Jaelon Darden.

"I think last year it was kind of weird -- he went out with the injury, the timing of it, and then other guys kind of stepped up in that place, in that role," Garver said of Miller. "And so it made it a little bit harder for him to get back right away, and then obviously at the end he ended up getting back on the field.

"He's going to have an opportunity just like everyone else. Obviously, the Super Bowl run that year, he contributed a lot to us in the offense and made a lot of big plays for us. He definitely has the ability; I think it's just a matter of what he does on the field moving forward."

Grayson flashed his potential before his own injury ended his year just as the postseason arrived. It was the latest example of an unfortunate trend in Tampa Bay in the last year in which multiple pass-catchers were knocked out of action by injury, forcing the Buccaneers to look further down the depth chart for contributors.

What the Buccaneers learned in that process was that as long as Brady was the one taking the snaps, they'd be in pretty decent shape, no matter who was running routes. With Evans returning and Godwin making his way back from his ACL tear, Tampa Bay should feel good about its cast of pass-catchers. The Buccaneers just need to take the summer to determine who will be included among them this fall.

"You can never have enough wide receivers," Garver said. "You can never have enough. It is the next-man-up mentality for us, for sure, but you never know when those injuries are going to arise and you've got to have enough talent in there to line up and win week to week.

"We've got a lot of guys in there, we've got a lot of depth. Those guys are fighting every day and they're fighting for a job from the top to the bottom and that's got to be the mindset. We'll see what happens."

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