Wednesday, 3 a.m.
Road kill, Jon Gruden used to call them. Jags, Bill Parcells called them (just a guy). Leftovers. Seat-holders. Bit players.
You find them in the back of sporting goods stores, hauling boxes in between workouts. They hang around the college campus, biding their time. They are the men who talk to their agents every single day, trying to find out who has called, who has asked for tape.
They are the men on the edge of the NFL, the men who will not swallow their goals, the men who hang on as long as their dreams are alive. They are the men beyond the practice squad. They are the dreamers. The men who will not stop.
Frankly, they have a lot to do with the Bucs being 6-5.
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Call them the children of Jason Licht. So far, they have provided depth for a team that has precious little of it. They are Jacquizz Rodgers and Cecil Shorts and Ben Gottshalk and Channing Ward and Ryan Russell. They are the guys who make you wonder “Who's he?” They are the guys from nowhere, still hoping to play somewhere.
This isn't supposed to be Licht's season. It's far better to deal in the hype of the draft, or the free agent auction. But changing a tire when the race is going on? That's harder. Finding this guy, signing that one, and getting on-the-field production is a complicated deal.
And so you look back at Licht's work over the past year. And you think “how has he done?”
All in all, he has a winning record, too.
A look at the Bucs' best newcomers:
1. Brent Grimes, cornerback: It's hard to find a cornerback who can compete. But Grimes has been that for the Bucs. For Licht, the decision was easy. All he had to do was decide that Grimes' sometimes-loud spouse, Miko, wasn't going to bother him. The result is the Bucs' pass defense has been much better. Grimes is second in the NFL in passes defensed.
2. Ryan Anger, punter: A punter this high on the list? Well, did you see the Seattle game? Anger kept kicking the Bucs out of trouble. Anger is tied for fifth with 25 punts inside their opponents' 20.
3. Jacquizz Rodgers, running back: For a long time while Doug Martin was hurt, Rodgers made sure the Bucs missed him as little as possible. Rodgers had 393 yards, including two 100-yard games.
4. Vernon Hargreaves III, cornerback: Hargreaves hasn't been the smothering cornerback you might have hoped for, but he hasn't been bad, either. Hargreaves still is a solid athlete who is finding his way. A No. 1 draft pick should be higher on such a list, but no one should call him a bust.
5. Noah Spence, defensive end: For a while, Spence seemed to be nothing more than a designated pass rusher, but he's expanded his game. He has 5.5 sacks, including 4.5 of them in the last six weeks. A strong December can change perceptions.
6. Robert Ayers, defensive end: Ayers had 9.5 sacks a year ago. He hasn't been that good (injuries cost him four games), but he's been a good player. You'd like him to pick up his pass rush in the final five games.
7. Roberto Aguayo, kicker: Every time you start to feel good about Aguayo, he misfires again. Still, he's hit 13 of 19 field goals and 22 of 24 extra ponts. You'd like to see a little more distance out of him.
8. Peyton Barber, running back: Barber has 198 yards which, frankly, is a lot more impact than you would have thought.
9. Cecil Shorts, wide receiver: Shorts has 10 catches for 138 yards, not bad for an in-season pickup.
10. Daryl Smith, linebacker: He's the quiet linebacker on the Bucs' team, but he has 20 tackes and four assists.
11. Ben Gottshalk, offensive guard: Remember, the Bucs turned to Gottshalk (since injured) before they turned to Caleb Benenoch.
12. Alan Cross, tight end: Cross has three catches for 18 yards, including a touchdown against Kansas City.
13. Caleb Benenhoch: Benenock played okay in a fill-in role.
14. DeVonte Lambert, defensive tackle: Lambert had seven tackles and three assists, giving him the edge over Ryan Russell, Channing Ward and John Hughes. It's been a particularly tough season for Tampa Bay.
15. Freddie Martino, wide receiver: He has two receptions for 52 yards, including a 43-yard touchdown.
Special mention: No, J.R. Sweezy does not rank.