Bucs LB Luke Rhodes enters Friday tied for the team lead in tackles - Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Veterans might downplay the importance of the third preseason game, but the reality is that Friday night will be the last game in a Tampa Bay Buccaneers uniform for at least 12 current players.
The “dress rehearsal” game, as it’s often called, is when most teams leave projected starters on the field longer than any other. Key contributors get to knock off a little more rust before Week 1 and coaches get to see their offensive and defensive schemes put to work by first-teamers for more than just a few series.
Bucs LB Adarius Glanton – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Bubble players fighting to keep their names on a roster sheet set to shrink have just as much or more to gain or lose, though. By 4 p.m. Tuesday, all 32 NFL teams must cut their training camp rosters down to 75 on the active list. Four days later, by 4 p.m. on Sept. 3, that number dwindles to the final 53.
Battles are in full swing at nearly every position and linebacker is no exception. With the release of rookie Cassanova McKinzy earlier this week, Tampa Bay now has nine players vying for six projected spots. Those open slots can then be slashed in half when considering that starters Kwon Alexander, Lavonte David and Daryl Smith are locks.
That means three remaining job openings have six eager applicants: Micah Awe, Devante Bond, Jeremiah George, Adarius Glanton, Josh Keyes and Luke Rhodes.
When asked this week about what he thinks of the competition, Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter said it’s one of the more tightly contested on the team.
“Those backup linebackers, really four through about seven of those linebackers, are neck and neck,” Koetter said Monday, comparing it to current depth competitions at running back and defensive tackle. “Guys are getting in there and they’re battling and guys step up every week. [Luke] Rhodes had a sack [in Jacksonville], [Adarius] Glanton played really well on special teams, [Micah] Awe had a big [hit] on a special teams, so there’s competition there and that’s going to go right down to the wire.”
Half of the final six linebackers trying to stick around – Bond, a fifth-round draft pick, and undrafted free agents Awe and Rhodes – are in their first pro training camps. George, Glanton and Keyes are young veterans returning to the team from last year, though none of the three have extensive NFL experience.
Bucs LB Devante Bond – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
They’re all putting in work now, though, while trying to positively influence coaches’ opinions. Through two preseason games, Rhodes’ seven tackles ties him with David for the team lead, and Glanton isn’t far behind with six. Rhodes also has a sack and forced fumble to his credit.
“I’ve been getting a lot of opportunities and I’m just doing my best every play to make the most of each one,” Rhodes said from the locker room this week. “I’ve got a great D-line in front of me and a good secondary which makes things easier.”
If playing time is any sign as to who may have a leg up in the competition, coaches have wanted to see Rhodes and Glanton the most on defense. Rhodes has logged more defensive snaps (71) than any other Bucs defender at any position and Glanton isn’t far behind with 61. Bond has been in on 24 plays, followed by Awe (19), Keyes (19) and George (15). Keyes, it also should be noted, received the starting nod last weekend in Jacksonville while filling in for Smith and recorded one tackle.
Whichever players make it through both cut-down dates, showing an aptitude for special teams work can be the difference. “Putting that on film is really key,” Rhodes said.
George’s 25 special teams plays leads the group, followed by Glanton (24), Bond (22), Rhodes (18), Awe (15) and Keyes (9).
I might only carry 5 LB’s and carry extra OL.
This is one position that I am stoked about. I feel we have one of the better starting lineups in the league at linebacker this season. I think George has done some nice things while he was on the field. I can’t wait to see how all of this pans out. Go Bucs!
Actually, I forgot to mention Rhodes, who kind of surprised me. I believe he has also been doing a lot of good things with his opportunities. They all have been leaving it on the field, but as far as the backups go, these guys have left an impression on me.
I have to admit I don’t pay much attention to the LB’S because our starters are just so good. It is probably our strongest position battle on the Team.
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