TAMPA — Drew Ferris is the only true long-snapper on the Bucs' roster, and his goal, of course, is to keep it that way as long as possible.
Ferris, 26, takes a big step Thursday when the Bucs open the preseason in Miami against the Dolphins, with a chance to snap in an NFL game for the first time.
"Competition is everywhere," Ferris cautioned. "There are guys in other camps, (unsigned) guys on the street. … Every day I'm competing. It's like a tryout for me. That's how I do it. One day at a time, I'm trying to enjoy my time here. … This will be a monumental day for me, just because my journey has been up and down these last three years since college."
Ferris accepted an invitation in 2010 to play for Florida as a preferred walk-on, having played eight-man football at San Diego Jewish Academy as a high school junior. He won the job at Florida after a redshirt year and earned a scholarship from the Gators after his freshman season.
He was a three-year starter at Florida from 2011-14, missing most of one season with a collarbone injury sustained after he recovered a fumble 39 yards downfield. He went to rookie minicamp with the Jets in 2015 but wasn't signed, and got a shot with the Seahawks in spring 2016, only to be cut in training camp, five days before the first preseason game.
He was out of football last year, and was starting to prepare for a regular life, with a master's degree from Florida in management. He got his real estate license and closed his first sale in January. A month later, he got a call from the Bucs with a shot to continue pursuing his dream.
"As soon as I signed with Tampa, I stopped pursuing leads and holding open houses and just focused on getting right, getting ready for this," said Ferris, who is also about a year short of an MBA whenever his football days are over.
The Bucs opted not to re-sign last year's long-snapper, veteran Garrison Sanborn, a Tampa resident who remains unsigned. If Ferris were to win the job, it would only be the second time in a decade the Bucs went with a snapper with no NFL experience, having done so in 2014 with Andrew DePaola in 2014, who started for Tampa Bay for three straight years.
"We're confident in Drew," coach Dirk Koetter said. "Even if you have two snappers, usually that second snapper is a luxury that's out of camp pretty fast. We have two good (emergency) backups in (linebacker) Adarius (Taylor) and (tight end) Alan Cross … Adarius has done it in a game before. We're really confident in Drew, and he's going to get his work here in preseason."
Ferris said the biggest difference between snapping in college and the NFL is the expectation of blocking as part of the punt protection unit.
"In college, a lot of times, it's snap and release," said Ferris, who arrived at Florida at 205 pounds, played around 225 there but is now a sturdier 238. "You have to focus on snapping and that's it. Now, in the NFL, you have to identify fronts, have really good footwork, get up fast and get your hands on a guy."
Ferris said he's built a good bond with kicker Chander Catanzaro and punter Bryan Anger, both happy to help show him the ropes as a specialist in the league.
"Chandler and Bryan are really good veteran guys who have taken me under their wing and been really helpful to me," Ferris said. "Just listening to them and following their guidance, and with (special-teams coordinator Nate) Kaczor, I feel like I've developed a lot as a snapper."
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