TAMPA — Rookie running back Clifton Smith was one of the last to peel off his uniform after Saturday's preseason loss to the Jaguars. Who could blame him?
Smith was part of a comeback that fell short when the Bucs turned the ball over on downs at the Jaguars 9-yard line with five seconds left.
But Smith knows time might be running out on his dream to play in the NFL.
Teams must trim rosters from 80 to 75 players Tuesday. Tampa Bay plays its final preseason game Thursday at Houston. The 53-man roster must be set Saturday.
That means a few sleepless nights for Smith.
"Oh, man, this will be a big one for me because we've got the cuts coming up," Smith said. "This is everybody's dream to play for a great organization like Tampa Bay. If it happens, I'll be thrilled. If not, I did all I can do."
Smith, 23, is one of the longer shots. The 5-foot-8, 185-pound Fresno State star was signed after a tryout at a rookie minicamp in May. He joined a crowded backfield that includes Earnest Graham, Warrick Dunn, Michael Bennett and Kenneth Darby. But he has made an impact as a rusher, receiver and kick returner.
With the Bucs down 23-17 with 50 seconds left and no timeouts Saturday, Smith had a 21-yard catch and run to the 15. But Smith, who had three catches for 41 yards, didn't get out of bounds to stop the clock, and quarterback Luke McCown had to spike the ball with 29 seconds left.
"I was just playing the game and got a little too excited, so I should've just stepped out of bounds. I just made a big rookie mistake," he said. "I was too emotionally caught up in the game. For the effort, I give myself an A-plus. But as far as the brains go, I didn't have it all there."
Smith isn't the only player on edge. Quarterback Chris Simms is actually hoping to get his walking papers. He did not play Saturday.
"Each game, each week, I'm just feeling better and better about myself and just getting back in the groove of playing quarterback again," said Simms, who hasn't played in a regular-season game since September 2006, when he had a splenectomy. "I don't think I'll get traded at this point in time. I don't envision that happening. But at the same time, yeah, I'll get a shot somewhere."
Some of the personnel decisions might have been made easier after a collision between linebacker Antoine Cash and cornerback Marcus Hamilton. Cash, 26, was released from St. Joseph's Hospital on Sunday after spending the night under observation.
"The trainers have their fingers crosses that it's just one of those things where he came out of it okay," linebackers coach Gus Bradley said. "He'll be sore."
Hamilton, 24, awaited X-ray results on his right hip. One or both could go on injured reserve.
But with cuts looming, everybody is on edge.
"It's a tricky situation," Smith said. "We've got a bunch of great backs and a great returner in Dexter Jackson and Micheal Spurlock. I'm just working my butt off to try and make the team right now.
"If it doesn't happen, I wouldn't say it was all for nothing. God put me in a great situation, in a great position to be out here with these great athletes. So I wouldn't say it was all for nothing."