Outstanding special teams play helped Julian Jenkins' case for the 53-man roster
For the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, defense is more than a concept; it's a religion. The team's 2002 Super Bowl championship was predicated on its defense, which has been ranked among the top 10 in the NFL for the last nine years.
Joining such an esteemed unit is not an easy undertaking, but that's exactly what rookie defensive lineman Julian Jenkins and first-year linebacker Antoine Cash did on Saturday, surviving the NFL-mandated final cut-down date and earning their places as Buccaneers for the 2006 season. Call them the newest disciples of the "Tampa Two Faith."
For Jenkins, a 6-3, 277-pound defensive end, it means the opportunity to learn from accomplished veterans such as Simeon Rice and Greg Spires. Cash, meanwhile, finds himself among the likes of Derrick Brooks and Shelton Quarles. And while it's not likely the pair of newcomers will be challenging their established teammates for playing time, they will be expected to make immediate contributions, most likely on special teams. They'll also be busy learning the intricacies of Defensive Coordinator Monte Kiffin's schemes.
Selected in the fifth round of the 2006 NFL Draft, Jenkins, the 156th overall pick, had a productive career at Stanford where he earned All-Pac-10 honorable mention recognition as a senior. Starting 23 of 42 games, he recorded 130 tackles, 16.5 sacks and 22.5 tackles for a loss. Over the course of training camp and four preseason games, Jenkins has shown he possesses the versatility to play end or tackle as well as contribute on special teams – main reasons why he finds himself on the Buccaneers' 53-man roster.
"He played a lot of defensive tackle and got some good playing time at end, and his contributions on special teams were really a key reason to keep him – much like Ellis Wyms developing here into a versatile player for us," said Buccaneers General Manager Bruce Allen. "We see that versatility in Julian."
Earlier in the week, commenting on the team's rookie class, Head Coach Jon Gruden emphasized Jenkins' versatility and said the fifth-rounder had "made a splash on special teams."
The Buccaneers are also high on Cash, a 6-1, 223-pound linebacker out of Southern Miss. Originally signed by the Atlanta Falcons as an undrafted free agent in 2005, Cash beat the odds to make the 53-man roster out of training camp. He appeared in three games for the Falcons. He was waived later that year before joining the Buccaneers' practice squad. Cash signed with the Buccaneers last January.
"Antoine Cash was in the system last year and that understanding really helped him," Allen said. "He was somebody that we really started to like last year, the way he fit into our defense. He's the key reason why we didn't draft any linebackers – because we felt like we're so deep there. Seeing him last year, we knew what he could do. That being said, he also had an outstanding preseason on special teams – one of our leading special teams tacklers, but he also played well on all of the other teams as well."
The Bucs showed their confidence in Jenkins and Cash by keeping them around through the cut to 53. Now it's their turn to validate that confidence.