TAMPA — After failing to get more than 8 yards on any play through the first three preseason games, running back Jeff Demps entered Thursday needing a big performance to try to make the Bucs' 53-man roster.
He'll find out in the next 48 hours whether it was enough.
The former Gator and Olympic sprinter got plenty of touches with mixed results, finishing with a team-high 59 yards and 20 of the Bucs' 28 carries.
"I knew I was going to have a long day, so I had to be prepared," Demps said.
He started slowly, failing to return a kickoff into the end zone past the 20-yard line. Demps carried the ball on five consecutive offensive snaps in the second quarter. The results: two negative carries, 8 net yards and two three and outs.
Demps has world-class speed — coach Lovie Smith has called him the fastest player in the league, and he ran relays at the 2012 Olympics — but couldn't use it to get outside on two first-half plays. One resulted in a 1-yard loss and a tackle by former Bucs cornerback E.J. Biggers.
His best two plays came in the third quarter, starting with a 37-yard kickoff return.
"I knew it was time for me to kind of use my speed a little bit and try to bounce it outside," Demps said.
A few plays later, he slashed left and cut back to the middle for a 19-yard rush, his longest of the preseason. That kept the Bucs' only touchdown drive of the night alive.
"Put the ball in Jeff's hands and let him show everybody what he can do," guard Patrick Omameh said.
Demps finished his preseason with 42 offensive touches for 128 yards. He'll likely battle fullback Jorvorskie Lane for one of the final roster spots. Lane missed Thursday's game with a left hand injury.
Although Demps fumbled in the fourth quarter, he said he ends the preseason optimistic about his chances of making the roster and he has done about all he can do.
"It would have been nice to get in the end zone," Demps said. "I haven't been there in a while."
Contact Matt Baker at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @MBakerTBTimes.