TAMPA — Vincent Jackson knows he is the only remaining Tampa Bay Buccaneers receiver with a history of making plays at the NFL level.
With WR Mike Williams out for the past two months with a torn hamstring, Jackson has drawn even more attention as the principal target for rookie QB Mike Glennon. Despite the extra coverage, he has 23 catches, including three touchdowns, in his past five games.
“I think it says a lot,’’ Bucs coach Greg Schiano said Friday. “If you look at it, it’s Vincent, then a bunch of free agents who are great guys and really good players, but you’re not going to sit there when you game plan it and say, ‘We’ve got to evenly distribute here.’ There’s no doubt it’s going to (No.) 83. I think Vincent’s done a heck of a job this year, heck of a job leading, heck of a job playing. We’re blessed to have him.”
A three-time Pro Bowler, Jackson has topped the 1,000-yard mark in both of his seasons in Tampa.
“Do I see a little bit of extra attention every week? I do,’’ Jackson said. “You see more coverages rolled my way. It can be tougher, but you can find ways around that. Obviously, there’s other great receivers in the league that draw a lot of attention ... they still find a way to be productive. At that point, you definitely have to rely on the coaching staff to put you in position to get the right matchups.’’
The St. Louis Rams have legitimate reason to believe they can compete in the rugged NFC West next season.
The three teams ahead of St. Louis — the Seahawks, 49ers and Cardinals — have combined for a 31-11 record. The Rams will be seeking their fourth victory in the past six games Sunday when the Bucs come to town.
The Rams have trounced the Colts and Saints since QB Sam Bradford was sidelined for the year with a knee injury, and they own Washington’s top draft pick as part of the 2012 deal that saw the Redskins move up to select Robert Griffin III.
“Last year, we were the youngest team in the league and this year we got younger,’’ said Rams coach Jeff Fisher. “I’m excited about it because they’re so talented. They love to prepare, practice, to have fun and they play hard. We’ll be able to keep this group together for years now as they mature and develop.’’
A key young player going forward is DE Robert Quinn, who leads the NFC with 15 sacks. Quinn was selected in the first round of the 2011 draft and looks like a new version of Simeon Rice, who helped the 2002 Bucs to a championship as a terror off the right edge.
The Rams are destined for their 10th consecutive season without a winning record, but the future appears bright.
“Once the guys start coming into their own, it’s easier to be great for a long time,’’ Quinn said.
The off-season additions of CB Darrelle Revis and S Dashon Goldson have led to marked improvement in Tampa Bay’s pass defense, but don’t forget about the development of second-year pro Keith Tandy.
The former sixth-round draft pick has impressed coaches and teammates with his poised play at safety, starting three games and contributing 24 tackles, three interceptions and a forced fumble.
“With some of the time that’s been missed by Dashon or Mark (Barron), Keith’s played a lot and he’s done a fantastic job,’’ said defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan, “way above and beyond what maybe you would have thought a year ago he would be capable of doing.’’
Bucs DE Adrian Clayborn, who grew up in St. Louis, said he expects 60 friends and relatives to attend Sunday’s matchup. ...With one more interception in the final two games, Lavonte David can become the first linebacker in Bucs history to intercept six passes in a season. ...The Rams are 5-0 this year when leading at halftime and 0-7 when they trail after two quarters. ...The Bucs haven’t traveled to St. Louis since 2004, when they dropped a 28-21 decision with Brian Griese under center and Jon Gruden on the sideline.