Their 2014 seasons may not have begun during training camp in Tampa Bay, but a few early-to-midseason additions are taking advantage of new-found opportunities.
No one’s mistaking the Jacquies Smiths or Brandon Dixons of the team for Pro Bowl nominees right now, but they are two of the Bucs that have positively impacted the team during their limited playing time this year.
“It feels good to get out there and get your opportunity to play and make a few plays,” Smith said from his locker Wednesday afternoon. Since entering the NFL as an undrafted free agent in 2012, the 6-foot-2, 260-pound defensive end has spent time with three teams and one Canadian Football League organization.
Tampa Bay brought Smith aboard on Sept. 10 and he’s now appeared in nine games, including his Week 10 start against Atlanta. He recorded his first career sack against the Browns in Cleveland and then broke out again on the road last week in Washington with three tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble.
“The big thing about this past weekend is that we won,” Smith said, deflecting praise away from himself and toward the rest of the defense. “That’s one of the biggest goals for me. I don’t want to just make plays for myself, I want to make plays in order to get the team a victory and that’s what we did.
“A lot of the credit for the sacks goes to the room. I don’t like to take credit for the sacks. I’ll give it to the room, it was a big deal. We all came together and worked as a unit last game and it kind of showed.”
At this point the Bucs don’t care who the pass rush is coming from, as long as it’s being generated. The lack of quarterback pressure has been a weekly theme around One Buccaneer Place and head coach Lovie Smith said Jacquies Smith’s high-energy play helped spark last Sunday’s success.
“We tell the players always, ‘If you get in a few plays and you’re productive with those, you’ll get more.’ Kind of simple as that,” Lovie Smith said earlier this week. “[Jacquies Smith] has continued to get more plays based on his play. He’s come a long ways from being cut by the Bills and coming down here and now really being a factor.”
The combination of defensive ends Adrian Clayborn (biceps) being knocked out for the season during Week 1’s loss to Carolina and Michael Johnson missing time because of multiple injuries has allowed Jacquies Smith (7 tackles, 3 sacks, 6 QB hits) and fellow latecomer Larry English (10 tackles, 1 QB hit) to come in and get far more reps than anticipated when the season started. English was both signed and released in August before being resigned on Sept. 9.
Adding to the list of Bucs defenders in similar situations trying to solidify future roles is a pair of cornerbacks, Crezdon Butler and Brandon Dixon.
Dixon came to the Bucs on Sept. 1 after being drafted by the New York Jets in the sixth round of this year’s NFL Draft and cut before the start of the season. The rookie, whose twin brother plays in New Orleans, has appeared in eight games this season and said increased game reps that came with starting cornerback Alterraun Verner’s two-game absence have sped up his learning process in Tampa Bay.
“By me having extended time [at cornerback] that’s helped me out and I’m feeling more comfortable,” Dixon said. “I was moving fast and I was out of control, like a chicken with its head cut off. But now since I’m calmer I know every play is not mine. I can only make the plays that come to me. Right now I’m not thinking that I need to make every play, I’m just doing what I’m coached to do and if a play comes to me I make it.
“I knew what I was getting myself into coming in to play with Coach Lovie and this defense with a lot of Cover 2, Cover 3, Cover 1, so I was happy about it. I just feel like this system fits me best.”
Tampa Bay is Butler’s seventh stop since he entered the league as a fifth-round draft pick by Pittsburgh in 2010. A smattering of injuries at the cornerback position throughout the season has allowed the 27-year-old Butler to enter nine games and start three.
The Bucs are expected to have starters Johnthan Banks and Verner on the field together this Sunday in Chicago, but they have a growing confidence in the position’s depth after getting extended, in-game looks at Butler and Dixon, as well as backup Isaiah Frey.
“There’s always room for improvement,” Dixon said. “I meet with [cornerbacks coach Gill Byrd] in the mornings, after walk-throughs, and then after practice, so the progress is going well. He told me I can always get better and he said he sees better things in me and I’ve got a lot of potential.”