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Tampa Bay Bucs: Eric Page Should Be Starting at Slot Receiver

Week One’s Loss Showed Tampa Bay Needs More Weapons on Offense

Yahoo Contributor Network

COMMENTARY | Heartbreaking, undisciplined, lousy, mistake-prone, uncomfortable. There are many ways to describe the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' loss to the New York Jets in Week 1.

While a few positives can be taken from the game, the loss showed some problems that need to be addressed on offense:

-The Bucs lack a true slot receiver.

-Kevin Ogletree has done nothing to show he's capable of being a slot receiver.

-Josh Freeman needs a security blanket to throw to when he is under pressure.

If there's one player on the Bucs' roster who fits these criteria, it's second-year return man Eric Page.

Tampa Bay had zero offensive rhythm against the Jets. They accumulated just 250 total yards, 154 of those coming from receiver Vincent Jackson. Running back Doug Martin was bottled up by a stout Jets defensive line, and quarterback Josh Freeman frequently looked uneasy in the pocket when his first read was covered. Outside of Jackson and No. 2 receiver Mike Williams, the longest reception for Tampa Bay was a four-yard completion to Brian Leonard. Four yards! That's unacceptable. The Buccaneers need a viable slot receiver who can serve as an underneath weapon for Freeman.

Eric Page is that guy. Apart from fitting the mold as a quick and shifty receiver, he's the only other player on the roster who has experience playing the slot in college or the pros. He is the University of Toledo's all-time leading receiver, and averaged more than 100 catches a season during his three years with the Rockets. He's not a huge guy -- 5-foot-10, 180 pounds -- but he can bring a new dimension to Tampa Bay's offense if he's given an opportunity.

If you have a slot receiver who has trouble getting open, that defeats the purpose of having one. Kevin Ogletree -- whom Tampa Bay brought over from the Dallas Cowboys to serve as the No. 3 receiver -- failed to produce a single catch, despite drawing single coverage most of the afternoon. In Dallas, Ogletree played in three-wide receiver sets, with Miles Austin garnering most of the work from the slot position. In four seasons, Ogletree hasn't shown he can be relied upon to be that possession receiver Tampa Bay needs him to be. Surely Page can do better than the zero catches Ogletree recorded in Week 1.

If nothing else, Josh Freeman needs another weapon, specifically when the pocket is deteriorating. From 2009-2011, tight end Kellen Winslow was a security blanket for Freeman. Winslow has a knack for finding holes in the defense, and he showed that in his three years in Tampa Bay, as he averaged 73 catches a season. Last year, Martin caught 49 balls, while tight end Dallas Clark chipped in with 47 catches. This year, Freeman will be looking for the next possession receiver to step up. Will Tampa Bay give Page the opportunity to be that guy?

Offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan runs a scheme that emphasizes strong play from the slot receiver position. The New York Giants ran a similar scheme when Sullivan served as the quarterbacks coach. Slot receiver Victor Cruz has thrived in that offense and has been a staple for the team's offensive success. For this system to work in Tampa Bay, Sullivan needs a slot man to stretch out the defense and make people miss in the open field. Who's better than a guy who played that role all through college?

James LoPresti (@JLoPresti3114) lives in Tampa and has more than eight years experience working in the news industry. He has been published in the Tampa Tribune and currently writes fantasy football analysis for The Draft Report.

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