Last year's cuts can be this year's stars for recycling Bucs
A dozen Bucs players have already gotten bad news this week, and at least 20 more will be cut before the week is over, but for players looking for hope moving forward, there are examples of persistence and redemption all over the Tampa Bay locker room.
"It's disappointing. Everybody wants to be part of that opening-day 53," said cornerback Jude Adjei-Barimah, who was among last year's final cuts as an undrafted rookie. "It's not the end of the journey. The journey's really long, and as long as you keep working on things you have to work on, keep being the player that you've been, doors are going to open. It's a long season. A lot of things happen, so I tell the guys to keep grinding, keep working and doors will open up."
Adjei-Barimah was one of 10 players signed to the initial practice squad, along with current Bucs WR Donteea Dye and DE Howard Jones; TE Cameron Brate would join them a day later. After three games, Adjei-Barimah was signed to the active roster, and he wound up starting seven games. Now he's in good position to make the Bucs' opening roster, working all of camp as the team's fourth cornerback.
"I feel like yes, there's a little bit more confidence, but at the same time, I didn't take a different attitude or approach than I did last year," said Adjei-Barimah, still carrying an underdog's mentality. "I just have more understanding of how the NFL business is."
Brate, now one of the team's top tight ends, was even cut from the practice squad last year, and Adam Humphries, now the No. 3 receiver, was cut after making the initial cut. Defensive end Kourtnei Brown is the king of cuts, having been cut 10 times by seven teams since 2012, including the Bucs, who could cut him again Saturday when the final roster is set.
Reclamation projects are a consistent source of talent for the Bucs, however. Last season, the Bucs signed current starting center Joe Hawley after he'd been cut by the Falcons, and in 2014, they claimed DE Jacquies Smith off waivers from the Bills. In 2013, the Bucs got starting safety Bradley McDougald off waivers after the third time he was cut by the Chiefs, and that same year they claimed WR Russell Shepard off waivers from the Eagles,
"This is the probably the saddest time in the NFL," said Shepard, who's made a living as a special-teams player, with 30 career tackles and seven career catches in his three seasons with Tampa Bay. "This week right here, I've been cut. I've been fired. It's something I will never forget. I've used it to motivate me in a positive way and turn things around in my career. A lot of guys are going to leave here and go have amazing careers elsewhere."
Adjei-Barimah, too, has helped his chances to make the roster by establishing himself as a "four-unit" special-teams player, working as a gunner and jammer on punt and punt return, kickoff and kickoff return.
"I've always felt like special teams was part of my role," he said. "It's a big part of the game. It's underrated. If you can make a big play on special teams, it's going to affect the game in a very big way. It's a small phase, but the way it can shift things. It carries momentum."