FAB 3. Wilson A Training Camp Sleeper For Bucs Offense
At first glance, the Bucs’ roster at running back is set for the 2018 season.
Peyton Barber, last year’s leading rusher in Tampa Bay, will likely start and the 230-pounder will form a one-two “Bash and Dash” combination with rookie Ronald Jones II, who was drafted in the second round.
Veteran Charles Sims has the trust of the coaching staff when it comes to pass protection and catching the ball out of the backfield, and will handle third-down duties. He was re-signed to a one-year deal prior to the 2018 NFL Draft.
Jacquizz Rodgers, who has been in Tampa Bay the last two years and has a history with head coach and offensive play-caller Dirk Koetter dating back to Atlanta, is a serviceable veteran who knows the offense inside and out. Rodgers increased his value by returning kicks and playing on special teams last year after finishing as the Bucs’ leading rusher in 2016.
There is your Bucs’ depth chart at running back – unless undrafted rookie Shaun Wilson has something to say about it. And I believe he will.
Bucs RB Shaun Wilson – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
The former Duke runner, receiver and return specialist was quite the head-turner during the offseason at One Buccaneer Place. Running around in shorts and a helmet, Wilson showcased his 4.46 speed and looked electric. The Bucs are anxious to see what happens when the 5-foot-8, 185-pounder puts the pads on next month during training camp.
“They are going to see a ball player,” the confident Wilson said. “When we get in pads, the most important thing for a running back is pass pro. I’m going to show that I’m tough, that I’m not afraid to get up in there and take on blocks. That’s one thing I need to focus on. Everything else is just playing football.”
Wilson has a chance of unseating Sims if he can prove to be a better option on third down in pass protection and in the screen game. Wilson has a chance of replacing Rodgers on the roster if he can prove to be a better option in the return game.
Wilson finished his Blue Devils career rushing for 2,463 yards and 18 touchdowns on 475 carries (5.2 avg.), while catching 81 passes for 725 yards (9.0 avg.) and six scores. Wilson only fielded six punts at Duke, but returned 67 kickoffs for 1,697 yards (25.3 avg.), including two for touchdowns.
As an undrafted free agent knowing that he’s going to have to make the roster for his special teams play first, Wilson has been returning both kicks and punts in practice.
“Yes sir,” Wilson said. “I did a lot of kick returns at Duke and took a few back – maybe two or three. I’m looking to do the same thing here. When I get the opportunity I’m going to show them what I can do. I’ve also been returning punts a lot. At Duke I only caught a few punts, but I’m taking that experience from Duke and doing it here. I’m not afraid to be back there catching punts. If they put me out there I’m going to make a play. That’s what I do.”
Bucs RB Shaun Wilson – Photo courtesy of Duke
Wilson is ready to show that he can do more than just return kicks, though. He wants to play on offense – not just special teams. The guy can run the ball and catch it, too.
In his third game at Duke during his freshman season, Wilson ran roughshod over Kansas in a 41-3 victory, rushing for 245 yards and three touchdowns on 12 carries (20.4 avg.) with a long of 69 yards. That was one of five 100-yard rushing games Wilson had at Duke, along with one 100-yard receiving game.
The Charlotte, North Carolina native had nine carries for 103 yards (11.4 avg.), including an 85-yard touchdown run and a 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter of Duke’s 44-41 overtime win against Indiana in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl in 2015.
Wilson had a huge game in a 34-20 win over Baylor last year, rushing for 176 yards on 18 carries (9.8 avg.) and two touchdowns, including a 65-yard TD romp. Wilson also caught five passes for 33 yards, including a 21-yarder against the Bears. Wilson next topped the 100-yard mark against Pittsburgh in a 24-17 in which he rushed for 42 yards on 11 carries (3.8 avg.) and caught three passes for 75 yards, including a 58-yard score.
Wilson finished the season strong with 73 yards on 11 carries (6.6 avg.) in a 43-20 win over Georgia Tech, in addition to catching three passes for 36 yards, including two TDs, and throwing a touchdown pass.
In a 36-14 win over Northern Illinois in the Quick Lane Bowl, Wilson rushed for 75 yards on 16 carries (4.7 avg.) and one touchdown, and caught four passes for 22 yards and another score.
“We did a ton of work on Ronald Jones, I did no work on Shaun Wilson,” said Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter, when praising Wilson’s performance at the conclusion of the team’s mini-camp. “Jason [Licht] and the scouts did, so that guy has impressed me because I didn’t know about him. I’m not saying any more than Ronald Jones because Ronald Jones was one of the best backs in the draft, right up there at the top. But, Shaun Wilson has done a really nice job. He’s a smaller guy so durability will be the question. But he had a nice punt return today, really good hands, good route runner. He’s smart, he’s picked things up.”
When I spoke to Wilson at the end of the Bucs’ three-day mini-camp he seemed unfazed by Koetter’s praise.
Bucs RB Shaun Wilson – Photo courtesy of Duke
“It’s good, but I don’t know too much about what Coach has been saying about me,” Wilson said. “I do what I can and give it all I got and I’ll let everything take care of itself. If you get caught up in things like that, you can become distracted. I don’t want that. I want to stay focused and let my play do the talking.
“This offseason has gone pretty great. I can’t complain about anything. I’m just taking it day by day. I feel like I belong out here. I’m learning the playbook – I know everything, really. I’m going to take this momentum to training camp. Knowing I have five weeks off, I’m just going to keep working out and come back even better.”
With Sims and Rodgers having reached their respective ceilings in Tampa Bay and both not under contract in 2019, Wilson saw an opportunity with the Buccaneers to come in and make the team as a rookie and fit nicely in to Koetter’s offense, which sees the running back position involved in the passing game.
“My agent and I talked about it – my family, too,” Wilson said. “We felt like it was the best place for me, and the best place for me to go make the 53-man roster. That’s what I want to do. Not only do I want to make the 53-man roster, I want to play. I want to be active on Sundays.
“I like the plays and the screens because I want to make plays in space and make the first guy miss. I can take advantage of my speed and quickness in space, but I’m not afraid of running between the tackles, either.”
The last two leading rushers in Tampa Bay – Barber in 2017 and Rodgers in 2016 – were undrafted free agents. While Wilson likely won’t achieve that mark anytime soon, he could be the latest undrafted free agent running back to stick with the Bucs.
Keep an eye on this hungry, confident training camp sleeper.
“All that is good – being drafted – but at the end of the day I still put my clothes on just like the guys do that were drafted,” Wilson said. “They still have to come out here and put their pads on just like I do. In my situation things didn’t work out like I wanted them to as far as being drafted. But I know I get to come out here and compete with guys, whether they were drafted or undrafted. Let the best man win. I’m always going to compete. I’m here to take somebody’s job. It’s no secret.”
Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org