Bucs’ final decisions still up in the air

by Gary Shelton on August 27, 2021

in general

Leverett hopes to make team./TIM WIRT

Friday, 4 a.m.

Keep one, cut one: Jaelon Darden or Travis Mickens?

And while you're at it, who would you rather have: Grant Stuard or Joe Jones?

How about Nick Leverett or Earl Watford?

Anthony Hamilton or Dee Delaney?

Oh, yeah. It's the final preseason game for the Bucs, and after two losses, you'd like to be reminded that this is indeed a pretty good team. Yu'd like to

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see Tom Brady throw deep to Chris Godwin, and Leonard Fournette rip into a hole and Shaq Barrett make an offensive tackle look silly. You know, just for old times' sake.

Ah, but this is rehearsal football, when nothing matters but the decisions. Face it: This game is a lot more important to Darden than it is to Mike Evans, more important to Stuard than it is to Devin White. Keep that in mind as you watch. There, at the end of the roster, people are fighting for jobs.

Take Darden, for instance, who has seemed like a pet project since the Bucs' drafted him in the fourth round. Even then, taking a receiver and throwing him into a talented mix was a luxury. Now, we see if he can oust Mickens as the Bucs' primary kick returner.

Arians was asked if the job was Darden's to lose.

“No, it’s his job to win," Arians said. "I know what [Jaydon Mickens] can do. I’ve seen ‘Mick’ for a while now. I want to see a little bit more out of Scotty [Miller] having a chance. It’s probably his to win rather than his to lose.”

Darden said it means a lot that Brady has taken an interest in him.

"There is a lot of knowledge up there, so I’m trying to learn as much as I can," Darden said. "And I’m young, so it’s definitely good seeing him taking a chance [on me] and taking the time to really work with me and enhance my game on the field, [in addition to] him having to do what he has to do. That speaks volumes.” 

Stuard, the team's seventh-round draft pick, knows his season will be based on special team's play.

“I just have to show that I can be a dominant special teams player, that I can take coaching and do the technique that the coaches ask me to do instead of going out there and doing my own thing," Stuard said. "Just show that I can dominate out there in that area of the game that I don’t think I’ve really shown yet. I had a lot more reps, especially in special teams this game, so just capitalizing there and showing him like, ‘Hey, I’m a dude on special teams, I’m not just a guy, I’m a dude.’ I feel like if I show that then I’ll have a good chance.”

Leverett hopes that versatility will win out for him.

“I’m fighting," Leverett said. "I’m fighting every day. I want to make the team. I told my coach at the beginning of camp. My aspirations for this game [are] high. I want to be a starter one day. I want to be an All-Pro guy. I want to be in the Hall of Fame. I have so many high aspirations for this game. I’m not letting my foot off the gas by any means. I’m still striving and I’m still staying after every day. I’m still watching more film and stuff like that. It’s definitely crazy.”

In other words, there is competition all over between dreamers. That will be the real score on Saturday night when the Bucs play the Texans.

But Arians has a word of warning, too. A player might make the final cut, then get moved when the team finds someone else it likes on the waiver wire.

"I always tell them: 'Don't celebrate after the first day of cuts because somebody might still get your job," Arians said. "And don't go buy a house, that's for damn sure. You might want to stick around for a couple weeks first.' But yeah, that's been the way it's always been."

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