Reidel Anthony has been slipping since his second year, but now he looks more confident, aggressive and productive than ever.
By RICK STROUD
© St. Petersburg Times,
published August 22, 2001
TAMPA -- It was easy the last few seasons for fans to take shots at receiver Reidel Anthony. But now the only thing they want fired in his direction is a few more footballs.
Despite missing the first week of training camp with a sprained ankle, Anthony not only has secured a spot on the roster but a position on the field as the team's No. 3 receiver behind Keyshawn Johnson and Jacquez Green. In fact, he's pushing Green, his former Gators teammate, for No. 2.
"The man's on the bubble, the whisper is in the air that his job may be on the line and he's coming out and performing," Bucs defensive tackle Warren Sapp said. "He's the best receiver we've got right now. No doubt about it."
Anthony has three catches this preseason for 59 yards, and his 19.7-yard average is the most of any player with more than one reception.
Bucs coach Tony Dungy says he believes Anthony can catch 45 to 50 passes this season and is considering using more three wide receiver sets if he remains productive.
That's quite a turnaround for Anthony, who lost confidence, his starting position and a large portion of his salary while disappearing off the radar screen for Bucs quarterbacks.
"Right now he's in good shape, and everything he's doing leads us to believe that he's going to be the guy (at No. 3)," Dungy said.
"If we have the confidence in what he's going to do and we are playing a little more in three wide receivers, there's no reason he couldn't have a year like he did in '98. You feel better about it when you have guys who can produce and make big plays. That's something we've been looking at being a big part of our offense."
Last season, Anthony made the most of his chances, scoring four touchdowns with just 15 receptions.
He did it despite the revelation that he had been swindled out of millions of dollars by agent William "Tank" Black, who was convicted of fraud.
"Dealing with something like that makes you mature faster and realize the world doesn't just revolve around you," said Anthony, who took a pay cut this season and is making near the veteran minimum of $500,000. "Coming here and losing a starting job, you either deal with it or you can be an a-hole and sit around and pout. I've done neither one.
"There's no handouts. There weren't any coming up to this level, so why should there be any now?"
Anthony's toughness has spilled over to the field. He took a vicious hit to the head from Dolphins safety Trent Gamble after a 24-yard reception.
"Yeah, he hit me helmet to helmet. That's the worst hit I've had since I've been in the league," Anthony said. "When you're doing those things, you know the guy is coming. It's either get hit and don't catch the ball or go up and catch it, take the lick and squeeze the ball as hard as possible."
Anthony's resurgence has not surprised teammates. In '98, his second season as a pro, the former first-round pick led the Bucs in receiving with 51 catches for 708 yards and seven touchdowns.
"We thought he would move on from there," Dungy said. "He had a good year in '98 and we thought that '99 would be a tremendous year where he would be your No. 1 receiver."
That hasn't happened, but teammates say Anthony is as good as he has ever been, running precise routes and catching the ball cleanly.
"I think with his speed and his hands it's hard not to get him in there," receiver Karl Williams said. "If we get Keyshawn on one side and Quez on one side, (Reidel) is going to give defenses a lot of problems. We see him every day making great catches. He's just being himself."
But Anthony hasn't felt like himself since injuring his ankle in the offseason workout program.
"Some days I feel good. Some days I feel like a flat tire," Anthony said. "That's how I put it when I talk to my homeboys."
He's ready to keep rolling.
"I love to play football," Anthony said. "I don't care about the money, or the fans stuff, the notoriety that comes with it. I enjoy on Sunday waking up, coming to the stadium and going through the routine of getting ready to play.
"There's nothing hard getting paid the kind of money we do to do something we love to do that we've done for free our whole lives. I'd still be playing. The money is just a bonus. It's not the drive. The drive is to be the best you can be and the best at your position. I love the game, and everybody in there loves the game and that's why we're going to have a good season this year."