TAMPA — Lost in the shuffle that followed Jermaine Phillips' move from linebacker back to safety is the impact the change will have on young, eager Geno Hayes.
Learn his name because, as of right now, he is Tampa Bay's starting weakside linebacker.
Phillips' move this week could be translated as a vote of confidence for Hayes, the 22-year-old Florida State product drafted by the Bucs in the sixth round last year. He played sparingly on the weakside in nine games as a rookie, seeing most of his action on special teams, and went on injured reserve (knee) in November.
Now, can Hayes make good on this chance?
"It's a big opportunity for me," Hayes said Wednesday. "They're putting it in my hands, and they want to see if I can man up in this situation. That's what I'm going to do."
He looks unassuming and undersized (listed at a generous 6 feet 1, 226 pounds), but Hayes was impressive during training camp and showed a level of aptitude that got the coaches' attention.
"I think learning two different positions (strongside and weakside) and playing them at a high tempo, limiting mistakes and showing a lot of good hustle on tape, I've shown I've improved from last year," he said. "I think I've been showing the coaches some urgency on my assignments and being on top of the details."
He has had some help with those details, too. The man who played Hayes' position for 14 seasons, Derrick Brooks, was released in February but has kept in contact with Hayes.
"He's looking out for all of us," said Hayes, who says he often consults Brooks for advice.
Meanwhile, Phillips maintained his willingness to do whatever is asked of him, even after his a second position change in five months.
"Whatever is going to help us win," Phillips said. "I'm putting what I want or what I think will be best for me aside. I think if we adopt that concept … we'll be fine. We'll be a good team this year."
Asked if he would consider going back to linebacker after starting safety Tanard Jackson returns from a four-game league suspension, Phillips said he would leave it up to the team, but indicated he prefers not to move back and forth.
"Wherever I am, I want to play my best and make the decision (to move me) hard for them," he said.
Stephen F. Holder can be reached at [email protected]