One year ago, in the final week of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 2015 preseason, Adam Humphries was preparing for the most important game of his professional life. His preparation paid off as he turned in an outstanding performance in a win over the Miami Dolphins, and that paid off with a spot on the Buccaneers' 53-man roster. Now, a year later, Humphries probably won't even have to play in the Buccaneers' preseason finale.
There will be plenty of other young wideouts who will see a significant amount of game time on Thursday night against the Washington Redskins, and all of them are hoping to make the same sort of final impression that Humphries did in Miami.
Pictures of Buccaneers' Wide Receivers in Training Camp through August 19th.
"Obviously last year I was in a tough position," said Humphries when asked what he might say to his teammates who are still battling for a place on the roster. "I had to go into the last game and try to earn a spot on the 53. The best advice is just to keep your head down, keep working and realize that you put in a lot of work for this. Whatever happens, you can be satisfied with the body of work you put in to get here."
Humphries caught four passes for 62 yards on just five targets in that last chance to audition in 2015, including a 27-yard gain and a four-yard touchdown that opened the scoring. Two days later, the Buccaneers trimmed the roster by 22 players, but Humphries wasn't one of the casualties. Though he did eventually spend two weeks on the practice squad, the undrafted rookie out of Clemson beat the odds to play in 13 games and catch 27 passes.
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Humphries is now the Bucs' unquestioned slot receiver, and thus he is sure to be safe again during this Saturday's big round of cuts. Behind him and the starting duo of Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson, however, the rest of the receiver depth chart is far less clear. That makes Thursday's preseason wrap-up a very important game for the other eight wideouts remaining on the roster.
"Like we've been saying all camp, it's bunched up," said Head Coach Dirk Koetter. "You could take almost any guy out there and pick a day that that individual has shined. We tend to lean toward consistency and guys that are showing they can make plays, make plays in game situations and [be] consistent players. We're still looking. It's down to the end here and a decision is going to have to be made."
Fourth-year player Russell Shepard remains one of the team's core special-teamers and he has emerged a bit more as a pass-catcher. He had three catches for 62 yards and a touchdown in the preseason opener in Philadelphia, seeing time with the first-team offense, and the following week in Jacksonville Koetter suggested that Shepard had separated somewhat from the rest of the pack. Even if that remains true two weeks later, there is still a furious competition to occupy the rest of the receiver depth chart, whether that means one, two or three more spots.
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"Really from top to bottom, whichever way you want to put it together, there's a talented group in there," said second-year wide receiver Kenny Bell, who spent his rookie year on injured reserve. "The guys that are here are going to be a talented group and the guys that unfortunately don't get to be, we've got some good guys. Regardless of what happens, the talent level in our room is phenomenal and we're competing with each other."
Photos of the Bucs Cheerleaders from Preseason Week 3 at Raymond James Stadium.
Bell caught his first pass of the preseason last Friday against Cleveland, picking up nine yards. He has not been in the mix for the kick return jobs since fumbling to start the Philadelphia game, but he has shown big-play ability on the practice field at times. He knows he needs to put the same thing on tape during the live action of a game.
"Playmaking ability," said Bell of what he believes the coaches want to see as they decide which receivers to keep. "Everybody that lines up here either at receiver or as one of our ballcarriers, if somebody's going to get the rock it has to be a playmaker. Coach talks about that all the time, getting our playmakers in space, and that's what you have to be."
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Humphries, of course, has not forgotten how he felt a year ago, even if he is likely to have a less stressful Labor Day weekend this time around. He obviously empathizes with those who are in the same position this year, from Bell and Bernard Reedy to Jonathan Krause, Evan Spencer and others. He hopes they can still enjoy this final chance to prove themselves and continue to prepare the same way they have for months…and in some cases years.
"I think some people do put a lot on themselves, but at the same time you have to take it day by day," he said. "You realize you work your whole life for moments like that. When it's all said and done, you've got to put that behind you and focus on what's at hand, and that's making plays and earning that spot on the 53."
Bell gets it. He's confident in his own abilities but he knows that he is competing for a job with some very good players, and they're all going to get a chance to shine in the preseason finale.
"We've got a lot of talent on the offensive side, it's just putting everything together and executing the right way," said Bell. "The explosive plays and the talent level is definitely there, no question. I think everybody's looking for an opportunity. Now it's going out there and preparing every day for a big game on Thursday."