TAMPA - A leader largely by example, three-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Vincent Jackson asks only one thing of his fellow Tampa Bay Buccaneers wideouts: No matter the situation, always bring your A-game. Chris Owusu has certainly complied. Though he might be no better than third behind Kevin Ogletree and Tiquan Underwood in the battle for the third receiver spot, few players flashed as noticeably and consistently during the first week of training camp as Owusu. A workout hasn't gone by in which the second-year receiver out of Stanford hasn't hauled in a long throw on a deep route, dived across the middle for a first down or outleaped a defender for a ball along the sideline.
"He's done a good job so far," Bucs coach Greg Schiano said of the 6-foot, 190-pound speedster. "Now, it's only been for a few practices, but you can only evaluate people on what they do and so far he's done a good job." Twenty-one months ago, as his senior season with the Cardinal was coming to a tragically disappointing end, the only evaluations Owusu was subjected to were administered by neurosurgeons and team doctors. The victim of two helmet-to-helmet hits and a crushing blow to the shoulder that earned Southern Cal safety T.J. McDonald a half-game suspension, Owusu suffered three concussions in a 13-month span from October 2010 to November 2011. The last, which occurred when Owusu collided with Oregon State cornerback Jordan Power, all but ended Owusu's college career. It derailed the start of his NFL career, as well. Considered a mid-round talent or better by most scouts prior to his second and third concussions, Owusu began to free fall through NFL draft boards and was already off several by the scouting combine in February 2012. Medical analyses did little to abate the drop. Though a physician with the NFL's Head, Neck and Spine Committee cleared Owusu to play just before the combine, and others said Owusu's concussion history did not make him more susceptible to future concussions, NFL teams remained wary. That Owusu averaged 15 yards per catch and 27.3 per kick return in college didn't seem to matter. Neither, it turned out, did his stellar performance at the combine. Owusu ran the 40-yard dash in 4.36 seconds (fourth-fastest in the class), registered a 40.5-inch vertical leap (fifth-best) and completed the 20-yard shuttle drill in 4.11 seconds (fourth-best), yet went undrafted. "That was a tough period for me, very tough," Owusu said. "I'm a man of faith, but there were times there when I had to ask, 'Why? Why me? Why am I being put through this?' But I knew God was looking out for me and had a plan for me." Jim Harbaugh was looking out for him, too. Harbaugh, who coached Owusu for two years at Stanford, became coach of the San Francisco 49ers in 2011. In April 2012, the 49ers signed Owusu. Owusu made it through training camp but was among the last players cut before the start of the 2012 season. He wasn't on the street for a day before San Diego signed him to its practice squad. He didn't stay there long, either. Before the first month of the season was up, the Bucs signed Owusu as a replacement for Sammie Stroughter, whose foot injury put him on injured reserve. Owusu dressed for a handful of games last year and played in one, catching one pass for 24 yards during a 41-0 loss at New Orleans. But the Bucs think their decision to bring Owusu along slowly was beneficial. "It was good for him to get into some real game action at the end last year," Schiano said. "Because sometimes you think you're ready, then you get in there and you find out it's a different world." Owusu sure looks ready now. During an 11-on-11 drill Sunday, he made a quick cut to the sideline and left cornerback Leonard Johnson in his wake as he hauled in a 40-yard touchdown pass from Josh Freeman. On Monday, during a two-minute drill, Owusu ran down the sideline and leaped over two defenders to grab a 17-yard completion on a fourth-and-1 play. "He's been able to make some plays when we throw the ball to him," Bucs receivers coach John Garrett said. "When you have that athleticism, you have the flexibility in your hips you need to change direction and make quick cuts." Owusu is thrilled to hear someone talking about his skill set again. For months, all anyone seemed to want to know was whether he was still experiencing any dizziness, headaches or nausea. "That's all 100 percent in the past now," Owusu said. "I haven't thought about the concussions at all. You obviously think about your well being, but I'm here to play football and compete and that's what I'm concentrating on. "I know as well as anybody that you have to make the most of your opportunities or someone else is going to come along and take it from you. And that's all I'm trying to do right now - take advantage of the opportunity I have here." firstname.lastname@example.org (813) 259-7979 Twitter: @RCummingsTBO