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Patient Bucs Hope for Big Plays from Demps

Posted Oct 4, 2013

Special Teams Coordinator Dave Wannstedt says former Olympian Jeff Demps has toughness and instincts to go with his speed, and the big plays will come if the Bucs don't try to force it

  • Special Teams Coordinator Dave Wannstedt says RB Jeff Demps is more than a "track guy playing football"
  • Demps' first game as a Buc showed his potential but the team isn't going to try to force big plays in the kicking game
  • Depending upon the situation, the Bucs may be more likely to give Demps the green light on kickoffs into the end zone
Dave Wannstedt, the first-year special teams coordinator for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers but long-time NFL and college coach, has been around plenty of what he would call, "track guys playing football." Jeff Demps is not one of those guys, according to Wannstedt.

Wannstedt and Demps haven't had a huge amount of time to work together, thanks to the latter's unusual path to the Buccaneers' active roster. Demps was indeed a track star and a football player at the University of Florida, and upon finishing his collegiate career he chose to concentrate on his Olympic track dreams first. He did sign with the New England Patriots in 2012 while on his way to Olympic silver with the 4x100-meter U.S. relay team in London, but he spent his rookie season on injured reserve.

The Buccaneers traded for Demps during the 2013 NFL Draft but knew he still had some track pursuits to finish up before he would join the team. He eventually did so in the second week of the regular season, then had two weeks of exempt status from the roster in which he could get up to speed on the Bucs' offensive and special teams playbooks. He was activated early last week and, with just a few more practices under his belt, was thrust into action on Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals.

"Last week was a big week for him," said Wannstedt. "He was thrown in there, and obviously there was room to improve. We're going to keep working with him, and he's got a good attitude. He shows toughness and he wants to be good at what we're doing. That's a nice combination to have and it's nice to be able to work with someone like that."

Of course, the one outstanding trait that Demps has that prompted the Bucs to pursue him (they also were one of a handful of teams that showed interest along with the Patriots in 2012), is world-class speed. The most obvious place that the Bucs could utilize that speed is in the return game, but it seems clear that they want to have a handful of plays for him on offense, as well. Against Arizona, he took his one carry around right end for 14 yards, and he picked up eight more on the one pass thrown to him. Those were pleasing results; in the return game, it was a mixed bag, but the potential for big plays is clearly there. Teasing out those big plays is more than just a matter of teaching Demps the playbook.

- RB Jeff Demps returned three kickoffs for 69 yards against Arizona

"We're trying to get a couple things done with him," said Wannstedt. "Number one, get him in football shape. When a guy has almost a year off and no training camp and no OTAs, you're trying to get him in football shape, number one, and at the same time you're trying to teach him a system, number two. And you want him to develop confidence in himself. Anyone can say, 'Okay, I'm ready to go out there, I know what to do,' but are they really confident in going out there and executing. That's the process we're working through with him right now."

Demps certainly seemed confident enough in the return game, choosing to run the ball out of the end zone from at least five yards deep three times. On the first one, he was eight yards into the end zone but got 29 yards out to the 21, which is slightly better than a touchback. On the second one, he was five yards deep and he got 21 yards to the 16.

The last one was the main problem – he was nine yards deep when he caught the ball and he was tripped up at the 10 while trying to make a quick cut to the right. That poor field position contributed to the Bucs' punting out of their own end zone moments later, which gave Arizona the ball at the Bucs' 38, needing only a field goal to win. Of course, it was a hand to the ankle by a diving player that tripped Demps; who knows, had that cut worked he might have found a seam and won the game for the Buccaneers. While the percentages of that play favored Demps kneeling with the ball, there is obviously a temptation to let him fly as often as possible. Wannstedt took the blame for not fully emphasizing the team's rules on when and when not to run a kickoff out of the end zone to Demps, but those rules might be bent a little from time to time in the favor of the Bucs' new speedster, anyway.

"We do [have rules], and we adjust it every week," said Wannstedt. "I didn't do a very good job last week of getting that message across. Now, with someone like him, you may – depending on the wind, if you're at home or on the road – take a little bit more of a chance than you might with another player. For his first time out there, there were obviously one or two that we would have rather not brought out at the end of the day, but we've just got to spend more time with him. He'll get it."

And as he does, the Bucs believe they'll get some big plays in the return game. Wannstedt pointed out that a few core special teams players – such as Erik Lorig, Tom Crabtree and Michael Adams – have just returned to action or could return soon. The Bucs have also been pleased with the work that young player Eric Page has done in the return game, and he held onto the punt return job on Sunday even with Demps returning kickoffs. The Bucs intend to be patient with Demps and they believe he has the football instincts to go with his wheels, making him a breakaway waiting to happen.

"Page is doing a good job, probably a better job than people give him credit for as far as punt returns, and he can do kickoff returns," said Wannstedt. "Demps has that breakaway speed, but obviously he hasn't been here and he missed training camp and all that; you're trying to make up for a lot of lost time there. I think the big plays will come; just don't force it."