LB Geno Hayes scored the first touchdown in the Bucs' 27-3 romp over Carolina on Sunday
(Courtesy of NFLPLAYERS.COM).
Geno Hayes hasn't cracked the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' starting lineup just yet, but that isn't stopping the rookie linebacker from making good use of the snaps he does receive.
Playing in his fifth career game on Sunday, Hayes gave Buccaneers fans a look into the future as he recorded three tackles, defended a pass and blocked a punt which he returned 22 yards for a touchdown. The stellar performance from the promising star earned Hayes Rookie of the Week honors from NFLPLAYERS.COM for Week Six.
"We had the attitude going in that it was a playoff game," Hayes said following his team's 27-3 victory over the Carolina Panthers. "It's a game [which] shows that Tampa Bay is a team to be reckoned with in the NFL right now."
Hayes, whose blocked punt for a touchdown came early in the first quarter on Carolina's first punt attempt, set the tone for the Buccaneers. Coming off the left side of the Panthers' punt formation, Hayes blew past the left guard and tackle before literally knocking the ball off punter Jason Baker's foot. He then had the wherewithal to scoop up the ball at the 22-yard line and run into the end zone for his first NFL touchdown.
"We called a little blitz stunt and I had a one-on-one with the tackle," explained Hayes, who became the first Bucs player since David Gibson in 2003 to block a punt. "He took a step too far to the outside, so I got to the punter and took it to the house."
As is the case with any rookie who scores his first touchdown, Hayes kept the ball, knowing full well where it will end up in his home.
"It's going on top of the dresser right now," Hayes said.
After the game, Buccaneers Head Coach Jon Gruden made it a point to recognize Hayes in his opening statement to the press.
"We had a collective effort today starting with the special teams play [and] Geno Hayes came up big for us," Gruden stated.
Hayes, 21, was selected by Tampa Bay in the sixth round of April's draft out of Florida State University. At 6-foot-1 and 221 pounds, he fits the mold of a prototypical weakside linebacker and has excellent strength and speed.
With Derrick Brooks, a 10-time Pro Bowler, listed ahead of him on the Bucs' depth chart, Hayes has used special teams as an avenue to make an impact on Sundays. But when he does see action at linebacker, Hayes often impresses as evidenced by his defensive performance against the Panthers. To his credit, Hayes has leaned on Brooks and other veterans on the defense such as Ronde Barber and Kevin Carter for advice on adjusting to the pro game and succeeding in the highly-touted Tampa Two defense. Combined, the veteran trio of Brooks, Barber and Carter has 29 years of NFL experience to offer the young rookie.
"I'll tell you right now, you really can't explain it," Hayes said of the opportunity to be around such an impressive group of stars. "All you can do is live it. If you don't live it, you really can't explain it. It's a real good thing. You learn a lot from all three of them."