Tuesday, May 22, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bucs players on bubble sacrifice for dream

TAMPA — The first thing James Ruffin learned about life on the NFL bubble is to stop worrying about whether it will pop.

"That's what got me in trouble my rookie year," he said.

That was in 2010, when he was an undrafted defensive end from Northern Iowa trying to figure out how he could survive the Bucs' final cuts. He didn't.

Four years later, Ruffin quit his day job to join 47 other players fighting for the final spots on Tampa Bay's roster. In nine days, 36 of them will be unemployed.

That's the cold reality of the NFL, where players travel across the country and put their careers and families on hold for a few thousand dollars, a double room at the Renaissance Tampa International Plaza Hotel and a monthlong tryout for a lifelong dream.

"You can't turn down offers like this," Ruffin said.

A 1-in-4 shot is better than no shot at all.

•••

Players know the numbers, even if they try to ignore them.

The Bucs must trim their 90-player roster to 75 by Tuesday. Four days later, they'll be down to 53. Some spots are set, but others are fluid, based on versatility, special teams and good players.

"You have a couple wild cards that could go either way," coach Lovie Smith said.

There's also another number that every player understands: 31.

"It's not just this team I'm auditioning for," defensive end Ryne Giddins, 24, said. "It's 31 other teams."

Players trained to focus on team goals have to think about themselves, too.

After his rookie tryout in May, Giddins, a USF and Armwood High product, was on the phone every day, checking in with Bucs coaches and other teams. The Bucs signed him two weeks ago after injuries piled up on the defensive line, and he has been so busy studying and practicing that he has hardly seen his family across town since.

Giddins' 32 snaps this preseason are his resume for the Bucs and any other team that needs a defensive end, now or later in the season. The snaps have to be perfect.

"That's what the whole preseason's about, is to get a job," said Lonnie Pryor, one of three fullbacks competing on a team that might not carry one next month.

Ruffin, 27, has already had to make choices about what he would sacrifice to stick with the Bucs.

He had just finished an 18-game season with the Arena Football League's Spokane Shock this month when the Bucs called his agent. The problem: Ruffin used up all his vacation time from his day job as a mortgage banker to travel for AFL road games.

So he quit.

By 6:30 the next morning, Ruffin was 3,000 miles away at One Buc Place to start a 15-hour day. When he got back to the hotel, he planned to study plays and film until midnight.

•••

After a while, players learn to accept the bubble's uncertainty and how to live without feeling settled.

"I've just kind of tuned it out," said third-string quarterback Mike Kafka, 27, who is on his fourth team since 2010.

But there are signs they can't ignore.

The fourth-string quarterback lines up in practice as a scout-team safety. While stars such as Gerald McCoy have their names etched above their lockers, other players' lockers are blank. When training camp ends and the veterans move back to their homes, the others continue to live out of a suitcase at the hotel.

"I might be stressed out staying at a hotel," offensive tackle J.B. Shugarts said, "but when you look at the bigger picture, it's a four-star hotel."

The pay isn't bad — $925 a week for rookies, $1,700 for veterans — and the Bucs cover room and board. But it's hard to explain to friends and family who watch on TV but don't understand the business.

"They think you made it," said Pryor, 24, a former Florida State standout, "but it's not like that."

Some of them might never make it.

Shugarts has been cut four times since coming out of Ohio State in 2012. He was hurt during part of training camp. Eventually, he knows, his football career will end.

Until then, Shugarts figures the lessons he's learning in the NFL will help him with wherever he lands after the bubble pops.

"If you have a dream, you've got to keep following it until your time's up with it," Shugarts, 24, said. "Then you've got to make another goal, have another dream and keep living."

Contact Matt Baker at [email protected]. Follow @MBakerTBTimes.

   
Comments
Bucs Jameis Winston gets engaged to long-time girlfriend Breion Allen who says, ‘Well, it’s about damn time’

Bucs Jameis Winston gets engaged to long-time girlfriend Breion Allen who says, ‘Well, it’s about damn time’

On a day when the Royal wedding between Prince Harry and Meghan Markle was taking place across the pond, Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston proposed marriage to his long-time girlfriend Breion Allen Saturday in New York City.She said yes.The proposal to...
Published: 05/21/18
Could Bucs find another undrafted rookie tight end in 2018?

Could Bucs find another undrafted rookie tight end in 2018?

At no position is the Bucs' ability to find talent outside the NFL draft more clear than at tight end, where three of the four returning players from last season joined the Bucs as undrafted rookie free agents.Cameron Brate did so in 2014, Alan Cross...
Published: 05/21/18
Why the Buccaneers’ 2018 schedule isn’t as bad as it seems

Why the Buccaneers’ 2018 schedule isn’t as bad as it seems

Saints, Eagles, Steelers.Three games against three playoff teams to open the NFL season.Who in the league scheduling office did the Buccaneers tick off?What an injustice!Or not.Maybe the league did the Bucs a favor.Would you rather face the Saints, E...
Published: 05/21/18
O-line coach ‘ecstatic’ about Bucs drafting Vita Vea

O-line coach ‘ecstatic’ about Bucs drafting Vita Vea

Add another to the long list of Bucs players and coaches excited about first-round pick Vita Vea: offensive line coach George Warhop.Warhop said the 347-pound defensive tackle from Washington kept showing up as he looked at tape on Pac-12 offensive l...
Published: 05/19/18
Pillow talk: O-line coach says Bucs need tougher approach to run the ball

Pillow talk: O-line coach says Bucs need tougher approach to run the ball

TAMPA — At least he stopped short of calling them soft. That's not a word you ever want to use when describing an NFL player, much less the entire offensive line. That would be a tough pillow to swallow.But it's clear George Warhop didn't like ...
Published: 05/19/18
Pop Warner to honor Bucs’ Gerald McCoy as ‘Inspiration to Youth’

Pop Warner to honor Bucs’ Gerald McCoy as ‘Inspiration to Youth’

Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy will be honored at Pop Warner's annual "All-American Scholars Banquet" in Orlando with the national sports organization's "Inspiration to Youth" award.McCoy, who has been to six straight Pro Bowls, is the first-ever...
Published: 05/18/18
Land O’Lakes grad Shaheed Salmon gets contract with Bucs

Land O’Lakes grad Shaheed Salmon gets contract with Bucs

Most appropriately named player on the Bucs roster? Undrafted rookie Shaheed Salmon, a linebacker from Land O'Lakes who has quickly shown the ability to fight against the current and get to where he wants to go.Salmon, 22, wasn't drafted and didn't h...
Published: 05/18/18
Mike Evans, Jameis Winston among top 25 players under 25, Pro Football Focus says

Mike Evans, Jameis Winston among top 25 players under 25, Pro Football Focus says

Mike Evans and Jameis Winston are two of the 25 best young players in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus.In the website's Top 25 Under 25 list, Evans ranks 11th and Winston ranks 20th. Evans is the highest-ranked receiver, and Winston is the hi...
Published: 05/18/18
More praise for Bucs WR Chris Godwin: ‘I see him as a starter’

More praise for Bucs WR Chris Godwin: ‘I see him as a starter’

Perhaps no Bucs player is drawing more consistent praise from coaches than second-year receiver Chris Godwin, who emerged in the second half last year and got his first career touchdown on the Bucs' final pass of the year to beat the Saints in the se...
Published: 05/17/18
George Warhop on Donovan Smith: ‘You have something here that’s special’

George Warhop on Donovan Smith: ‘You have something here that’s special’

A year ago, Bucs offensive line coach George Warhop was unwavering in his support for left tackle Donovan Smith, and on Thursday, he again made it clear he considers the fourth-year player among the best at his position."I don't think I'd take anybod...
Published: 05/17/18