Bucs' Hansbrough watched MNF one week, played the next
Last week, running back Russell Hansbrough was back at Missouri, watching Monday Night Football on TV with college friends, having been cut from the Bucs' practice squad three weeks earlier.
A week later, as the Bucs played on MNF, Hansbrough was on the field in a Tampa Bay uniform on the opening kickoff, completing a wild week that showed how multiple injuries can send an NFL team scrambling for help.
"I was back at school, chilling with my old roommates watching the football game," said Hansbrough, 22, who had signed with the Bucs in May as an undrafted rookie, but missed their final cuts last month, spending the first week of the season on the practice squad. "You get a call and they say 'You might be playing Monday.'"
Hansbrough got the call from the Bucs on Tuesday, once the team knew that Charles Sims' knee injury was significant enough to keep him out of their upcoming game at the Panthers. With starter Doug Martin already sidelined with a hamstring injury and unable to return, that left them with only two running backs. So Hansbrough got the call Tuesday with an offer to join the practice squad and was on a flight Wednesday morning, practicing with the team that day.
With their top two backs out, the Bucs had little depth -- Jacquizz Rodgers joined the team in Week 2 after being cut by the Falcons and would end up rushing 30 times for 101 yards with five catches in the Bucs' 17-14 win. Backup Peyton Barber, an undrafted rookie like Hansbrough, hadn't taken a snap on offense before and wound up playing only five plays on offense, carrying the ball three times for 6 yards. On the day of the game, once the injuries were certain, he was promoted to the team's 53-man roster.
Hansbrough, signed largely to insulate the Bucs against more injuries during the game, played only on the kickoff return team, and since Carolina only kicked off three times, that was the full extent of his NFL debut. He lined up at what they call the "personal protector" -- the initial blocker who lines up in front of the kickoff returner when he brings a kickoff out of the end zone. The Bucs took a knee in the end zone on all three kicks for touchbacks, but Hansbrough can now say he's played in the NFL.
"Just going to practice, learning everything, staying focused," Hansbrough said of his preparation. "It's just kickoff, so I was ready to hit somebody."
Hansbrough had made the practice-squad weekly salary of $6,900 in the first week of the season, but Monday's callup got him a game check -- even at the NFL league minimum of $450,000 for a full season, that works out to $26,470 for one week's work. The goal now is to stick around as long as possible -- if Martin returns healthy next week after the Bucs' bye week, he could be headed back to the practice squad, but he'll do so with NFL experience.
Hansbrough wasn't the only emergency callup the Bucs had last week -- defensive tackle John Hughes has played the last four seasons in the NFL, but was out of the league when the Bucs called him last Monday. He was ahead of Hansbrough by two days, but was similarly signed and thrown into the mix after Gerald McCoy suffered a calf injury in the previous game. Hughes ended up playing 17 snaps, getting on the field on the second series and getting a share of a tackle on one play in the second quarter.
"I learned as much as I could to get ready for Monday," Hughes said. "I really want to thank the Bucs organization for giving me a chance. It was good to be back on the field and playing with these guys. It was great to get a win, especially on Monday night."