As recently as Sunday, Head Coach Dirk Koetter noted that the wide receiver competition remains wide open from spots "three through eight." There is now, however, some clarity at the number three spot, however. Koetter provided it himself on Monday when he revealed that Adam Humphries now occupies that spot.
"Let's just end the big mystery about this number-three wide receiver, okay: Adam Humphries is going to be our number-three wide receiver," said Koetter. "[If] you talk about the definition of a consistent player, there's Adam Humphries's picture right there, [a] consistently strong player. Adam's going to be our slot receiver and then the battle for four, five, six, and beyond, there's some really good competition."
As Koetter notes, there is still much to be determined before the Bucs have a full wide receiver depth chart for the regular season, but it's now clear that Humphries will have a major role in the offense playing out of the slot. His lateral quickness, sure hands and tight route-running over the middle of the field should be a perfect complement to the 6-5 duo of Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson on the outside. One recent seven-on-seven drill at training camp featured a series of plays with quarterback Jameis Winston surrounded by what may be the primary lineup on third downs: Evans, Jackson, Humphries, tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins and running back Charles Sims.
"We call him 'First-Down Hump,'" said Evans, the Bucs' leading pass-catcher in 2015. "He made a lot of plays last year. It's very difficult inside. On the outside looking in, you don't know how much work he puts in, but he puts a lot of work in to learn those difficult routes on the inside. He brings a lot. He's versatile – he can play inside and out. He's tough, he goes hard every play. He was the third receiver last year. He made plays, he's a sure-handed guy and he knows how to get open."
The rise that Humphries has made from undrafted free agent to what is essentially a starting position has been steady, but no less impressive for that. Humphries' first exposure to the NFL was actually as a tryout player in the Bucs' 2015 rookie mini-camp. He showed enough in that camp to get a spot on the Bucs' training camp roster and was even on the opening-day 53-man roster. Though he was briefly moved to the practice squad in September and October he returned to the active roster by midseason and eventually settled into the slot role. From there he contributed 27 catches for 260 yards and one touchdown. Winston never hesitated to throw it in the direction of his fellow rookie.
"I definitely trust that guy with all my heart, I know Coach Koetter trusts him and this team trusts him," said the second-year quarterback. "That's a big thing for him. I'm pretty sure when he hears that [he's the third receiver] he's going to work even harder."
Said Humphries: "Jameis feeling comfortable throwing the ball to me is good. That's a testament to a lot of hard work on the practice field, just being reliable and consistent in my routes, just being a guy he can count on."
Humphries was actually the target on the first regular-season pass of Winston's NFL career. It didn't go well, as it was interception by Tennessee's Coty Sensabaugh and returned for a touchdown. Winston's rookie season was all uphill from there, as he threw for over 4,000 yards and a 22-15 TD-INT ratio, including a 16-8 differential over the last 12 games. Humphries came on strong at the same time that Winston did in the middle of the season, 16 of his 27 catches in a five-game span. Winston said he was "not surprised at all" by the announcement that Humphries would remain his primary slot receiver.
"Adam is a great player for us," said Winston. "He's a third-down machine for us. He's had a great camp, and last year he was one of my best targets. You think about the first play of the year, me and that guy bounced back from that quickly and had a great season together."
Humphries's steady rise continued into the 2016 offseason, as he felt in June as if his grasp of the offense was "like night and day" compared to the previous year. He chose to take the same underdog mindset into his second training camp, however, despite the obvious fact that he was, at worst, among the leading candidates for the slot job. That has paid off for him quickly, as the slot receiver job is one of the few obvious camp battles that has already been settled.
Not surprisingly, Monday's revelation won't change Humphries's approach to his job.
"Obviously it's early in camp and we still have a lot of work to do," he said. "Obviously, that's good to hear from the head man, but you've got to keep the edge and keep working hard each day. I've got to earn the spot every day, no matter what he said. I could mess up or I can keep getting better, so that's what I'm going to do. I just put my head down and work, and whatever he says is good."