Rookie defensive end Ellis Wyms is busy learning both the under tackle and left defensive end positions
'Catching Up With' is an ongoing look at some of the more compelling, if less publicized, story lines on the Bucs' training camp roster. Today's focus: rookie defensive end Ellis Wyms. (Others: Chartric Darby.)
While playing at Mississippi State last fall, Wyms may have taken one Sunday to watch the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in action and seen his whole NFL career path before his eyes.
He is James Cannida. He may very soon be Tyoka Jackson. He expects to become Anthony McFarland or Marcus Jones.
Half a year later, Wyms is a part of that Buccaneer defensive line crew, having been selected by Tampa Bay in the sixth round of the 2001 NFL Draft. That's the same round in which the Bucs grabbed former Nevada-Reno defensive tackle James Cannida in 1998, and Cannida not only made the team but has widened his role on the defense every season.
Late-round success such as Cannida's was part of the reason Wyms was glad to hear his name called by Tampa Bay in April. Since Tony Dungy became head coach in 1996, the Bucs have drafted 18 players in the fifth round and beyond. Nine of those made the 53-man roster at some point, and two others (RB Autry Denson and CB Al Harris) caught on with other teams.
"I was pleased that I was coming here because they have a really good D-line coach and they have a tradition of taking guys in the later rounds and training them and getting them ready to play in the future," said Wyms on Thursday as he left the Bucs' third voluntary practice of the week. "I think it will help me develop and eventually I'll be a big-time player in this league, like many of these guys here."
Defensive Line Coach Rod Marinelli already sees Wyms in the Jackson mold, and the rookie believes that role could get his foot in the door for even better things. Jackson, a versatile 'swingman' type who left this offseason as an unrestricted free agent, had maintained a spot on the Bucs' defense for five years mainly because he was capable of playing either tackle or end.
"Right now, they've got me playing under tackle, the position that (Warren) Sapp plays, and left defensive end behind Marcus Jones," said Wyms. "It doesn't matter, I can play any of the spots. I think it's going to help me make this team in the long run, being able to do both. I'll be versatile and do whatever they want me to do on defense."
What the Buccaneers might ask Wyms to do, and what makes him an intriguing possibility for an already loaded front line, is provide the secondary skills that sometimes are neglected at end and tackle. That is, Wyms could be a better-than-average run-stopper on the outside and a better-than-average pass-rusher on the inside.
"He's kind of like a little bigger Tyoka," said Marinelli. "His strength as an end would be his size and his ability to play the run. He runs 280 (pounds) and he's got good quickness to play the run. He does some of the things that we want in a pass-rusher.
"Then, when he goes inside, he's got real quick hands. His quickness can beat a guard. You don't need as much speed inside as you do quickness. On the edge, you need more speed. He highlights himself as a rusher inside and highlights himself as an end playing the run. Right now, he's doing both well."
Jackson did both well enough to record career Buccaneer marks of 73 tackles and 8.5 sacks from 1996-2000. Before he signed with the St. Louis Rams this offseason, his versatility often helped the Bucs make difficult decisions on game day regarding how many linemen to keep active.
"Coach Marinelli has mentioned that guy to me," said Wyms. "I really hadn't seen him play, but he's telling me that I can be the same type of player that Tyoka Jackson was for him. And Tyoka went to the Rams, so Coach thinks I can do the same things, move in and out and help the team win in both spots."
Of course, that also gives Wyms more to digest in Marinelli's classroom. On Thursday, the coach specifically praised the player's intelligence and football savvy, but Wyms realizes his biggest leap forward has to come in playbook knowledge.
"Right now, I think I'm about equal against the run and the pass, but I've just got to learn the scheme," said Wyms, when asked to self-scout. "I've got to learn how to react to certain blocks in this defensive scheme. This defense is very much attack-based. Everybody's getting up field, getting up field and reading their keys on the run. Once I get comfortable with the scheme and knowing what I'm supposed to do, I think I'll be able to get a lot done."
Marinelli is hopeful that Wyms is right.
"This may be a bit premature – he's got to put the pads on and still do it," said Marinelli. "But, from what I've seen so far, I've been very pleased."
The pads will go on July 30, when the Bucs hold their first practice of the 2001 training camp. Coaches tend to resist making roster judgments during spring workouts, as the main purpose is to install the offensive and defensive systems. As much as he's impressed so far, Wyms knows the true test lies ahead, and he plans to be prepared.
"I'm trying to get into a little better shape before training camp, but I'm looking forward to it," he said. "I'm ready to put on the pads and see how I match up against these guys. I know there's a bunch of great athletes out here, and we've got a Super Bowl-caliber team. It's going to be fun to practice with guys of that caliber every day."