TAMPA — It wasn’t a first impression, but it may prove to be a lasting one.
New Buccaneers wide receiver Kevin Ogletree had been enjoying a decent training camp, nothing spectacular, heading into Thursday night’s preseason opener against Baltimore.
But by the time Tampa Bay’s 44-16 setback had concluded, Ogletree had taken a major step forward in the competition for Josh Freeman’s No. 3 target behind Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams.
“It was our first time running that system with the ones on a real game situation, and that game’s a very valuable teaching tape,’’ said Ogletree, who signed with the Bucs in March as a free agent from Dallas. “I’m going to keep learning that playbook because this is a great system to have a guy like me.’’
Ogletree’s confidence isn’t surprising, considering his Twitter handle (@KOforPrez) and his Twitter tagline: “A piece of poison for secondaries.’’
The Bucs are hoping the former Virginia standout plays up to his potential this fall.
Ogletree, who turned 26 last week, was targeted eight times against the Ravens and led all players with five receptions for 65 yards. Tampa Bay had done nothing right on its first five offensive snaps before Freeman bought some time in the pocket and threw a 22-yard strike to Ogletree over the middle on third-and-7.
“This system is very flexible,’’ said Ogletree, who played 30 snaps Thursday. “I want to do my best to earn a role. I can be inside or outside and to be able to be trusted to be put in those spots is important.’’
For four seasons, Ogletree tried and failed to build that trust in Big D.
Signed as an undrafted free agent in 2009, Ogletree languished on the Cowboys bench for three years. In the 2012 season-opening win against the Giants, Ogletree and Tony Romo combined on eight completions for 114 yards and two touchdowns.
When Ogletree caught five passes for 57 yards in a Week 3 victory against the Bucs, it appeared he had secured a job as a complementary slot receiver between Dez Bryant and Miles Austin.
But as another disappointing Dallas season unfolded, Ogletree’s playing time diminished markedly. He posted only eight receptions in the last half of the year and when the Cowboys allowed Ogletree to hit the free-agent market, Tampa Bay pounced.
“Tampa was right there,’’ he said. “I didn’t really think too much past them. As soon as free agency started, I spoke to them first. A team or two had interest after that, but this was the club I was most interested in. They were the best team for me.’’
Ogletree’s primary competitor for playing time here is Tiquan Underwood, who played for Bucs coach Greg Schiano at Rutgers and caught 28 passes in 14 games with Tampa Bay last season.
“Kevin has an opportunity to play a big part, but if I’m Tiquan, I’m saying that opportunity is mine,’’ Schiano said. “So what we have is a great competition for that third receiver spot. I think Ogletree has a lot of talent. He’s fast, he’s a good route runner, he’s professional. He has a great chance to win that job.’’
Ogletree’s final game in a Cowboys uniform was a microcosm of his 2012 season.
With an NFC East title on the line against Washington, Ogletree caught a 10-yard touchdown pass, but he was also blatantly chewed out by Romo after the first of three interceptions in a 28-18 loss that eliminated the Cowboys from playoff contention.
After his traumatic final season in Dallas, Ogletree is taking nothing for granted as he makes the adjustment from Romo to Freeman.
“I’m just a guy that competes his butt off and likes to make plays,’’ said Ogletree, who signed a two-year, $2.6 million deal five months ago. “It’s fun. Gaining the trust of someone is always a process.”