Two weeks into training camp, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' roster still stood at 91 players. Given that the regular-season roster maxes out at 53, that means there are a lot of hard decisions coming in the weeks ahead, and dozens of NFL dreams at least temporarily deferred.
Hard Knocks, the HBO reality series that is currently chronicling the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' training camp, dived into that emotional issue of player cuts on Tuesday night in its second episode. The Buccaneers are weeks away from the mandatory cut to 53, but the team's decision to part ways with second-year kicker Roberto Aguayo after its preseason opener was the top storyline on Tuesday night.
READ: TAKEAWAYS FROM HARD KNOCKS*
Hard Knocks* cameras mounted in the office of General Manager Jason Licht captured the moment when Licht and Head Coach Dirk Koetter broke the news to the young kicker. It was a predictably emotional scene, but the underlying message was one that will surely be repeated when the bigger roster cuts arrive: This doesn't have to be the end.
"Keep your head up," Licht counsels Aguayo who, as noted at the end of Tuesday's episode, was claimed off waivers by the Chicago Bears). "It will only go up from here."
Scenes from before, during and after the game in Cincinnati, in which Aguayo missed an extra point and a 47-yard field goal try, indicated that Aguayo's teammates and coaches were rooting for him. Defensive tackle Chris Baker is purposely hard on both Aguayo and veteran kicker Nick Folk during a practice field goal session, but Baker is also quick to console the young player as he is cleaning out his locker.
"It's not the end," Koetter tells Aguayo, noting that he was a remarkably consistent kicker in college. "You know what's in you. It's just a consistency issue."
The Hard Knocks cameras also catch Licht and Koetter discussing the Aguayo decision before the cut is made, which is the sort of all-access look on which fans of the series thrive. Licht stresses that keeping Aguayo simply because of his 2016 draft status would be compounding a mistake, while Koetter emphasizes that the team can now get behind veteran kicker Nick Folk. It's clear that there is more confidence in Folk, who nailed a 45-yarder on Friday night, when the game lights are on.
Aside from the kicker decision, the stars of the second episode of Hard Knocks were clearly quarterback Jameis Winston and defensive tackle Gerald McCoy. While Winston's turn in the spotlight was mostly devoted to his moments of leadership in practice and on game day, McCoy was revealed as one of the team's most entertaining players. He humorously pushed the celebration-penalty boundaries with referee Ed Hochuli, introduced his life-sized Batman figure at home and made a negative-212 degree cryo-chamber look like a day at the beach.
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McCoy's football talents were also on display. Several telling moments were captured on the sideline, with Winston and running backs Doug Martin and Jacquizz Rodgers marveling at how quickly their defensive teammate could blow up a backfield. The NFL Films crew handily provided some perfect shots of McCoy destroying a team-run drill.
The preseason opener offered a framework for a portion of the episode, with Winston and the starting offense getting a very positive treatment. Rookie linebacker Riley Bullough, one of the stars of Episode One, is shown chatting with his parents, including a mom who's not too thrilled with the "Joe Dirt" nicknamed he landed early in camp. Bullough is also seen talking up a storm during his playing time in the second half of the game.
Pictures from the Buccaneers' training camp practice with the Jaguars on Tuesday.
In all, Episode Two of Hard Knocks was mostly light-hearted apart from the kicker battle. Veteran quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick – called "Old Man Fitzy" by McCoy – shares the secret of halftime hot dogs that can be found wherever the team doctor is. The budding relationship between receivers Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson is funny, but also very encouraging. Rookie quarterback Sefo Liufau wonders exactly when players can get cut, and gets a not-too-comforting answer from Winston. The funniest line of the episode though, belongs to offensive lineman Evan Smith, inquiring about Fitzpatrick's past:
"How was it playing against Bart Starr?"
Fitzpatrick, certainly, knows to keep his head up.