Bucs receiver Trey Palmer playing his way into ‘becoming a pro’

TAMPA — Don’t call it a “breakout game” or a “big moment.” For Bucs rookie receiver Trey Palmer, his performance last week against the Saints was simply what he expects from himself.

The sixth-round pick from Nebraska may have had the biggest numbers of his NFL career to date, but he knows there is much more he can do.

“I’ve just been, you know, doing my thing each and every week,” Palmer said. “So, basically, I’ve just been going out there doing what (wide receivers) coach Brad (Idzik) teaches me, what I’ve been learning from (receivers) Mike (Evans) and Chris (Godwin). Like, I’ve just been going out there doing them things and been successful.”

That success — and some growing pains — have been evident over the past two weeks as he has taken on a bigger role in the offense.

In the first 14 games, Palmer was targeted just 51 times. He had 29 receptions for 249 yards and two touchdowns. But with Baker Mayfield throwing his way 11 times over the last two games, Palmer made eight catches for 126 yards and a score.

That touchdown came in the 23-13 loss to the Saints, a 22-yarder that finally got the Bucs offense going midway through the fourth quarter. He had a 54-yard catch as Tampa Bay was trying to make a late comeback, but the play ended with an awkward fumble.

“My body hit the ground and it came out,” Palmer said. “And ... I really don’t get too angry when I mess up. I just calm myself down, basically. So, I just take a deep breath and go back in to play.”

The Bucs need him to do exactly that this weekend as they head into a must-win game against the Panthers in Carolina. A win secures a division title and automatic playoff spot for Tampa Bay.

In an offense that has started to click, Palmer could be a big piece behind Evans and Godwin. They need him to take the good from last week’s game and build off of it.

He has earned his role in the offense, and the trust of his quarterback.

“His speed, naturally, is going to be able to make a huge difference in the game,” Mayfield said. “Teams are going to have to respect that. It’s an unfortunate play, the ground causing the fumble. It’s one of those where you’re like, ‘Hey, great play on the ball. Next time, maybe roll over.’

“But it’s in the moment. It just kind of summed up how the day went for us overall. Just pat him on the back and move on. We expect him to have those types of games, and those types of plays and finish them.”

Palmer, who dreamed of being an MLB shortstop and admitted his first love is baseball, showed off his natural athleticism early.

After running the fastest 40-yard dash (4.33 seconds) of any receiver at the combine, Palmer showed an ability to run deep routes and make big catches in the preseason. He then caught a touchdown pass in the opener against the Vikings, his first NFL regular-season game.

Then things slowed down. Over the next 15 games, Palmer reached the end zone only once.

Evans and Godwin have carried the Bucs’ passing game, with well over half of the team’s targets and receiving yardage. The next options have been running back Rachaad White and tight end Cade Otton. Tampa Bay expected Russell Gage to be its third receiver, but a preseason knee injury scuttled those plans.

The Bucs hope Palmer is growing into that role.

“I went to him right after the fumble, found him on the sideline and said, ‘OK, don’t let this one play take away from what this game has been for you,” offensive coordinator Dave Canales said. “(There were) a couple of scramble plays that he made for us. For me, it was kind of a coming-of-age for him. Like, ‘You’re a factor. Believe in this ability right here. We’ll finish that play better next time.’

“I just wanted him to know, ‘Let’s take care of the ball, yes, but don’t lose what’s happening here. You’re playing yourself into becoming a pro.’ I wanted to try to capitalize on that in an otherwise really hard day to find bright spots about what we were doing.”

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