Lovie Smith sometimes keeps his information close to the vest, even when leaving a voicemail for a young roster hopeful wondering which side of the bubble he's on.
On Saturday morning, as teams around the NFL trimmed their rosters from 75 players to 53 for the regular season, Smith dialed up Adam Humphries, an undrafted wide receiver out of Clemson. When Humphries didn't answer, Smith left a very brief message: "Hey, it's Lovie. Give me a call back."
Hundreds of players around the league got calls from their coaches on Saturday, many of them learning that they would not be making it past the final cut-down. Humphries wasn't sure if that was the message Smith was trying to deliver, so he was nervous when he called his coach back. Fortunately, Smith had better news and didn't want the young receiver to sweat it out until the waiver deadline of 4:00 p.m.
"When I called back he told me I made it, so I was jumping around the room, pretty excited," said Humphries. "It was an exciting weekend, obviously. I played well in the game Thursday and things were looking good for me, but you never know in this league. It was good on Saturday at 4:00 p.m. to know that I was on the 53-man roster. It was just exciting, but now I've got to work and get ready for the game on Sunday."
Indeed Humphries had caught four passes for 62 yards and a touchdown in the Buccaneers' preseason finale at Miami, making him the team's leading receiver over the course of the preseason. He had also turned in some good reps as a punt returner, and that was enough to make him one of three undrafted rookies to make the 53-man roster on Saturday. The other two were kicker Kyle Brindza (a late trade acquisition from Detroit) and fellow wide receiver Rannell Hall, who was subsequently waived on Sunday. Humphries' final audition on Thursday simply reinforced what the coaching staff had come to feel about him since the start of camp.
"Lovie told me I'd earned it, that I had done a good job in camp," he said. "So it was pretty cool to hear from the coach."
So now what? From Humphries' perspective, it's as simple as he stated it: His job is now to get ready for the opener and take on whatever assignments the team gives him. But what might those assignments be?
Given his compact frame (5-11, 195), short-area quickness and sure hands, Humphries would seem like a good candidate to play in the slot, a position the Buccaneers have tried to address with multiple additions over the last two years. Louis Murphy seems entrenched as the team's number-three receiver, especially after the loss of Kenny Bell to injured reserve, but the Bucs might find some use for Humphries in three or four-receiver sets as well. Tampa Bay's starting outside receivers are twin giants, the 6-5 duo of Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans, so it might be useful to give a different look out of the slot.
Humphries has actually been learning all three primary receiving positions, the X, Z and slot, which has been one of the main challenges of transitioning from college to the pros. Offensive Coordinator Dirk Koetter has pushed his receivers to be ready for a wide array of possibilities.
"I think the biggest difference for me in the NFL is just the details," said Humphries. "Our offensive coordinator is really strict on details and getting here it's tough to learn all the splits for different routes, and you have to learn three positions. Just getting the details down and learning all three positions was tough but I feel comfortable there now and hopefully I can just go out there and prove what I can do."
Humphries was also heavily involved in the return game during the second half of the preseason. He returned two punts for 21 yards and made a pair of fair catches. He did get one kickoff return opportunity (for 14 yards) and has seen some time in that role on the practice field, but he's farther along as a punt returner. He hasn't yet been told how much he'll be involved in the kicking game.
"I don't know that right now but I think I've proven in the preseason I can return punts, so if they need me out there I can do that," said Humphries.
And while it didn't necessarily weigh in the Bucs' decision to keep him on the roster, Humphries has also shown some pretty good decision-making off the field. Specifically, he has jumped at the chance to spend a little extra time working with fellow rookie Jameis Winston, the Buccaneers' starting quarterback. That's a good relationship for a young receiver to foster, and the extra work did both players good.
"Jameis is such a competitor, he wants to win at everything he does," said Humphries. "We try to get together and go over the script, go over some plays and just interact and talk about that. It's always good to get some extra study in with him, and it's good to know that we have a quarterback who really wants to win and will put in the extra work."