The Bucs kept four undrafted rookies on the final 53-man roster, a testament to the scouting department for finding potential hidden gems and moving swiftly to get them into camp.
The decision to keep four also supports the team’s philosophy of putting the best 11 on the field, even if it means swallowing your pride and cutting a draft selection.
“Jason saw that we wanted to keep the guys who played the best at training camp,” Koetter said Monday. “As a coach or as a player, that’s really all you can ask for. We talked to our guys about competing, and the guys we felt did the best over the course of training camp, they stuck.”
Among those four guys who greatly outperformed their draft stock were TE Alan Cross, T Leonard Wester, DE Channing Ward and DT DaVonte Lambert.
Cross, a former long-snapper out of Memphis, was arguably the most surprising keep. Tampa Bay had a deep group of tight ends heading into camp and sixth-round pick Danny Vitale, praised for his athleticism and versatility, was the clear front-runner for the final spot.
But stats and college reputation aside, Cross passed the eyeball test in the preseason and earned a job.
“He’s a tough guy and he’s a smart guy,” Koetter said of Cross. “He competes and he’s very versatile – all the things that we’re looking for in every player.”
As for Ward and Lambert, Koetter said play-making defensive linemen don’t fall off trees and the duo bolsters the Bucs depth along the front four. Neither Ward, a 6-foot-4, 279-pound end from Ole Miss, nor Lambert, a 6-foot-2, 282-pound tackle from Auburn, got in on the Bucs’ 16-sack parade in the preseason. But, like Cross on offense, Ward and Lambert looked like they belonged on the field during exhibition games and showed solid upside.
“Both guys can play inside or outside. When they got their chances in the preseason games, they made plays and they flew around,” Koetter said. “Young defensive linemen that you get a chance to develop, who can run and hit, those guys are hard to find. You just look around the league. Big, strong tough guys who can move, those guys aren’t just walking around everywhere.”
Big guys who are light on their feet may not be walking around everywhere, but that doesn’t mean they can’t come from anywhere. The Bucs found their fifth and final offensive tackle, Leonard Wester, from Missouri Western State University. The small school background, however, doesn’t bother Koetter.
“Good players come from all kinds of places,” Koetter said. “Whether a guy comes from Division II or wherever, there are good players everywhere in this country. Leonard, we think, has got the chance to develop into a real solid player at tackle. Again, developmental tackles aren’t easy to find. You’re just not seeing those guys walking around.”
Zach is entering his 3rd year covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as a writer for PewterReport.com. Since 2014, he's handled a large part of the beat reporting responsibilities at PR, attending all media gatherings and publishing and promoting content daily. Zach is a native of Sarasota, FL, and a graduate of the University of Tampa. He has also covered high school football for the Tampa Tribune and the NFL for Pro Player Insiders.
Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org