Tampa Bay rookie Preston Parker made the team as an undrafted free agent as a wide receiver and kick returner. But with injuries at free safety, Parker was moved to defense for three weeks and he got a quarterback pressure on a blitz on his lone defensive snap last week.
Tampa Bay rookie Erik Lorig made headlines this year when he switched from defensive end, a position he played in training camp, to fullback/tight end and served as a lead blocker for LeGarrette Blount when Earnest Graham was dealing with a hamstring injury. But he’s not the only Buccaneers player that is playing on both sides of the ball.
Preston Parker, an undrafted free agent from North Alabama, who also played at Florida State, has been active for seven games this year and used mostly as a return specialist and wide receiver. The rookie has logged 10 kick returns for 178 yards (17.8 avg.) with a long of 37 yards. He also has one catch for four yards and one rush for seven yards.
But against Detroit last Sunday in the Bucs' 23-20 overtime loss, Parker was used on defense as a safety – a position he’s been practicing for the last couple of weeks – and pressured quarterback Drew Stanton.
“We are finding ways to get him up [to the active roster] and get him on game days and help us out on special teams and do some of those things,” Morris said. "I figured if I have him on defense I might as well see if I could use for him some way. I got him a nice rush and he got a quarterback hurry. He did a nice job.
“The young man is talented as all get out. He came in here and kind of forced his will on the team and made the team. He made it as a receiver. He’s a talented young man who kind of came to me a little bit and talking about [playing safety] so I put him on my scout team.”
Parker had a good time playing safety last week for the first time in an NFL game.
“I took some reps at safety the last three weeks and that was fun. Then I got a little quarterback pressure in the game,” Parker said. “It felt good just to get out there and go for it. I was always aggressive playing football coming up through Pop Warner. I’ve always played defense so I’m familiar with it. I’ve always played safety and did that in high school.”
With starter Tanard Jackson out due to an NFL suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy and Cody Grimm lost for the year against Baltimore in Week 12, the Bucs were thin at free safety and Parker came to Morris to see if he could help.
“I had to put Preston in at safety over the last couple of weeks as an emergency deal,” Morris said. “He’s been learning. He’s eager. He’s one of those guys that just loves to play football. He’s back over at receiver this week, but that doesn’t mean that in a pinch you don’t have a guy that can play offense and defense for you. When a guy creates value for you like Preston Parker does, it’s special.”
Parker caught the Bucs’ eye in the preseason as a receiver, but also as a tackler in practice.
“He’s a talented guy,” said Bucs defensive backs coach Jimmy Lake. “We saw that back in training camp. We do a tackling drill on special teams and he completely destroyed a guy in that drill. He rolled his hips perfectly and put him on the ground. From that point on we were thinking in the back of our minds ‘He could be a nickel, he could be a corner or he could be a safety.’ He showed his toughness on special teams as well, so we decided to put him out there at safety and we put him in there for a little blitz. He actually rushed the quarterback really well and won on the third down. We just used him for one blitz. It’s nice to have talented guys like that to use all over the field.
“He looks great in practice. He’s on top of the details. He’s still playing wide receiver for us, too. You never know where he’s going to show up.”
Parker said that his teammates in the wide receivers room were caught off guard a bit when he first practiced with the defense.
“The guys were saying, ‘Ah man, you’re on the other side now with that red jersey!’” Parker said. “Now Rah is calling me the traitor because I’m back on offense. I just moved over from safety because Sammie [Stroughter] is down this week. It’s fun to be able to play both sides of the ball.
“Playing safety in practice gave me a better look from the other side of the ball about routes and how the offense is supposed to work.”
Morris indicated that Parker is the most aggressive wide receiver on the team and plays offense with a defensive mentality.
“We always do offensive tackling drills because they have to learn how to do that, and some of those guys are going to play on special teams,” Morris said. “To see him have the ability to form fit and strike a guy and create power off short space was one of the indicators that he could play safety. He also came to me and told me that safety was his best position. So you move him over there and you put him on scout team. No different than Lorig. We also think that Preston can play receiver. He’s a fine receiver and he’ll be over there this week.”
Parker has had fun moonlighting on defense and wouldn’t mind seeing more action on that side of the ball in the future. Regardless of where he lines up, Parker just wants to play and contribute.
“Getting a sack or scoring a touchdown – either one would be great,” Parker said. “Anything just to get a nice stat on my resume and to help the team win.”
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