The Buccaneers rolled 50 new players out on the practice fields on Friday as they opened their first rookie mini-camp under head coach Lovie Smith. While the odds are long for many of those 50 players, one has already previously caught the eye of Smith and is hoping to repeat it this weekend.
While the Bucs have spent a lot of time studying the Texas A&M trio of quarterback Johnny Manziel, offensive tackle Jake Matthews and wide receiver Mike Evans this offseason, another Aggie caught their eye. While they didn’t spend a draft pick on him, Nate Askew made enough of an impression that Lovie Smith and general manager Jason Licht quickly put in a call to him following the end of the draft last Saturday evening.
“I saw Coach Lovie Smith at the pro day,” Askew said. “I also came here on a pre-draft visit. He gave me a call right after the draft was over with and told me how he could help me progress and be a better linebacker. I trusted him and came here.”
With a crowded field of wide receivers at Texas A&M headlined by Evans, Ryan Swope and others, the 6-foot-3, 241-pound Askew was asked to move to linebacker for his senior season after catching nine passes for 95 yards and one touchdown during his career as a backup.
“It happened very quick, and I’m still learning the position,” Askew said. “I progressed during the year and week by week I got better. I’m trying to pick up from where I left off last year. I’ve got a great linebackers coach to help me out and it’s going well.”
As a linebacker, Askew started all 13 games and recorded 38 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, and three interceptions, his first of which was returned 30 yards for a touchdown in a 65-28 win over Sam Houston State. However, his last interception, which was his final collegiate play, was a key pick to seal Texas A&M’s 52-48 comeback win over Duke in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
Perhaps just as importantly, Askew ran a 4.45 in the 40-yard dash and had a 38-inch vertical jump at the Texas A&M pro day. Both the 40-time and the vertical jump measurement were the best in College Station that day – and Smith was there to see it live. Someone who saw Askew’s athleticism daily was Evans, who Tampa Bay used their first-round pick on.
“He’s a great athlete and he was the fastest guy on the team at one point, then he bulked up a little bit and got a little heavier, then I probably was the fastest,” Evan said after practice on Friday. “He can jump high. He can run. He can make plays. He can cover guys in the slot. He’s a great athlete.”
Askew was just as complimentary of Evans when asked about him on Friday.
“He got drafted in the first round for a reason,” Askew said. “That guy continues to make plays like that all the time and it translated out here on the field. Those 50-50 balls were always his. We got spoiled a little bit and he always made the play.”
Making a position change is difficult in itself, but making one to the other side of the ball in your last season of college eligibility is almost impossible – at least to have any success at it. Askew talked about the difficult initial transition.
“Being able to read and react,” Askew said. “I was delayed a little bit with that when I first moved to linebacker because I was so offensive-minded. Now I’m able to see different things from a defensive perspective and able to get to the ball better. I never played defense before – not even in high school. Coach [Kevin] Sumlin came up to me because we were thin at linebacker. I didn’t play too much my junior year at receiver and they came to me because I was an athlete. So I helped out at linebacker and the switch worked out good.”
Askew smiled when recalling closing out his college career in style and is still amazed at the irony.
“How ironic was it to have the ball in my hands on the last play of the game against Duke?” Askew said. “I began my career as a receiver wanting the ball in my hands, and I end up on defense with the ball in my hands on my last play.”
Whether Askew makes the team – much less contributes any time soon – is far from being determined. However sometimes when scouting another player you end up finding a diamond in the rough. The odds are stacked against him but the tools for success and the opportunity are there for Askew.
“I’ve been working at Will since I’ve been here,” Askew said. “I’m (just) trying to learn that and get in the playbook and go from there.”– Scott Reynolds contributed to this report
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