Chance to play hurts so good for Barlow
Little-used Bucs WR one of a few called on to boost depleted corps.
By ROGER MILLS, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published October 30, 2002
TAMPA -- At home Tuesday with 1-year-old son R.J., Bucs receiver Reggie Barlow was sore from his first taste of game action since the 2000 season.
And that shot he took from Panthers safety Mike Minter in the fourth quarter Sunday only made matters worse.
But considering that he was inactive for the first seven games and that he likely will play an important role Sunday against the Vikings, being sore never felt this good.
"It's weird; it's one of those things when you actually love feeling sore, you enjoy getting up the next morning feeling some aches and pains," said Barlow, who signed with the Bucs on Sept. 4. "It's a symbol that you played. It's a symbol that you took your licks, gave a few and contributed to your team.
"Don't get me wrong, no one wants to get blown up like that. But it excited me to be back in the mix, to get a chance to contribute to the team. It said, 'I'm back in the NFL!' "
With the Bucs unsure about the availability of receivers Keenan McCardell (fractured left scapula) and Joe Jurevicius (right ankle sprain) for Sunday, Barlow is back with a bang.
He started Sunday against the Panthers and had two critical fourth-quarter catches for 10 yards, and he could be asked to do the same against the Vikings.
"We've got a couple of guys who are banged up and we've got a couple of guys who will have to step up and play," receivers coach Richard Mann said, referring to Barlow, veteran Karl Williams and newcomer Charles Lee. "I don't know much about these guys in terms of how they play in our system, but I know they are quality receivers.
"I've always drilled into these guys that even though you're working on the scout team, or you're inactive on game day, doesn't mean you don't have to know the system. You have to be ready at any point. And we make sure they not only know the offense but know how to execute it."
Barlow, 29, is no stranger to the NFL. This is his seventh season in the league, the first five with the Jaguars and last season with Jon Gruden on the Raiders injured reserve list. That familiarity with Gruden's offensive philosophy and terminology has helped Barlow make the leap from Sunday inactive to Sunday starter.
"It was difficult at first because that was the first time in my career where I wasn't even active," Barlow said. "I couldn't even return punts and get my hands on the ball and do some things. I knew since I came in late, I was going to be behind some guys, but not in terms of the game plan.
"Being in Oakland helped. It was not like I had to learn something entirely new. He has tweaked a few things, but most of the things stayed the same. Coach Gruden saw what I could do and when he had the chance, he brought me in here. Now, I have to take advantage of that opportunity."
Mann said Barlow's tenure in the league and his willingness to listen should help the transition.
"Reggie's a pro," Mann said. "He's been around for some years now and knows what a pro is supposed to do. A pro is supposed to deliver when called upon. He's one of those guys with what I call game speed. When I look at tape of him from Jacksonville, I see the game speed and that's something he's going to have a chance to use."
At 6 feet, 190 pounds, Barlow may not be as big as Jurevicius (6-5, 235 pounds) or Keyshawn Johnson (6-4, 215) and he may not be as experienced as McCardell, but his experience as a kickoff/punt returner makes his talent uniquely suited to Gruden's system.
"I'm able to work the middle and in this offense, you have to be able to do that," Barlow said. "Coach Gruden used to say in Oakland that once you catch the ball, you have to start thinking like a returner. I think that helps me, getting through the traffic over the middle."
Barlow isn't above helping others. After seeing Jurevicius limping around One Buc Place Monday, Barlow called Lee at home to tell him to get ready to go to work.
"It was around 1:30 p.m. and he said, 'Man, you've got to be even more focussed than before. Be ready to go,' " Lee said.
For Lee, who signed with the Bucs on Oct. 1, the same day third-round draft pick Marquise Walker was placed on injured reserve, this is an equally big week. A third-year player who spent his first two seasons with the Packers, Lee will be the fourth receiver (behind Johnson, Barlow and Williams) should McCardell and Jurevicius be out.
"It's the opportunity I've been looking forward to since I got here," said Lee, who played at the University of Central Florida. "I just have to study, study, study. I have to have things in my mind as fresh and as sharp as possible."
At 6-2, 210 pounds, the inexperienced Lee fits in better with the other big receivers on the team. Described by Mann as a receiver who catches the deep ball in practice and is willing to use his frame in traffic, Lee, 24, may be able to bring another deep threat to an offense that still is a work in progress.
"Here's a guy who stands right next to me during practice and has a real good feel for what we want to do," Mann said. "He's a big, tall, rangy guy who's coming from the Green Bay system. He has to figure out what's different and figure out how to do what's the same. I have confidence in him."
Lee, who has one start, 13 receptions for 166 yards and one touchdown as a pro, said if he is asked to play, he'll be ready.
"I've been in the playbook all day," he said. "For me, this is like my rookie year all over again. It's a chance to prove myself."
BUCS MOVES: Ryan Nece's storybook NFL ride is over for this season. After tearing his left ACL against the Panthers, Nece went on the injured reserve list, ending his season.
The Bucs also moved tight end Casey Crawford, who was signed to the practice squad Sept. 10, to the 53-man roster and signed center Jason Scukanec to the practice squad. Scukanec, who played at BYU, signed as an undrafted free agent with the Broncos in April but was released by Denver on Aug. 27. He was re-signed to the Broncos practice squad Sept. 4 but released Sept. 17.
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