It’s not hard to get lost in the shuffle with 89 other players running all over multiple practice fields during training camp.
For players like Micah Awe, an undersized, undrafted linebacker out of Texas Tech, blending in for even a couple days can result in devastating effects. Through nine training camp practices, the 6-foot, 221-pounder is making sure that doesn’t happen while picking up some high-level praise along the way.
“The guy that’s showing up is No. 44, Micah Awe,” new Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive coordinator Mike Smith said when asked by reporters what unheralded players are standing out. “He’s a guy that’s catching our attention on the defensive staff. Every day you go, ‘Who’s that? Oh, that’s 44.’ He’s done a real nice job. He’s an undersized player but he’s very good in the meeting rooms and it translates out here on the field.”
Every year there are couple lower-profile, young players who put in good work and receive recognition from coaches, only to be released before camp breaks. Awe’s got a lot of work to do to if he wants to survive upcoming cut dates that will be here in a snap, but he’s put himself in the right position so far.
“I thank God for this opportunity,” Awe said Saturday afternoon. “There are a lot of people who should be in the NFL but aren’t. I barely got this opportunity but it doesn’t matter, I got it. So now I’m ready to show what I’ve got.”
What he’s got is enough athleticism and power packed into a compact frame to finish as a top 15 tackler in the nation last year and stand out in camp amongst NFL veterans and high-round draft picks.
“He’s a run-and-hit guy,” Smith said what Awe brings to the table. “He’s a short guy but there’s been a lot of guys who’ve played in the NFL at the linebacker position that are short. He’s very explosive and that’s what I do like.”
Awe’s height listing of 6-feet may be a little generous and overcoming that size deficiency will be a challenge with nine other linebackers jockeying for roster spots. But as Smith mentioned, he wouldn’t be the first undersized guy to play the position and the coaching staff is interested to see if he can contribute if used in the right situations.
“He’s a 220-pound linebacker and you would have to make sure you put him in situations where he’s not going to be taking on 330-pounders, but he’s been a big surprise to us,” Smith said. “I’m anxious to see him play in a real football game. He would be a Mike-Will combination guy. When we look at our Mike and Will, they’re basically interchangeable. The Sam linebacker’s got a little bit different body type. Again, it’s going to be our sub-package that he’s probably going to have a chance to succeed in.”
While there are 10 total linebackers in camp currently, Awe is realistically competing with seven of them for three active roster spots. Lavonte David, Kwon Alexander and Daryl Smith represent the team’s established linebackers. Jeremiah George, Adarius Glanton and Josh Keyes have experience within the organization and limited NFL experience. Devante Bond was the team’s sixth-round draft pick out of Oklahoma this year and Cassanova McKinzy and Luke Rhodes join Awe as undrafted free agents.
After getting scooped up by the Buccaneers on May 9, Awe said it was a fast-and-furious transition shifting from college student-athlete to pro football player. Helping reduce the shock was a familiar 4-3 base defense, offseason team work and learning the importance of observing veterans.
“It’s definitely night and day,” Awe said of his comfortability and confidence in the system compared to a few months ago. “OTAs were extremely useful. I felt at one point like, ‘Man, I’m not going to be able to learn this.’ But then you hit that hump and it’s like, ‘Ok, this is easy.’ The coaches do a great job teaching it and now it’s all about details.
“We ran basically the same defense at Tech. [Defensive coordinator David Gibbs ran a very similar 4-3 defense. The things that change are words and the way the coaches want it done. That’s the hardest part.”
The most valuable tip he’s picked up from veterans, Awe said, is the importance of paying attention to detail on the field. Every motion and every movement must be made with purpose because a good play can turn into an ugly one in a fraction of a second.
“But what I’ve realized about the NFL is being efficient,” the 22-year-old said. “It’s the people who have the most efficient steps on defense that win. Gerald McCoy never takes the false step, he’s always powerful on the field. Lavonte David never takes the false step. Daryl Smith, Kwon Alexander, it’s all about being efficient in this league and that makes you make plays every single time.
“Daryl Smith, being in the NFL for 14 years, he makes very efficient steps. He doesn’t miss a step at all and he doesn’t ever look like he’s missed a step because he’s so smart and he knows how to take the right steps.”
Mark Cook currently is the director of editorial content and Bucs beat writer and has written for PewterReport.com since 2011. Cook has followed the Buccaneers since 1977 when he first began watching football with his Dad and is fond of the 1979 Bucs team that came within 10 points of going to a Super Bowl. His favorite Bucs game is still the 1979 divisional playoff win 24-17 over the Eagles. In his spare time Cook enjoys playing guitar, fishing, the beach and family time.Cook is a native of Pinecrest in Eastern Hillsborough County and has written for numerous publications including the Tampa Tribune, In the Field and Ya'll Magazine. Cook can be reached at email@example.com
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