TAMPA — While Dekoda Watson is a backup linebacker, coach Raheem Morris considers him a starter because of all the special pass-rushing packages the Bucs can use him in.
"That's kind of funny. I never thought of it that way, but it's true," Watson said, smiling. "Just give me the opportunity, and I will make the most of it."
Watson certainly has, with his versatility and speed off the edge making him an x factor for the defense. He ranks second on the team in tackles (12) during the preseason, including 21/2 sacks and two forced fumbles.
"He looks awesome right now," Morris said. "The opportunities he's been given, sack, fumbles, he's creating exciting plays. He's certainly dynamic in his role, and I love the fact we can put him over there and do those things, and he can still be (able to back up) at linebacker."
Watson, 23, a seventh-round pick out of Florida State in 2010, had lined up as a defensive end on passing downs with the Seminoles. And while Watson has grown more comfortable and confident in each of the three linebacker positions, the 6-foot-2, 240-pounder thrives in using his quick hands and explosiveness to get after quarterbacks in certain passing downs. Asked how many packages the Bucs have designed for him, Watson said, "It's still piling up."
"I'm not the biggest guy in the world, and people kind of underestimate you," Watson said. "I have my speed, the strength, too, and it's a different story when you come up against me. I'm blessed and fortunate for my athletic ability, and I'm just glad that the coaches recognize that. … If they feel like they have confidence in me, I'm going to show them, you didn't make a mistake."
Roster, ETC.: Morris indicated it's possible the team could carry just two quarterbacks on its 53-man roster, pointing out that WR/KR Micheal Spurlock — who played some quarterback at Ole Miss — has been getting work in. … Offensive coordinator Greg Olson said rookie TE Luke Stocker has proved to "be worthy" of the second tight end spot, but there's some "really good competition" for the No. 3, with TEs Nathan Overbay, Ryan Purvis and Daniel Hardy among them.
Backfield update: While Morris said Earnest Graham is the clear-cut leader for the third-down back role, he said Thursday is a "huge game" for his chief competition, RB Kregg Lumpkin.
"I want Kregg Lumpkin to run the ball, I want to see him protect, I want to see him catch the ball out of the backfield," Morris said. "I want to see him go out and compete with Earnest Graham and give us the battle that I would like to see when they started camp. I'm not down on Kregg, but I certainly want to see him get back into this battle with Earnest to earn the right to play and show that he wants to play."
RED-FLAGGED: The Bucs have racked up a lot of penalties in the first three games, several by the starting offensive line in Saturday's win over the Dolphins. But C Jeff Faine isn't overly concerned, pointing out that "officials call it a little tighter during the preseason anyways." Morris said false starts and procedure penalties need to be cleaned up.
"We can't have those things," Morris said. "Those are the things that kill drives on offense, that make you not look efficient. Once we can clean those things up, we were one of the least penalized teams last year, so I feel good about the attrition of work and us doing that, getting better."
Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected]