Jumbo debut: Bucs rookie Wester had 'blast' in first NFL game
Bucs rookie offensive tackle Leonard Wester has had the NFL equivalent of a redshirt year, making the team's 53-man roster from the start of the season but not playing until Sunday's win against New Orleans.
Wester, typically inactive on Sunday as the Bucs' No. 4 tackle, got his first NFL action with starter Demar Dotson out with a concussion, playing 13 snaps as a "jumbo" tight end when the Bucs wanted a sixth offensive lineman on the field as an extra blocker.
"It was a blast -- that's what it's all about, all the practice and hard work you put in, all the film study and everything to go out there and just be able to play and have fun," said Wester, who played at Division II Missouri Western and got $35,000 in guaranteed money to sign with the Bucs after the draft. "It meant a lot as a divisional game we won, too, so a really good experience."
Wester said the three months he's had in season to learn how to become an NFL tackle helped him immensely, watching starters Donovan Smith and Dotson, as well as veteran backup Gosder Cherilus, who has now been pressed into a starting role at right tackle.
"I've developed so much over the course of the season," he said. "I've been coached really well and really hard ever since I got here, so it's been a huge improvement, in knowledge of football, in technique, in confidence in myself. It's been a pretty big change."
Wester said the "jumbo" role is a good way to break into playing in the NFL -- Cherilus had filled that role on 96 snaps in 10 games before taking over at right tackle, and current starting left guard Kevin Pamphile handled that role last season before moving into a full-time starting role this year. With Dotson still out with his concussion, Wester should be in the same role Sunday against the Cowboys.
Wester is the seventh undrafted rookie to play for the Bucs this season, following defensive linemen DaVonte Lambert and Channing Ward, running backs Peyton Barber and Russell Hansbrough, tight end Alan Cross and cornerback Javien Elliott. Together, they've combined for 661 snaps on offense and defense.
"It's awesome -- it doesn't matter how much PT (playing time) anybody gets, we're so excited for them," he said of the bond in the rookie class. "When Javien got activated, that was aawesome and now he's playing a ton. It's just really a blast seeing guys who are undrafted free agents get their opportunity, and they've all done well. It's been great."