Bucs rookie Kendell Beckwith impatiently waits to get back on field

Linebacker Kendell Beckwith (51), recovering from a torn ACL, can only watch at Bucs minicamp. LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times
Linebacker Kendell Beckwith (51), recovering from a torn ACL, can only watch at Bucs minicamp.LOREN ELLIOTT | Times
Published May 6 2017
Updated May 7 2017

TAMPA — A few minutes after LB Kendell Beckwith was selected in the third round by the Bucs, Kwon Alexander, his former teammate at Louisiana State, was on the other end of the phone and bringing the noise.

"He called me going crazy, just yelling, super, super hyped," Beckwith said. "And I was, too, man, it's going to be a special thing, us two back together. I couldn't have picked a better situation."

For all the talk about the Bucs getting a gift when Alabama TE O.J. Howard fell to them at No. 19 — and deservedly so because Howard is a spectacular player and person — a big impact may be felt by the defensive players in this draft class.

At 6-2, 243 pounds, Beckwith is bigger than most Bucs linebackers. The Bucs traded up for him in the third round despite the fact that he is recovering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee that he suffered in a mid-November game against the Gators.

A three-year starter, Beckwith was the Tigers' leading tackler at the time of the injury with 91 and six tackles for a loss.

Big and violent is how some in the Bucs front office describe Beckwith. He brings a lot of physical play to the table. Mass, times acceleration, equals force.

Beckwith was a spectator in the Bucs rookie minicamp this weekend.

"I wish I could run around and see the fits," Beckwith said. "But I've got some rehab left to do. I think I'll definitely be ready for training camp. That's the goal."

The Bucs believe that's a realistic time frame for Beckwith's return. Like Alexander, don't be surprised if he steps right into the starting lineup. Former Jaguars and Ravens LB Daryl Smith appears headed to retirement and the Bucs have an immediate opening at strong side linebacker.

"Without a doubt. I'm pretty confident in how I play and what I do," Beckwith said. "If they need me to play Sam (strongside linebacker), I'll play Sam. If they need me to play safety, I'll play safety. If they need me to play corner, I'll play corner. Just get me on the field. I'll definitely be ready, once I get my chance, once I get my opportunity."

Beckwith says watching Alexander quickly develop into one of the league's best middle linebackers gives him confidence he can make the transition.

"Yeah, it does. Like I said, man, I couldn't have picked a better situation," Beckwith said. "It was kind of a tough process or whatever. I'm more than happy the way things turned out."

SAFETY FIRST: While Beckwith may turn out to be the sleeper of this draft class, a guy the Bucs likely will count on immediately to play every down is rookie S Justin Evans.

The second-round pick from Texas A&M brings a reputation as a big hitter and being great in run support. What the Bucs have seen in the rookie minicamp is that he has tremendous range in the secondary, something that has been sorely lacking.

"He brings range," coach Dirk Koetter said. "He moves like a corner. We're just in shorts and helmets, but he shows up quick at the line of scrimmage on his run fits. He's going to have to be a little more vocal. We need our safeties to communicate more. But his athleticism and his range definitely in a passing-type camp are going to show up."

Evans said he prides himself on being able to cover the deep middle and expects to make an impact on pass defense at free safety, where he worked this weekend.

"Most people would classify me as a hard hitter but I try to mold my game as an all-around safety," Evans said. "(Coordinator Mike Smith) wants you to play numbers to numbers but you try to play sideline to sideline in your head. That's what I'm working on and trying to show out here.

"Playing free safety, you've not only got to know what you're doing, you've got to know what everybody else is doing because you've got to make all the calls and all the checks. He definitely wants me to be more vocal but that just comes with me learning the system and knowing it. In due time, I'll have it."

SIGN OF THE TIMES: It's uncertain whether any tryout players — WR Riley Cooper of Clearwater included — will earn a spot on the 90-man roster the Bucs will bring to training camp. "There's some guys a year or two ago might have had a decent chance, but we've got a deeper football team right now than we did," Koetter said.

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