Nick Leverett signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as an undrafted rookie on May 5 of 2020 and remained a Buccaneer without interruption through January 27, 2021, spending much of that time on the practice squad. He was released from the practice squad on that second date and then later re-signed by the Buccaneers on February 10. Leverett remains a Buccaneer at this date, with the league-wide cuts to 53-man rosters looming next Tuesday.
Quick-minded Buccaneer fans may have already recalled the date of Super Bowl LV: February 7, 2021. The one very small hole in Leverett's 16-month tenure as a Buccaneer just happened to include the franchise's most triumphant moment in almost two decades. Leverett had to watch that game from a small remove, cheering on his friends and obviously wishing he could be with them in person.
The Bucs' practice squad maneuvering just before the Super Bowl were nothing personal, and Leverett didn't take it personally. Thinned out on the offensive line by the season-ending injury to Alex Cappa in the Wild Card Round, the Buccaneers wanted to add an interior linemen with NFL experience to their practice squad, and thus re-signed Earl Watford. Watford had lost his spot on the active roster a few days earlier when Vita Vea was activated from injured reserve. To make room for Watford, the Bucs let Leverett go, though they quickly signed him back for the 2021 season three days after the big game.
Still, that roster move and the passing of Leverett's beloved grandfather and fishing buddy, Billy, due to cancer around Christmas made for a bit of a rough time for the young player. But now, as he battles to make it onto the active roster this time around, those difficult memories only add fuel to his fire.
"That definitely helped me focus in on what I needed to do and I set my goals and priorities straight right then and there," said Leverett. "I took my diet to another level. I took my workout schedule and everything to a different level. That helped motivate me to come out this year and be the best player that I can possibly be and basically just my best foot forward."
Leverett faced some tough numbers coming into training camp. Not only were the Buccaneers returning all five of their starters from 2020 but they also still had top reserves Aaron Stinnie and Josh Wells on hand. In addition, the team used a third-round pick on Notre Dame's Robert Hainsey, who they envisioned as a supersub early in his career, able to step in at any spot on the offensive line. That's eight linemen who seemed destined for the 53-man roster, and last year the Buccaneers opened the season with a nine-man unit. There was potentially only one spot – if that – available for all the other competitors, though the practice squad would certainly welcome several more of them back.
However, things certainly seem more promising for Leverett now, with that cut to 53 just around the corner. Few players on the camp roster have elicited more steady praise from coaches and teammates than the former Rice standout, who has pulled a Hainsey of his own and bounced around the line to rave reviews. He has attacked every new challenge with an intense devotion to solving it, often spending extra hours after meetings learning the nuances of a different position.
"I'm fighting. I'm fighting every day," said Leverett. "I want to make the team. I told my coach at the beginning of camp, my aspirations for this game are high. I want to be a starter one day. I want to be an All-Pro guy. I want to be in the Hall of Fame. I have so many high aspirations for this game. I'm not letting my foot off the gas by any means. I'm still striving and I'm still staying after every day. I'm still watching more film and stuff like that. It's definitely crazy."
A guard by trade when he arrived last year, Leverett spent a lot of time in 2020 working at tackle while on the practice squad, and when that position was thinned by injuries in camp he stepped in as the primary backup at left tackle. That's where Leverett played in the preseason opener against Cincinnati, and he was on the field for 90% of the offensive snaps. Then the injury bug bit the Bucs' centers and he moved to the pivot, actually starting the second preseason game at that unfamiliar spot and playing every snap.
Who knows where the coaches will put Leverett when final auditions arrive on Saturday night in Houston? The starters are expected to play at least half of the game, so there won't be as many snaps available, but it's likely the team's decision-makers would like to see more of Leverett in action before next week's cuts. Wherever they want to play him, he'll be ready. He's made sure of that.
"It's definitely hard, it's definitely challenging, but the biggest thing for me is as long as you put the work for it – it will make everything smoother," said Leverett. "There are countless times where before practice I'm out here just working on one position, working on the next position and just working on all five positions. Before they even told me I was playing, I was out here snapping with [Kyle] Trask after practice just getting snaps and getting ready for it just so they can catch through me. I mean it's challenging, definitely challenging. Like I said, I put the work in for it where I stay before practice, after practice I spend my time in the meeting room asking my coaches questions, I ask the older guys questions all the time."
Leverett was a versatile player at Rice, where he played one season as a graduate transfer after three years at North Carolina Central. He started all 12 games that season and won honorable mention all-conference honors from the coaches. The one position he didn't play over his four years in college, however, was center. In fact, his first snap in last Saturday's meeting with the Titans was the first one he had ever made in a game."
That is the definition of being thrown into the fire, but Leverett has shown he can handle the heat. In fact, he has relished it.
"It's been nothing but opportunities for me," he said. I actually played four out of five [positions] in college. I played mostly left tackle, played both guard positions and got here and came in as a guard. Last year, I spent most of my time playing tackle on. Like I said, it's been nothing but opportunities. I'm definitely grateful for it and being able to just go out and show these coaches I can play multiple positions with my versatility."
The Bucs' coaching staff might be Leverett's most important audience right now, but he's going to have friends and former teammates on hand in Houston on Saturday. And there's one other person he'll be playing for that night: his late grandfather, Billy.
"That was my guy," said Leverett. "I miss him, man, a lot. But I know he's looking down on me right now. I hope I'm making him proud."