Kwon Alexander played with the second-team defense in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' preseason opener on Saturday night. Apparently, he played well enough to get first-team consideration when the Buccaneers returned to the practice field.
After Saturday's game in Minnesota and a players' day off on Sunday, the Buccaneers resumed training camp on a swelteringly hot day at team headquarters. When the 11-on-11 drills began, it was the rookie Alexander who lined up at middle linebacker between starters Lavonte David and Danny Lansanah. After the two-hour workout, Head Coach Lovie Smith said that Alexander's expanded opportunity in practice was the direct result of his good work on game night, which in turn was an extension of what he had already accomplished during the first two weeks of camp.
"We've been talking about him for quite a while, really," said Smith. "What happens when you make plays, you get an opportunity to make more plays. We're looking at different combinations. We wanted to see him work with a different group today, and that's what we got. I'm very pleased with what he's done, as a rookie. Rookies have a long way to go still, but he's doing some things to make us notice."
A fourth-round pick out of LSU in May, Alexander has had surprisingly little trouble adjusting to the NFL so far. The preseason opener did not prove "too big" for the 21-year-old, and neither did his chance to command David, Lansanah and the rest of the defense on Monday.
"I had a pretty good game," Alexander acknowledged. "I've always got a chance to get better. I'm just coming out to practice to get better. Today I was with the ones. So I'm out here grinding, man, trying to get my role and make the team better. That's it.
"Usually I'm out there with the second team, so I was out there with different people. You're out there with all the veterans, people that have been playing the game. It's no different. I kind of fit in. You feel like you can fit in because you've got help out there, people talking. It's a good feeling."
If Alexander's ascension continues, the Bucs may have more starting-caliber linebackers than they can fit on the field in any given game. The rookie originally seemed to be battling with Lansanah for the strongside job, but he was moved into the MIKE position to start training camp, which puts him in competition with Bruce Carter. Carter, who led all NFL linebackers in interceptions last year while playing with Dallas, is the starter at middle linebacker and a potential big-play producer for the Buccaneers.
Alexander knows this, of course, and isn't looking at Monday's practice as a permanent promotion just yet. Still, he appreciated the opportunity and hopes he can continue to build on his momentum.
"It's a blessing just to be with the ones," said Alexander. "It's my dream – I wanted to come up here and start. I'm still trying to start, because the decision is not made. I'm just out here working, trying to grind and get better and better every day."