1. Bucs

Alan Cross may not look like a typical NFL tight end, but there’s nothing he can’t do on the football field

Bucs coach Dirk Koetter, who has cut Cross twice, says the former Memphis star is no longer on the bubble but Cross insists it's just "one man's opinion."
Bucs tight end Alan Cross, shown in practice last month, helped his chances to make the roster with a touchdown grab in Thursday's preseason win at Miami.
[CHRIS URSO  |  Times]
Bucs tight end Alan Cross, shown in practice last month, helped his chances to make the roster with a touchdown grab in Thursday's preseason win at Miami. [CHRIS URSO | Times]
Published Aug. 13, 2018|Updated Aug. 13, 2018

TAMPA — Alan Cross always has been the boy on the bubble. A linebacker in high school, he walked on to his college team, Memphis, as a long snapper. He had no scholarship offers. Hugh Freeze, then head coach at Arkansas State, told Cross he would never play Division I-A football.

"I set all the records at Memphis for tight ends,'' Cross said. "You just use it as fuel.''

One day after watching him make a difficult touchdown reception on a pass from Ryan Griffin in Thursday's 26-24 preseason win at Miami, Bucs coach Dirk Koetter, who has cut Cross twice already, seemed to indicate he has done enough to make the roster.

"I'd say he's not on the bubble,'' Koetter said. "Alan Cross is a pretty good football player and does a lot of things behind the scenes that people don't always see.''

When told of Koetter's endorsement, the 25-year-old Cross just grinned.

"That's cool. But it don't mean nothing,'' he said. "That's just one man's opinion. There's a lot of other opinions around here.''

There also are plenty of guys who look more like NFL players.
Cross' nickname is "Honcho" for his resemblance to the alter ego of Cal Naughton Jr., a character from Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby. "Mike Honcho went on Playgirl magazine and did that whole spread. That's where I got it probably,'' Cross said.

Listed at 6 feet 1, 245 pounds, Cross is a much better athlete than even he gives himself credit for. His versatility is his biggest asset. Cross can play tight end, fullback, H-back, long snapper and any number of positions on all special teams.

But when he is out of uniform, those who don't know Cross would rarely identify him as an professional football player.

"I know I don't look like it,'' Cross said. "I got a beer gut, and I'm about 6 foot. It's part of it. You have fun with it.''

Nobody has more fun than Cross, who is the life of the tight ends room, if not the entire team. His 10-yard touchdown Thursday was not an easy catch, but one universally celebrated on the sideline.

"We caught it on the goal line,'' Cross said. "We expected them to be in one-high (safety), and I just had to beat the linebacker and stay away from the safety, and Griffin threw a good top-shelf ball and lucky I came down with it.

"Shake and Bake.''

Cross caught six passes, including a huge touchdown in a Week 11 victory at Kansas City as a rookie in 2016. He had been among the last cuts that preseason but was re-signed from the practice squad after the Bucs released troubled tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins.

Last season, the Bucs used their first-round pick on Alabama's O.J. Howard and took a big liking to 6-foot-6 tight end Antony Auclair. With Cameron Brate and Luke Stocker filling out the position, Cross found himself released and back on the practice squad.

"It's tough not to be out there with the guys and having to watch them on TV, but it's also good to be able to learn,'' Cross said. "I'm still learning route running from Cam. They said, when he came in, he was kind of like me, learning the system, and I feel like I'm still doing the same thing. I try to watch Cam and guys like O.J. … and try to do the things they do.

"Even though you're on the practice squad, it gets kind of boring because you only work three days a week, but you can always learn something.''

The Bucs cut Stocker near midseason, creating a spot for Cross, who caught five passes and was a standout again on special teams. This year, the Bucs signed three undrafted tight ends to challenge Cross again for the fourth spot. When Donnie Ernsberger and Jason Reese were waived Friday, that left only Tanner Hudson.

Cross is an underdog even in the tight ends room. He admires the 6-6, 242-pound Howard for how quickly he has picked up the nuances of the offense.

"It's crazy how smart he is, and people don't see that part of it,'' Cross said of Howard. "In meetings, he's always answering questions, he's taking notes and doing all the little things right. I admire that in a young guy.''

From Brate, Cross would like to copy his ability to read the defense. "He's always reading the coverage pre- and post-snap, and that's hard to do,'' Cross said.

Cross will find his own way. He always has. His work ethic is something he credits inheriting from both his father and Papaw, who died of cancer when he was only 10:

"He had cancer my whole life, basically, but every morning he had my clothes ready for school, drop me off and go paint somewhere. He did everything. He worked at the steel mill, he worked at the peanut farm, jail. I never missed a day of school.''

The truth is Cross didn't grow up dreaming of playing in the NFL. He didn't have a college scholarship, so he walked on.

"Did it. Succeeded. Same thing with this,'' Cross said. "I didn't get drafted, but I said "Well, hell, I'll try it. I've got nothing to lose.' I'm still here. So It's a blessing for sure.''

Koetter has tried to burst his bubble.

"Just give me a helmet,'' Cross said.


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