DE Josh Savage (center) knows he has to continue to work hard, even when he's running on the service team
When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers walk off the practice field each day, there are quite a few sights that catch the eye.
One might be drawn to Head Coach Jon Gruden in a crush of microphones, answering questions from the media, or to small knots of players still on the field, getting a little extra work not on the practice menu. You can catch the equipment staffers stacking cones and moving sleds, or the video lifts slowly scissoring down.
And then there's the nearly-headless man.
Trudging in behind a parade of unencumbered veterans is a rookie stacked high with shoulder pads, his hands holding as many helmets as possible. It's a rite of passage for the young players; the established veterans take it easy after practice; the newbies haul the gear. Savage sometimes has so many pads on his shoulders that you can only see a portion of his head...and he doesn't mind.
You see, Josh Savage worked very hard to earn the job of shoulder-pad mule.
Savage, who was signed by the Buccaneers as an undrafted free agent out of the University of Utah, beat out veterans the likes of former first round pick Reinard Wilson and NFL Europe standout Corey Smith to earn a spot on the 53-man roster. How exactly did he make the team? Two words – hard work. The post-practice hauling doesn't bother him; all of his work paid off with a spot on an NFL roster.
"I'd describe myself as hard-working," Savage said. "I'm not the most athletic guy – I'm not like Simeon [Rice] or [Greg] Spires, but I know the game. I'm not going to make mistakes, and I'm going to work my butt off and be the hardest worker on the field."
During two-a-days in Florida's sweltering August heat, players often have little other than determination on which to get by. Savage's hustle and yeoman mentality obviously caught the eye of Defensive Line Coach Rod Marinelli, and ultimately may have earned him a spot on the 53-man squad.
"The fact that he made the team says a lot about his character," Marinelli said. "This is a guy who came in undrafted, worked hard and busted his butt. He gave us so much good tape in practice and in the preseason games – it was just impressive. Josh just goes to work."
Players can crack in small ways under the constant physical and mental grind of training camp. There might not be a full breakdown, but efforts can start to lag. Dehydration, nagging injuries or just plain physical exhaustion hinder the performance of some players. Savage made it his goal not to let those conditions get the best of him. He decided to take the whole process, including his status as a relatively unknown free agent, personally.
"I just wanted to come in here with a chip on my shoulder," Savage said. "Of course I was disappointed to go undrafted, but I'm so thankful for the opportunity [in Tampa.] I just wanted to come into camp and bust my butt, work as hard as I could every day and learn as much as I could from the veteran players and Coach Marinelli."
Savage was a three year starter for Utah at defensive end. He proved to be the consummate high-motor player whose impact on games was not always reflected on the stat sheets. Savage showed in training camp that despite his skills and desire to play, he is willing to do whatever it takes to make it in the NFL.
"Whatever the coaches want me to do, I'll do," Savage said. "Right now they have me playing defensive end and learning the three-technique. They have me running the opposition defense too, so I'm going to give the offense the best looks I can so they can be prepared for the game."
Among the Buccaneers' talented stable of defensive linemen, playing time will not be easy to come by. He may not actually make his debut this Sunday in Washington, but he expects to somewhere down the line. Savage knows he will have to continue to earn his spot on the team, so the hard work is just beginning.
"We're going to suit up seven [defensive linemen] every game, so he has to continue working hard," Marinelli said. "He's going to have to fight to get a helmet on on Sundays."
The chip Savage carried on his shoulder through camp is not telling him to rebel against his situation. He doesn't feel entitled to an enormous role on the Bucs' talented line just yet.
"Me being a free agent, I'm not planning on starting," Savage said. "I know that I'm going to be a backup guy and that I'm down on the depth chart. I think it's good for me – it gives me time to learn the system, learn the techniques and find my way and battle on to the field. Hopefully, I can find a way to get on the field.
"It'd be nice to win rookie of the year of something like that. But I just want to get on the field and get some playing time in a game. It's a dream come true to play for the Bucs, and I just want to contribute."