NFC South: Kenbrell Thompkins

TAMPA, Fla. -- If you're looking for an under-the-radar player with a chance to make Tampa Bay's roster, you might want to consider wide receiver Tommy Streeter. But look quickly because Streeter might not be an unknown for much longer.

Streeter already is catching the eyes of his teammates and coaches.

"We kind of have a running joke, 'Man, that dude is catching the ball right and left, over and over,'" quarterback Josh McCown said after Thursday's practice. "It's like one of the better camps I've been around for a receiver. He's just got so many dang catches. And he's just doing his job. He's just a humble, hard-working guy that comes out here every day and gets after it. He catches the ball when it's thrown to him and that's all you can ask for as a player."

[+] EnlargeTampa Bay's Tommy Streeter
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsTampa Bay quarterback Josh McCown said Tommy Streeter's performance this summer is "one of the better camps I've been around for a receiver."
Streeter's talent flashed again in Thursday's practice when he made a nice catch when matched up against veteran safety Major Wright.

"He's another guy with good size, good height, good speed and he's been catching the football," coach Lovie Smith said. "You talk to him and he doesn't want a whole lot of complements, he's just 'Hey, I'm just trying to do my job, trying to get better very day,' saying all the right things, just making plays. That's all you have to do as a player. You don't have to worry about, am I going to make the roster, am I going to get enough plays. If you get one play, you do something, you'll continue to get more. We've noticed him. When we initially came to camp he's wasn't one of the guys we were talking a lot about. But he's been pretty steady every day."

Streeter seems to be putting himself in line for a roster spot in a receiving corps in which the only sure things are starters Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans.

A sixth-round draft pick by Baltimore in 2012, Streeter has been unable to make an impact in the NFL so far. But he's not a stranger to the big stage. Streeter played at the University of Miami.

"No, I'm not afraid," Streeter said. "I've been doing this since age 7. I don't see any difference at any level. It all comes down to, at this level, how much goes into the preparation before the dance."

Streeter has been preparing for the dance by paying close attention to Jackson. That's a wise choice because Streeter is the same size (6-foot-5) as Jackson.

"I talk to him every day," Streeter said. "I ask him different questions on how do you run this route based on different leverages and techniques. Basically, what little tricks and crafty moves he has that he uses to get open. I try to incorporate that in my game as well."

Streeter said he already has learned a lot from Jackson.

"His ability to drop his weight and get in and out of his cuts," Streeter said. "He comes downhill and he's aggressive to the ball. That's something I always continuously try to improve on. At the University of Miami, I was always the deep ball guy. When you come here in this offense there's a lot of route running involved. That's something I continuously work on and something I always try to get better at."

Streeter may not have the NFL pedigree, but he came out of one of the nation's top high school programs. That's Miami Northwestern.

"They used to call us the University of Northwestern," Streeter said.

Streeter's high school team also featured two other Buccaneers, linebacker Lavonte David and cornerback Anthony Gaitor. Streeter wore the same jersey (No. 5) as previously worn by Kenbrell Thompkins, who now is with the New England Patriots, and later worn by Minnesota Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.

"My coach, when he gave it to me, he was like 'Son, I'm going to give you No. 5. You might have to do a little history to understand the importance of this number and the guys who wore it before you and what they did,'" Streeter said. "I was kind of nervous, like 'Does the No. 5 jersey glow or something? Is everybody watching me?' But nonetheless, I thrived in that environment."

If Streeter can continue doing what he has been doing in practice, he might be able to thrive with the Buccaneers.
Tom Brady and Matt RyanGetty ImagesTom Brady and Matt Ryan have both come in for heaping praise ahead of Sunday's meeting.

ATLANTA -- There are $100 million reasons why Matt Ryan should be talked about among the NFL’s elite quarterbacks. One thing the Atlanta Falcons quarterback doesn’t have that his Sunday-night counterpart possesses is a Super Bowl ring.

Ryan's showdown with New England Patriots star Tom Brady is sure to be a hot topic throughout Week 4. He already lost one such head-to-head matchup, when Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints got the better of Ryan and the Falcons in the season opener (23-17).

So how will Ryan fare against the Pats? He’ll need help from all phases, something he didn’t receive in last week’s loss to the Miami Dolphins.

ESPN.com Falcons team reporter Vaughn McClure and Patriots reporter Mike Reiss break it down:

McClure: The Falcons were touted as a Super Bowl contender -- and possibly a favorite -- going into the season. But now, at 1-2, they find themselves in almost a must-win situation at home. How will the Patriots respond to the hostile environment they’ll enter Sunday night at the Georgia Dome?

Reiss: With 13 rookies on the 53-man roster -- including receivers Aaron Dobson (second round) and Kenbrell Thompkins (undrafted), who are playing key roles -- there is an element of unknown for the Patriots when projecting how the team will respond. Some of these players simply haven’t experienced this environment and prime-time stage. It’s rare for a Patriots team to be relying on such a large number of rookies for significant contributions, and that is one of the interesting storylines from a New England perspective this week. Other storylines are if this might be tight end Rob Gronkowski's season debut, if receiver Danny Amendola will also return after missing two games with a groin injury and if the defense -- which has been solid against lesser competition (Jets, Bills, Buccaneers) -- can limit an explosive passing game that is easily the best the unit has seen to this point in the season. Give us a feel for how things are going for the Falcons on offense.

McClure: Not too well, at the moment. Head coach Mike Smith’s biggest complaint is how inefficient his team has been in the red zone. During the Week 3 loss to the Dolphins, the Falcons were 2-of-5 in red zone opportunities. For the season, they are 6-of-12 (50 percent) in terms of touchdowns in the red zone, but offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter wants that number to be a bit higher. Having bruising running back Steven Jackson in the lineup would no doubt help in goal-line situations, but Jackson will miss Sunday’s game while nursing a hamstring injury. Receiver Roddy White is also a solid red zone target, but White is not 100 percent healthy coming off a high-ankle sprain. Ryan still has Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez as primary scoring weapons. How do you think the Patriots will keep up with the speedy receiver and ageless tight end?

Reiss: I think it starts with how they decide to match up against the Falcons’ “11 personnel” (one back, one tight end), because that looks like the most explosive package -- receivers Jones, White and Harry Douglas, with Gonzalez at tight end and either Jacquizz Rodgers or Jason Snelling at running back. Last Sunday against the Buccaneers’ “11 personnel,” the Patriots stayed in their base defense but played with three cornerbacks in the secondary -- their way of staying sturdy against the run but adding a coverage element to the secondary. I’d be surprised if we see that this week because the Falcons are much more potent in the passing game. So I could envision the Patriots turning to a coverage-heavy dime defense (six defensive backs), specifically with Jones and Gonzalez in mind, with the thought that a lighter box might be enough to limit the running game. For the Falcons, how are things shaping up on defense?

McClure: The defense has had its issues. Take the Miami game, for example. The Falcons held a 23-20 lead with just less than five minutes remaining in regulation. The defense needed to close, needed to put pressure on Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill, needed to lock down the receivers. Instead, the Falcons played soft coverage after the Dolphins reached midfield and couldn’t disrupt Tannehill’s rhythm. In the end, Tannehill engineered a 13-play, 75-yard drive that ended with his game-winning touchdown pass to Dion Sims. Not playing tight coverage and not wrapping up on tackles cost the Falcons in that game, and it could cost them the rest of the season if they don’t find a way to correct those problems immediately. They could use their defensive leader, linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, who was placed on injured reserve (foot) with a designation to return in Week 11. One other aspect noticeable in Miami was how the Dolphins tight ends won their one-on-one matchups against the Falcons on that final drive. That being said, will Atlanta have to contend with one of the best tight ends in the league, Gronkowski?

Reiss: We might not know the answer for sure until 90 minutes before kickoff, but things have been pointing in that direction. The one area the Patriots could use Gronkowski most, at least initially, is in the red zone. One season after ranking first in the NFL in red zone touchdown percentage (which we acknowledge isn't a foolproof stat), the Patriots rank last (4-of-13). It’s going to be hard to win a game like this settling for field goals. Speaking of which, let’s not overlook special teams. The Patriots are getting good contributions in that third phase of the game, with a 53-yard field goal by Stephen Gostkowski a highlight in Sunday’s victory over the Buccaneers. How about the Falcons?

McClure: Yet another area in which the Falcons could use much improvement. Against the Dolphins, returner Douglas fumbled a punt he admitted he shouldn’t have fielded in the first place. It translated into a Dolphins touchdown three plays later. The usually reliable Matt Bryant missed a 35-yard field goal in the fourth quarter. And the Falcons had three penalties on special teams: two holds and an illegal block above the waist. Through three games, the Falcons are ranked 26th in punt return average and 30th in kickoff return average, although they’ve returned just one kickoff. Those special-teams issues are enough to cause special-teams coordinator Keith Armstrong to blow a gasket. Speaking of that, is Brady still yelling at his receivers?

Reiss: Could you hear him down there in Atlanta? That was probably the most talked about storyline after New England's 13-10 win over the Jets on Sept. 12, whether Brady’s on-field frustrations were making things tougher on the young receivers than they needed to be. But it was mostly yelling at himself this past Sunday. He was upset with an end zone interception he said he shouldn’t have thrown. And he missed some open receivers, too. So while Brady’s stats were better last week, his performance wasn’t up to his own high standard, and it was actually more about him than the young pass-catchers, who turned in their best performance of the season. What is Ryan saying about this matchup?

McClure: Ryan said plenty about the Patriots when he addressed the media in the locker room Wednesday. He said he expects to see a lot of man-to-man coverage and complimented the Patriots for being very sound with their technique. He believes the front seven does a great job of creating pressure in both the run game and against the pass. Of course, Ryan gave much credit to Brady for being one of the top quarterbacks in the league for such a long time. In fact, Ryan joked that he hoped to be around as long as Brady. And Ryan singled out Vince Wilfork for not only being a disruptive force up front, but for being a 325-pound guy who plays a lot of snaps. So what’s the word from Bill Belichick?

Reiss: Belichick complimented Ryan, saying among other things that Ryan has very few bad plays. He shared his belief that consistency is the mark of any great player and Ryan is “pretty consistent -- every play, every game, every series.” And, according to Brady, Belichick said the following to players this week: “If you love football, then Sunday night at 8:30 in Atlanta will be the place to be.” Hard to imagine many would disagree about that. This is going to be fun.

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