USF WR Amarri Jackson caught everything in sight over the weekend at One Buc Place
Amarri Jackson knows a little bit about making a big impression in a limited amount of time.
In 2005, Jackson was in his first season at the University of South Florida, USF was in its first season with the big boys in the Big East Conference and Louisville was the opening game on the Bulls' intra-conference schedule.
All Jackson did for his Big East debut was catch a 57-yard pass on USF's second play from scrimmage, score a pair of touchdowns on reverse runs of 51 and 12 yards and throw another 11-yard scoring pass. He was named the Big East Offensive Player of the Week for his efforts.
There were no stats to track Jackson's performance on the practice fields behind One Buccaneer Place this weekend, and he wasn't asked to run or throw the ball. However, the Sarasota native did run picture-perfect routes and catch everything in sight, and as a result he earned something even more significant than a conference player of the week award.
On Tuesday, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers announced that they have signed four of the 38 players who participated in the team's rookie mini-camp this past weekend on tryout contracts. Jackson was among those four; the other three were Troy defensive tackle Chris Bradwell, Miami center John Rochford and Fresno State running back Clifton Smith.
Players on tryout contracts made up more than two-thirds of the participants in the Bucs' mini-camp, which stretched from Friday to Sunday and included three full-scale practices and a pair of walk-throughs. Those 38 hopefuls joined the seven players chosen by Tampa Bay in the previous weekend's NFL draft, five other rookies who had been signed as undrafted free agents and four first-year players already on the Bucs' roster.
While the camp was important for the rookies already under contract, as it offered them an intense three-day immersion into the Bucs' offensive and defensive schemes, it was also a golden opportunity for those 38 players on tryouts. Bradwell, Jackson, Rochford and Smith will now get the chance to maintain their roster spots between now and training camp, when 80 players will compete for 53 spots on the regular-season roster.
The Bucs weren't the only team holding camps of this sort over the weekend, and Jackson could have taken his first crack at the NFL in any number of cities. He chose to stay in the Bay area, however, and that decision has paid off so far.
"Quite a few teams [called me]," said Jackson. "[There were] a bunch of calls to my agent, but the Bucs were the place for me."
Jackson was a two-sport star at Sarasota Riverview High School, earning all-state honors in basketball and all-district nods in football. After high school, he spent two seasons playing basketball at Hillsborough Community College, which is located just across the street from Raymond James Stadium, where both the Bulls and the Buccaneers play their home games.
Upon switching to USF to play football, Jackson obviously made an early splash, as mentioned above. He played three years for the Bulls and amassed 70 catches for 891 yards and four touchdowns. He missed the last four games of the 2007 season due to injury but still finished with 22 receptions for 256 yards and two touchdowns, helping USF rise as high as second in the national rankings at one point.
The 6-5, 202-pound wideout wasn't drafted or signed in the immediate hours just after the draft on the weekend of April 26-27. However, he accepted the Bucs' invite to the mini-camp and obviously made the most of it. Now he wants to use this new opportunity to learn the pro game and make an impact in training camp.
"I pretty much know the game, but I've got a lot more to learn," Jackson admitted. "The first step is making this team, and then I've got veterans like Joey Galloway to guide me through."
The plan is the same for Bradwell, Rochford and Smith.
Bradwell's path to the NFL has taken him through Hargrave Military Academy, Florida State, Northeast Mississippi Community College and Troy. He played just one season for the Trojans after earning Junior College All-America status and Defensive Player of the Year honors in Mississippi in 2005. After sitting out the 2006 season, the 6-4, 280-pound Bradwell was named the Sun Belt Conference Newcomer of the Year in 2007 after registering 36 tackles, four sacks and two fumble recoveries, one of which he returned for a touchdown. At Florida State, he appeared in four games as a freshman in 2004.
The Bucs now have two former Trojan stars on their roster, as they also signed Troy cornerback Elbert Mack as an undrafted free agent last week.
Rochford (6-2, 273) has the background to help the Buccaneers in a variety of ways, though his primary position is center. At Miami, he saw the majority of his playing time during his first three seasons as the Hurricanes' long-snapper on punts. As a sophomore in 2005, Rochford also saw action as a reserve guard in five games, and as a junior he occasionally lined up as a blocker at the H-back and fullback positions. Last season, however, Rochford moved into the starting lineup at center and opened every game for the Hurricanes, who averaged 315.1 yards of offense per game, including 145.6 on the ground.
After shining on punt returns for three seasons at Fresno State, Smith got his chance to run the ball in 2007 and proved just as explosive in that capacity. The 5-8, 190-pound back has top-notch speed and quickness, as indicated by his average of 6.3 yards per carry as a senior. Though he had only two carries and one reception through his first three seasons (two of them shortened by injury), Smith ran 100 times for 625 yards and two touchdowns last year, while also catching 33 passes for 352 yards. As a freshman in 2004, Smith took the first punt he fielded 67 yards for a touchdown against Rice, and the following season he stung Weber State for 189 yards and two touchdowns on three returns. He continued to excel in that role throughout his Bulldog career, returning 47 punts for 782 yards (16.6 avg.) and five touchdowns overall.