Bobo Wilson has been in the NFL for two years and he's finished each of those years on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' active roster. The obvious next step in his NFL career advancement is to make the opening-day roster, and he'll know whether that's a reality in four days. What seems clear, though, is that he has steadily made progress towards achieving that goal in 2019.
An undrafted free agent in 2017, Wilson hasn't left the Buccaneers' organization since. He opened both of the last two seasons on the practice squad before eventual promotions in late November each fall. He's played in eight games overall and, while his opportunities have been fairly limited, he's done a good job with them, with five catches on his six targets and a yards-per-target rate of 11.7. His first NFL catch went for 18 yards and a touchdown at Carolina in 2017. Last year, Wilson also gave the Bucs their only real spark in the return game, averaging 28.4 yards on 10 kickoff runbacks.
Of course, all of that was under the previous coaching staff so, like many young players on the roster, he needed to prove himself to the new group, led by Bruce Arians. Wilson did that relatively quickly. During offseason OTA practices, Arians split his 90-man roster into two groups – one mostly starters and top reserves, the other mostly young and inexperienced layers – and ran concurrent practice drills. Wilson started with the latter group but showed enough in May to be pulled over to the former.
When training camp started, Wilson was mixed in with a wide group of receivers behind the clear top three of Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Breshad Perriman. However, he was also the first player listed at both punt and kickoff return. That was a good sign but nowhere near a sure thing, and Arians still needed to see some improvement in Wilson's work on special teams as the preseason games approached.
"[He needs] consistency in catching the ball in games because he's been inconsistent in practice," said Arians on August 7. "But as a kick returner and a special teams player he's in a battle with some other guys."
View some of the top photos from Buccaneers preseason practice at the AdventHealth Training Center.
Wilson has been active in the games since. He's second on the team with nine catches for 112 yards and he's also returned three punts for 27 yards and three kickoffs for 57 yards. Most importantly he's been sure-handed catching those punts, and he knows that's the top priority when he's back there.
"First off, catching the ball first, [then] vision, ability, setting up your blocks," said Wilson. "It's basically like a basketball pick-and-roll, the punt return game.
"Special teams is a big phase of the game. I feel like stepping up … punt return is a big contributor to the team."
If earning the return job starts with focusing on the catch, making an impact as a receiver started for Wilson by being allowed to focus on one job. Near the end of training camp and two weeks into the preseason games, Arians singled out Wilson for praise among those wideouts fighting for the fourth and fifth receiver spots and indicated that he had taken off after he started seeing most of his reps at the 'X' position, where Evans is the starter.
"Bobo is having a heck of a camp," said Arians We've kind of limited him – he was playing three positions, now he's playing one and he's excelling at it."
Though he feels confident playing any of the three receiver positions and has the quickness that might allow him to excel in the slot, Wilson is currently getting a chance to home in on the nuances of one particular position. And he believes he's making a good impression, which seems to bear out in Arians' comments.
"Yeah, overall I think I had a good camp," said the former Florida State standout. "I've been focused on the little details – assignment, alignment, technique – and I feel like I got better at that and [I'm] confident I'm ready to play."
Evans has been out of practice for about a week with a minor injury, which has pushed some more snaps in Wilson's, and which is another way in which he feels like he has stepped up. Evans wouldn't have played in the preseason finale either, and Godwin and Perriman will almost surely be held out as well. That's one more chance for a young player like Wilson to get exposure, and for him in particular to continue his progression toward an opening-day 53-man spot.
"[I'm] straining, pushing," said Wilson. "We've just got to finish off strong, finish off the camp strong, get ready for the season. Right now, we're focused on Dallas."
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