Humphries Stalks Slot Receiver, Return Jobs

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Adam Humphries was talking to a lone reporter on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' practice field on Wednesday when Dirk Koetter spotted the pair and veered over. Koetter jokingly called out to another knot of media members to come over and make it a proper press conference. Maybe the Buccaneers' head coach knows it's just a matter of time before Humphries starts drawing a crowd.

Humphries isn't exactly the unknown (in NFL terms) that he was a year ago. The former Clemson receiver did not get drafted in 2015 nor did he immediately sign with a team as a rookie free agent. He did, however, get an invite to participate in the Bucs' post-draft rookie camp on a tryout basis, and he made the most of that opportunity. Tampa Bay coaches liked what they saw and signed him to the 90-man roster the following Monday.

Pictures from the Buccaneers' first mini-camp practice.

Even so, last May Humphries was still a long way from playing on Sundays in the fall. He was the low man on the totem pole, either 10th or 11th out of 11 wideouts on the depth chart depending upon how one ranked the two receiver positions. From there, he simply kept climbing, first to the regular-season roster and then, after a brief step back to the practice squad, to a position of meaningful snaps on offense. Playing primarily out of the slot, Humphries caught 27 passes for 260 yards and one touchdown.

Humphries and fellow undrafted rookie Donteea Dye got significant opportunities last fall in large part due to injuries to Vincent Jackson and Louis Murphy. Jackson is back on the field and Murphy will be in training camp, but that may not push Humphries back to the sideline. He's not really an underdog anymore; in fact, thanks to a noticeably impressive offseason, Humphries has to be considered one of the leading candidates to win the slot receiver job.

"It's night and day out here," said Humphries, comparing this offseason to his first. "It's a totally different feeling than last year. Obviously, this is my second year in the offense and I know a lot more. I feel a lot more comfortable with the playbook, and I know more guys in the locker room as well. It's a big difference and I feel a lot better out here this year."

Of course, there is plenty of competition to fill whatever roles Koetter's offense has for receivers behind the clear starting duo of Jackson and Mike Evans. Dye got the same level of useful experience last year that Humphries did, and 2015 fifth-round pick Kenny Bell looked like a keeper before a preseason injury put him on IR last year. Murphy has done nothing but produce when he's been needed over two seasons in Tampa, and the Bucs also seem interested in developing second-year man Evan Spencer. Thus, while Humphries has good reason to feel more confident in his chances this year, he's going to continue fighting as if he is an underdog.

"I'm keeping the same mindset, and that's a goal I set for myself," said Humphries. "Obviously, I'm not in the same position I was last year, being a rookie tryout guy, the last guy on the depth chart. I've got to have the same mindset that I have to win this spot year-in and year-out, and that's the mindset I'm going to take and see if it works."

As was the case last year, the most obvious route to playing time for Humphries is in the slot. At 5-11 and 195 pounds, he's smaller than Evans and Jackson but very quick, and he complements that trait with great hands and sharp routes. He knows what the Bucs will be looking for out of that slot receiver position.

"[It takes] knowledge of the game, being smart and obviously lateral quickness, being able to run quicker and shorter routes," said Humphries. "But in this offense we move around, and I could go to the outside as well. Just overall being smart, knowing all the positions in the offense is important. And, like I said, you need that lateral quickness and being able to move around quickly."

Humphries has that, which is why he's been pulling a lot of first-team reps this offseason, but he's also shown a full set of receiving skills. On Wednesday, during the penultimate practice of the offseason, Humphries raced into the back left corner of the end zone with cornerback Jude Adjei-Barimah in tight coverage and a pass arching down in their direction. Both players went up and Adjei-Barimah made a valiant effort but Humphries managed to snatch the ball away from the defender and then twist to land his feet inbounds to complete the catch.

"I do feel like I'm a better player [this year]," said Humphries. "I feel like every year I need to improve and that's what you have to do to stay in this league. I had a good offseason and I feel like so far in OTAs we've improved. Personally, I feel like I've improved and that I've performed well this offseason.

"I played a lot in the slot last year so that's a position I feel comfortable in. Also, just having the ability to play outside, as well, to be able to play all three positions, is something I take pride in. I'm just trying to work on that."

Humphries has experience as a complementary asset in an offense loaded with star receivers. In 2012, he played in the same Clemson offense as DeAndre Hopkins, Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant. Humphries caught 41 passes that year and averaged 32 per season over his four years with the Tigers. Humphries also returned 69 punts from 2012-14, scoring on one as a senior, and that experience could come in handy in Tampa, too. The Bucs' punt return job in 2016 is currently wide open, and Humphries is one of the players who has been taking reps during those drills. He's very sure-handed in that role, which is the first asset that coaches look for when choosing a punt returner.

"It's something I did three years in college," said Humphries. "I feel comfortable with that and if it's something they want me to do, I can go out there and do it and be pretty good at it. It's up to the coaches to make that decision but I'll work at it and see what I can do."

Humphries eventual fate, in terms of both his role on offense and his chance to return punts, will indeed be decided by the coaching staff. It can't hurt, then, that the head coach thinks his young receiver deserves a little more attention.

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