The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' offense misses wide receiver Vincent Jackson, but it hasn't ground to a halt in the three weeks since he suffered a knee injury at Washington.
Photos from the Bucs' practice on Wednesday, November 18th, at One Buccaneer Place in Tampa.
Rookie quarterback Jameis Winston deserves a significant amount of credit for that, but so too do two other NFL newcomers who didn't come into the league with #1-overall-pick credentials. Wide receivers Donteea Dye and Adam Humphries, a pair of players signed as undrafted free agents in May, have logged significant playing time the last three weeks and have not been overwhelmed by the pro game. Their numbers may not be eye-catching – 13 receptions for 113 yards in that three-game span – but they have thoroughly impressed the man calling plays, Offensive Coordinator Dirk Koetter.
"Those two rookie receivers…[I] couldn't be happier for them, couldn't be prouder of those two guys," said Koetter. "Two guys, undrafted, don't even know if they are going to make the team and all of a sudden we put three [wide receivers] out there and we have five rookies on offense. [I'm] happy for them, love their attitude during the week and in the game, having guys that are willing to try to do it how you want them to do it. If we screw it up then that's my fault, if we don't give them the right things. [I'm] just really happy for those two guys."
Dye's contributions to Sunday's win over Dallas included an 11-yard play on the game-winning touchdown drive that was mostly yards after the catch, thanks to several impressive moves. Humphries had two catches for 25 yards in the game, and both produced first downs in the second half as the Bucs were attempting their comeback.
Humphries, whose college teammates included current NFL standouts DeAndre Hopkins, Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant, is familiar with making the most out of his opportunities and doing whatever his offensive coordinator asks of him.
"Even at Clemson, I was playing alongside some great receivers so obviously all the balls weren't coming to me," he said. "So I had to embrace that role as a role player and just make plays when they came my way. I developed that at Clemson and I feel like it's starting to carry over here.
"It's not frustrating at all. This is my job, so I've got to go out there and do the best I can. It's fun, improving each week and getting better at what we do."
Not only were Dye and Humphries not drafted in the spring, they were not picked up by any NFL team in the original rush to sign the most coveted players who slipped through all 11 rounds. Both receivers accepted an invite to try out during the Bucs' rookie mini-camp, and both did well enough to immediately get a contract and another invitation to training camp. Their efforts have paralleled since, both performing well in training camp and during the preseason games, both splitting the first part of the regular season between the practice squad and the active roster, and both now taking on major roles in the offense. Dye has been on the field for 160 snaps over the past three weeks, Humphries for 125. For obvious reasons, they're rooting for each other.
"Yeah, me and Donteea have a pretty good bond, coming in as rookie tryout guys," said Humphries. We're pretty close and he's a hard-working guy. I enjoy playing alongside him."
- Humphries and Dye will likely continue to play significant roles in the passing attack this Sunday in Philadelphia, given that Vincent Jackson was still unable to practice on Wednesday due to his knee injury.
Jackson has missed the last three games after playing in all of the Bucs' previous 54 games since he signed with the team in 2012.
Defensive end George Johnson, who sustained a calf injury against Dallas last Sunday, was the only other Buccaneer who did not participate in Wednesday's practice in any fashion. However, four other players, all opening-day starters, were limited due to various ailments: guard Ali Marpet (ankle), tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins (shoulder), center Evan Smith (knee) and defensive end Jacquies Smith (ankle). Marpet and Jacquies Smith have both made progress after being sidelined all of last week, while Seferian-Jenkins is trying to end a seven-game absence from the lineup.
"We have some guys that have been on the list for a while that still aren't 100 percent," said Lovie Smith. "Austin Seferian-Jenkins is one of them. [He] has not been released for full contact yet. Ali Marpet, Evan Smith, [Jacquies] Smith were able to do a little bit."
- Jameis Winston is not on that injury report, fortunately, but Koetter worries that he might eventually end up there if he keeps diving over defenders at the goal line, as he has the past two weeks.
On Wednesday, Koetter said it made him "sick to his stomach" to see the prized rookie take that dangerous route to pay dirt. He has a couple different suggestions for Winston in such situations, but also understands that you can't always fight the instincts of the moment.
"You can't question his heart, but that's a very dangerous play," said Koetter. "It's a dangerous – injury to him, number one, which would hurt our football team and second, as many times as you see guys do that, they fumble the ball a lot. I would rather see him go low and try to get it across [the goal line] that way. Again, you can't coach every single thing out of these guys. Their instincts take over and they're playing football. Like I say every week, Jameis is a football player. There's no doubt about that."
Koetter has delivered this basic message to Winston, and he joked on Wednesday that he might try to get Lovie Smith to drive it home for him. And Winston has heard his coaches on the matter. He intends to look for better options but doesn't plan to stifle his own will to win.
"There are better ways to get in the end zone," said Winston. "I'm never going to stop trying to compete. I am going to develop some smarter habits, but as of now it's still progress. It's a process. I have to get better every day."