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MLB: Jags' Williamson shines in preseason loss to Bucs

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Troy Williamson is giving the Jacksonville Jaguars something they've been missing for years: a deep threat.

Williamson, a first-round bust in Minnesota who is looking to secure a roster spot in Jacksonville, caught two deep passes from David Garrard and finished with 147 yards receiving in a 24-23 preseason loss to Tampa Bay on Saturday night.

Although Jacksonville's offense was mostly stagnant the rest of the night — the Jaguars were 3 for 14 on third down — Williamson's two plays were a positive sign for a franchise that has struggled to create big plays in the passing game since receiver Jimmy Smith retired following the 2005 season.

Williamson, in the starting lineup because of Mike Walker's ankle injury, caught four passes for 74 yards in Jacksonville's preseason opener Monday night.

He was even better against the Buccaneers (1-1).

The former South Carolina star beat Sabby Piscitelli for a 74-yard touchdown reception on the game's first play. He also slipped by Elbert Mack for a 61-yard gain early in the second quarter. That set up Greg Jones' 1-yard run to put the Jaguars (0-2) ahead 14-3.

"I am just out there working," Williamson said. "I'm doing more and more stuff to get my confidence back up. I feel good and comfortable with the offense."

Williamson was considered a long shot to make Jacksonville's roster after the team signed Torry Holt and drafted three receivers.

Now, he looks like a lock.

Tampa Bay's quarterback situation is much less settled.

Byron Leftwich, playing in Jacksonville for the first time since the Jaguars dumped the former first-round draft pick following the 2007 preseason, moved the Buccaneers into Jacksonville territory in each of his three possessions.

"It was just another game for me," Leftwich said. "I was a little anxious in the beginning, but everything was OK."

Leftwich was 6 of 12 passing for 63 yards and led the first-team offense to a field goal.

Luke McCown and first-round pick Josh Freeman had more success.

McCown was 6 of 9 for 51 yards, with two touchdown passes. But both of his drives came with short fields — a 20-yard drive following Sammie Stroughter's 75-yard kickoff return and a 45-yard drive following Jacksonville's second special teams miscue.

Brian Witherspoon fielded a kickoff near the sideline and stepped out of bounds on the 3-yard line. Jacksonville had two penalties against offensive linemen and had to punt from its end zone.

McCown had a 17-yard TD pass to Jerramy Stevens, then a 9-yard TD pass to Stroughter.

Stroughter's two plays may have been overshadowed by Williamson's big night, but he drew high praise from Buccaneers coach Raheem Morris.

"You can't talk enough about the young man," Morris said. "He is a seventh-round draft pick out here playing for his life. We respect him and he respects this opportunity. We have a lot of love for Sammie."

Freeman started the second half and scrambled for a 28-yard score on his first drive. He played one more drive before giving way to Josh Johnson.

The game was blacked out on local television, something that could be common for Jacksonville this season. The small-market franchise, coming off a 5-11 season and expected to be in rebuilding mode, has struggled to sell tickets in a foundering economy.

More big plays from Garrard and Williamson could help.

The Jaguars had just one passing play of at least 40 yards last season, worst in the NFL.

Williamson missed most of the season because of a lingering groin issue. He's healthy now — and making the most of his opportunity.

Williamson was the seventh overall pick in 2005, chosen as the heir apparent to Randy Moss after the Vikings traded Moss to Oakland a month before the draft. But Williamson struggled from the start. He had 79 receptions for 1,067 yards and three touchdowns in three disappointing, drop-filled seasons.

He said he never got comfortable playing in the spotlight in Minnesota.

"No pressure now," Williamson said. "I'm around a good group of guys and I feel like I'm welcome. I just feel comfortable. That's one thing I like about being down here in Jacksonville. It's fun."