Thursday, December 14, 2017
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Small-school star Luke Rhodes aims for Bucs roster spot

TAMPA — From small-town kid to small-school prospect to undrafted rookie, linebacker Luke Rhodes understands well the underdog role he faces this summer, trying to earn a spot on the Bucs' final roster.

"Being an underdog, it's motivation in its own," said Rhodes, who starred at Division I-AA William & Mary as a four-year starter but wasn't drafted, signing with Tampa Bay for a $2,500 signing bonus. "I'm self-motivated to begin with, so it wouldn't matter if I was drafted or where I came from."

Rhodes, with good size at 6 feet 2 and 242 pounds, has been overlooked before — when he graduated from high school in Hollidaysburg, Pa. (pop. 5,795), his only scholarship offer came from the Tribe, and he redshirted in 2011, working on the scout team his first year on campus.

He turned into not only a playmaker but a rare leader — in 122 years of W&M football, he's one of 11 players to be a team captain for more than one season.

"The thing that stands out is the consistency of his work ethic," said Jimmye Laycock, the head coach at the Williamsburg, Va., school since 1980. "You talk about leadership — a lot of people can get on people, but he set a tremendous example for our players, whether it's in practice, the weight room, offseason conditioning. He worked extremely hard, and when it was time for a game, he was ready to play."

William & Mary is better known for producing NFL coaches than players — Steelers coach Mike Tomlin went there, as did Panthers defensive coordinator Sean McDermott, who interviewed for the Bucs' head coaching job in January.

"I keep close tabs on my alma mater — it's a great program," said Bucs linebackers coach Mark Duffner, who played for the Tribe and graduated in 1975. "I had friends that said, 'Hey, Duff, you better keep an eye on this guy,' and we did. He's a guy we certainly took a close look at."

Tampa Bay's backup linebacker jobs are fairly wide open, and this week, Rhodes had shown enough in offseason workouts to work as the second-string middle linebacker in the team's three-day minicamp. An undrafted rookie such as Rhodes or Auburn's Cassanova McKinzy has a real chance to make the roster.

"Oh, shoot, yeah," Duffner said. "It's a great opportunity for a rookie, a chance to compete at linebacker and on special teams. He's got a wide-open door to take advantage of."

Bucs coach Dirk Koetter hedged his praise of Rhodes this week by reminding that it's June, with noncontact practices designed to teach a new defensive scheme more than anything else, and that September is still a long way off.

But middle linebacker is, as much as any defensive position, a mental challenge, tasked with lining up the defense and relaying the correct call on the field, as rookie Kwon Alexander was able to do well last season.

Rhodes is well equipped to handle the physical challenge of the NFL — he bench-pressed 225 pounds 29 times at his pro day in the spring, a mark that was one rep short of the most by any linebacker at the NFL combine.

"I'm making sure I get the mental part down, so when the physical part comes, I can just play," he said. "I'm just coming in every day and taking advantage of every opportunity I'm given. I'm trying to work my way up as high and as fast as I can."

Contact Greg Auman at [email protected] and (813) 310-2690. Follow @gregauman.

Comments
USF’s Nigel Harris eager for chance with hometown Bucs

USF’s Nigel Harris eager for chance with hometown Bucs

When Nigel Harris chose where to play college football, he wanted to stay home in Tampa at USF. And now, after playing for the Chargers and Giants as an NFL rookie, he's grateful for the chance to again prove himself in Tampa as the newest member of ...
Updated: 4 minutes ago
NFL Week 15: Tampa Bay Times staff picks

NFL Week 15: Tampa Bay Times staff picks

Week 15 starts and ends with disappointment — a Thursday night meeting of two of the more disappointing teams (Denver at Indianapolis) and a Monday night game that once had held high hopes locally (Atlanta at Tampa Bay). Once.Here's our picks f...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Measuring Jameis Winston’s progress, and Dirk Koetter’s job security

Measuring Jameis Winston’s progress, and Dirk Koetter’s job security

TAMPA — It is one of the most honest moments of the season, captured in the first Hard Knocks episode. Jameis Winston is having a frank conversation with coach Dirk Koetter, seated behind his desk in his office at One Buc Place."I just want to have a...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Jones: If you were Jon Gruden, what would you do?

Jones: If you were Jon Gruden, what would you do?

What would you do?If you were Jon Gruden, what would you do?Well, you could go to Hooter’s and order a pitcher of beer and dozen wings. Then, Monday, you could go be inducted into the Bucs’ Ring of Honor.I’m talking about after that.Would you stay i...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Rick and Tom podcast: Dirk Koetter, Evan Longoria, Stanley Cup and more

Rick and Tom podcast: Dirk Koetter, Evan Longoria, Stanley Cup and more

Rick Stroud and Tom Jones answer a lightning round of questions.
Updated: 10 hours ago
Bucs’ Mike Evans gives the gift of perspective

Bucs’ Mike Evans gives the gift of perspective

TAMPA — So, this is Christmas.The Bucs are having an awful season. There is no way around it. Star receiver Mike Evans isn’t having a great year, either, not nearly as many catches or touchdowns as last season, when he was selected for the Pro Bowl.S...
Published: 12/13/17
Warren Sapp on sexual harassment allegations: ‘Ain’t no #MeToo’

Warren Sapp on sexual harassment allegations: ‘Ain’t no #MeToo’

Warren Sapp vehemently denied allegations that he sexually harassed a female employee when he worked at the NFL Network during a radio appearance this afternoon in Miami."Ain’t no #MeToo," the former Buc and Pro Football Hall of Famer said on the And...
Published: 12/13/17
Cannon Fodder podcast: Gerald McCoy still wants to play

Cannon Fodder podcast: Gerald McCoy still wants to play

Greg Auman has an update in his latest podcast while the Bucs have two days off during the long week.
Published: 12/13/17
Rick and Tom podcast: Should the Rays go full fire-sale mode?

Rick and Tom podcast: Should the Rays go full fire-sale mode?

As baseball’s hot stove starts heating up, should the Rays go full fire sale to build for the future?In their latest podcast, Rick Stroud and Tom Jones discuss whether the Rays should trade guys like Evan Longoria, Chris Archer, Alex Colome and more,...
Published: 12/13/17
Despite injury, Gerald McCoy wants to play this season

Despite injury, Gerald McCoy wants to play this season

Even dealing with a biceps injury and his Bucs at 4-9, Gerald McCoy isn't giving up on playing this season."I'm a fighter," McCoy said Tuesday night. "Y'all know me. I don't quit. I give it everything I have. Even the slightest possibility of being a...
Published: 12/12/17