Six of the 11 receivers currently listed on the Buccaneers roster are rookies. Illinois State-product Spencer Schnell is one of them. He was also the Bucs’ leading receiver in Friday’s preseason opener against the Steelers in Pittsburgh.
Schnell’s production is made even more impressive by the fact he was a tryout player, brought in during rookie mini-camp, that ended up sticking to the Bucs’ 90-man preseason roster.
“Really the reason why he made the team was he was just snagging the ball and catching the ball so well,” wide receivers coach Kevin Garver said of Schnell. Garver went on to say that the adjustment to training camp has probably been a little frustrating for Schnell simply given that he doesn’t get as many reps now, especially in such a deep position group.
“I was really proud of what he’s done,” Garver said. “I haven’t seen it as much in practice but at the end of the day it matters what you do in the game.”
Schnell had seven catches for 119 yards, all of which came in the final nine minutes of the game. With the Bucs down 30-16, it was Schnell that ended up carrying the load of the comeback effort. He caught back-to-back passes of 21 and 26 yards on a drive that led to a four-yard, one-handed Tanner Hudson touchdown that put Tampa Bay within a score. Though Hudson had been leading the receiving yards race until that point of the game, Schnell quickly overtook him to finish with the most of any Bucs’ pass-catcher.
“It was pretty cool, especially for your debut game,” Schnell said. “I didn’t totally expect it. I mean I expected to go in and try and do my best and have a couple catches but I didn’t expect to come out on top like that.”
Another thing Schnell didn’t expect? Just how physical the game becomes at the NFL level as you finally get the chance to go against a new team, who isn’t necessarily worried about how you feel when you get up.
“They hit a lot harder than I thought they did,” Schnell said with a laugh. “Being a smaller-statured guy, I was ready to get hit but I didn’t think they were going to hit as hard as they did. That was something I wasn’t really ready for.”
View some of the best photos from the Buccaneers' Preseason Week 1 matchup against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
What Schnell was ready for was being in the game with Griffin at quarterback. Most of Schnell’s reps in practice come with the reserves and therefore, with Griffin throwing him the ball. It afforded the two a rapport that paid off while Griffin was the primary signal caller and being familiar with Schnell as a receiver.
“I just tried to really execute what we do in practice every day and take advantage of my opportunity,” Schnell said when asked what it was that clicked for him and quarterback Ryan Griffin towards the end of the game. “Just being able to have that chemistry in practice and [Griffin] knowing where I’d be at and the speed that I run I think that we built that up in practice and it worked well in the game.”
While physical reps on the field have been limited for Schnell, getting the mental ones in meeting rooms have been especially valuable for the young player. Being in a room with league veterans like Mike Evans and the emerging Chris Godwin have provided Schnell resources that have only helped him as he looks to develop as a player and ultimately make the Bucs’ roster.
“It’s awesome. Chris, Mike and BP, they’ve all been in the league for some time and working with them every day and seeing the way they work I know it kind of inspires me to get better and be better,” Schnell said. “Just getting to learn from them is big and having those guys in the room helps out a lot.”
There’s no telling if the Bucs will keep five or six receivers once the roster is cut down. Coach Garver made sure to mention on Monday that no decisions have been made yet so while some of those aforementioned veterans are locks to be among the final group of receivers, the bottom couple of spots are still up for grabs and Schnell showed Friday night that he can make grabs of his own when it matters.