TAMPA — Lay it out for Javien Elliott and he can't help but smile.
Sixteen months ago he had never played a down of college football, but the former Florida State walk-on not only signed with the Bucs in the spring, not only earned a spot on the practice squad in the fall, not only was promoted to the roster two weeks ago, but he is now playing a significant role on a team making a push for the NFL playoffs.
"That's what I love to do. I love to prove people wrong," said Elliott, 23, who played only one season for the Seminoles, earning a scholarship and impressing the Bucs enough to bring him in as an undrafted rookie. "I love to show I can continue to get better and go higher."
A four-game suspension to nickel cornerback Jude Adjei-Barimah got Elliott promoted from the practice squad, and he played seven snaps on special teams in his debut, a home win against the Seahawks on Nov. 27.
On Sunday at San Diego, the Bucs made a defensive switch in the second half, bringing Elliott in as the nickel and taking a former Pro Bowl cornerback, Alterraun Verner, off the field.
"I knew it was a possibility. I just didn't know when," said Elliott, likely to play the same role Sunday as the Bucs host the Saints and the top passing offense in the NFL. "I've worked so hard since I got here, and I've just tried to build their confidence. It was just a matter of timing, and how God wanted it to work out."
Bucs coach Dirk Koetter said Elliott has earned his opportunity by consistently impressing coaches with his work on the scout team as a pesky playmaker.
"The main reason we have confidence in Javien Elliott is he picks off our offense about three times every day in practice," Koetter said. "He's a kid that practices hard. We encourage those guys not to hit our guys, not to take shots, but if you can get the ball in practice, get it, and nobody picks off Jameis Winston more than Javien Elliott. He makes plays, so we knew when he had a chance to come up, that we weren't going to be afraid to put him in the game."
The same was true in 2014, when Elliott was a walk-on at FSU, again making plays in practice to make his Seminoles teammate Winston a better quarterback on Saturdays. The player who worked his way through community college and who beat the odds to finally make the FSU roster in 2015 as a walk-on is his teammate once again.
"It's a difference, when someone is waiting for the opportunity (versus) someone who is preparing for the opportunity," Winston said. "I believe Javien does a good job preparing for his opportunity because he has a chance to play against (receivers) Mike Evans, Cameron Brate, Adam Humphries, guys like that every single day, and he takes advantage of it."
The Panama City native was surrounded at FSU by talented defensive backs now in the NFL such as Ronald Darby (Bills), P.J. Williams (Saints) and Jalen Ramsey (Jaguars). He said it's a tribute to Winston's ability to embrace all his teammates that he would spend time with a walk-on, not realizing that the first time they would actually play in a game together was in the NFL.
"Me and Jameis hung out at Florida State," Elliott said. "But I hung out with Darby, with P.J., with Jalen. Being under great players like that was such a blessing."
Elliott's pro career started with a weekend tryout with the Steelers in May but he was unable to land a contract. He got a shot with the Bucs and has turned that into an NFL job — $26,470 a week — with a huge following of fans from Tallahassee and family, thrilled to recognize his No. 35 on TV. Relatives now can make the drive from the Panhandle and Atlanta down to Tampa for Sunday's game, and he's grateful for the many pulling for him.
"My parents, my grandma, just people back home that support me, people back at Florida State, my old teammates, my former coaches," he said. "I'm getting support from a lot of people."
Contact Greg Auman at [email protected] and (813) 310-2690. Follow @gregauman.