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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Todd Bowles' Preseason Debut a Good Example for Bucs' Rookies

Bucs Head Coach Todd Bowles, who coincidentally ignited his own NFL playing career with a pick-six in Tampa Stadium, knows what his team's current crop of rookies will be going through in Friday's preseason opener


On Friday night, up to 28 rookies on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' training camp roster will experience their first NFL game action when the Pittsburgh Steelers visit Raymond James Stadium for both teams' 2023 preseason opener. That includes 20 young men who signed with the Buccaneers as undrafted free agents between May and last week.

It's doubtful that many, if any, of those 20 undrafted rookies are aware that their head coach was once in the exact same position. Certainly, none of them were alive when that was the case.

Todd Bowles, who is heading into his second season as the Buccaneers' head coach after three years as the team's defensive coordinator, signed with Washington in 1986 after going undrafted following his college career at Temple. Bowles was impressive enough in his rookie training camp to beat out second-year safety Raphel Cherry for a spot on the regular season roster, kicking off an eight-year NFL playing career, most of it in Washington. In particular, Bowles made a very good first impression when the preseason lights went on.

Bowles recalls playing primarily on special teams in Washington's first two preseason games that summer before seeing his first real action on defense in Week Three when, coincidentally, his team visited the Buccaneers at Tampa Stadium. With the Buccaneers leading 13-0 in the final two minutes of the first half, Bowles picked off a pass thrown by Tampa Bay's starting quarterback and returned it 26 yards for a touchdown. That sparked a 21-point rally that led to Washington's 21-13 comeback victory.

"I got a pick-six off of Steve DeBerg," Bowles said. "That helped me make the team pretty good. I do remember it because it was storming and raining and we couldn't get out of the airport that night and had to stay overnight and fly out the next day. So I'm always fond of Tampa that way."

NFL games come with a lot of fanfare, even in the preseason, but Bowles says the rookies making their professional debuts need to block out the distractions and keep their emotions in check. Most of them will also need to concentrate on their special teams assignments, as that is the best path to a roster spot for many rookies.

"You're not really worried about the national anthem or the fans," said Bowles. "You're trying to make the team, so you've got a lot of butterflies. You know you're going to play as a rookie and you're going to play all special teams. When I got the pick-six I think I might have spiked the ball a yard after going into the end zone because I knew I had to go down on the kickoff team and I didn't want to expend any energy. It was exciting, and for the rookies it will be exciting, so it's a matter of who manages their emotions well and who can play under the lights."

Both Bowles and General Manager Jason Licht noted early in camp that they felt this year's rookie class was a particularly impressive group, and that there were definitely going to be opportunities for many of them to make the team. Among the undrafted rookies who have impressed so far in training camp are Rutgers safety Christian Izien, who is competing for the open nickel corner job; Syracuse running back Sean Tucker, who has shown pop as both a runner and pass-catcher; and Maryland wide receiver Rakim Jarrett, who has made a number of eye-catching receptions. They may not end up in the end zone on Friday night like their coach did 37 years ago, but they can certainly improve their chances of sticking around into the fall.

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