It was quite apparent in May that the Bucs would use their first three draft selections, Vernon Hargreaves III, Noah Spence and Roberto Aguayo, heavily during the regular season. On Thursday, following the preseason finale, head coach Dirk Koetter revealed that Tampa Bay will rely on a couple more rookies from the 2016 class.
Asked if the Bucs were confident in a particular kick return specialist, the first name Koetter mentioned was fourth-round pick Ryan Smith.
“I actually like what I’ve seen from Ryan Smith,” Koetter said, noting that kick returner is a position that’s been affected by injuries. “He’s got a burst and he’s not afraid and he’ll hit it in there.”
Smith only returned two kicks, one each in the last two games, taking the first back for 19 yards against Cleveland and the second one 25 yards against Washington Wednesday night. But Koetter mentioned that the Bucs don’t always use those who have impressed them in practice during the exhibition games. Charles Sims, Koetter said, is another player they’re “pretty confident can go back there.”
As a senior at North Carolina Central, Smith, who will play safety in Tampa Bay, averaged 28.1 yards a return with one touchdown and earned All-MEAC Honors.
The other rookie Koetter endorsed was linebacker Devante Bond, the team’s sixth-round pick out of Oklahoma.
Bond hasn’t played the last two weeks due to a strained hamstring, leading some to believe that the injury could hurt his chances of making the final 53-man roster. But on Thursday Koetter cleared up that notion.
“One thing that we have to remember is Devante Bond has been out for a while,” Koetter said, after admitting that the team needs to improve depth at linebacker. “Both Devante Bond and Daryl Smith, who will be in the starting linebacker group, they’ve both missed a lot of time here in training camp.
“We feel that Bond did show us enough in the time that he was out that I think he’s going to bolster that second group,” he said. “Of course we feel really good about our three starters and we’re going to go down to two guys when we go to our nickel defense.”
As for the rest of the roster decisions, Koetter was careful not to reveal too much, adding, “We’re going to follow the protocol and announce our roster moves (Saturday). You’ll figure it out when you see it.”
But the indication that Smith could be fielding kicks and that Bond showed enough in just two weeks revealed a lot. Tampa Bay had major contributions from its first four picks last season – Jameis Winston, Donovan Smith, Ali Marpet and Kwon Alexander – and now it appears they’re expecting a similar makeup with their 2016 class.