The battle between Kyle Trask and Baker Mayfield for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' wide-open quarterback job will surely be the focal point of training camp in August, but that's not the only position that is up for grabs. Fortunately for Josh Hayes, a sixth-round pick in the 2023 draft, one of those currently undefined spots is slot corner. That's a job he's familiar with, and one he's already started working on as the Buccaneers conduct their rookie mini-camp over the weekend.
"The nickel spot is open – there's quite a few spots that are going to be a battle," said Head Coach Todd Bowles on Friday after the first of three camp practices. "We have ideas and things we have in mind that we want to see at that position and we think we have some guys that can fill that spot. We'll see as OTAs and training camp go on if we need one or if we're satisfied with what we have."
Hayes won't be the only candidate, of course. Zyon McCollum and Dee Delaney have seen time there and the Bucs could easily explore other options both on and off the roster right now. But it didn't take long for the coaching staff to steer the rookie from Kansas State in that direction.
"Yesterday it was really just getting introduced to the system and everything, kind of first steps, first day," said Hayes. "Really getting introduced to it and understanding how things work and all that. There has been a little bit of concentration with me on that nickel spot, really been trying to hone in on that for sure."
Hayes saw plenty of action in the slot for the Wildcats and knows well what the job requirements are. Fluid change-of-direction skills are important, as is toughness to fight through crowded areas and provide critical help to the run defense.
"You have the two-way go," said Hayes. "You've got guys who are just as skilled as anyone in the world and they can go anywhere on the field from that spot. Also, with that, you've got to be fast enough to run with those guys, but also aggressive enough to be able to fit in the box and hit some of those [running] backs and tackle some of those tight ends that come out on screen routes or whatever. It's a unique position for sure."
Toughness isn't an issue for the 5-11, 197-pound Hayes, who has understood that as a foundation of the sport since his father set up an unusual drill in their backyard involving an oak tree.
"Shoot, I grew up running into trees, for real," said Hayes, who admits it wasn't fun for the first few reps before he got used to it. "My dad had me out in the yard running into trees and not being afraid of making contact with stuff, understanding how that would feel. I've been that way since I was eight or nine years old when I started playing football. Being able to make contact and not being afraid of that feeling you get when you do make that [contact], I think I've kind of had that since I was a little kid. We play an aggressive game – we play football – so being able to actually be aggressive and not be afraid of contact is part of the game."