Russell Shepard's first experience with final cuts in the NFL wasn't a good one, as he was waived as an undrafted rookie by the Eagles in 2013, soon to be claimed by the Bucs. Entering his fourth season in Tampa Bay, Shepard said the good news of making a roster is never to be taken for granted,
"Every year, it's a blessing," Shepard said. "I've been on both sides. It's an amazing opportunity to come in. I'm ready to go. It's Week 1, a really exciting time for a lot of guys. You're excited for the people you've come along with. It's a bittersweet meeting. You're seeing guys you sat next to for the last three, four months, and you shared the dream of making this team. You see certain guys gone, but you see guys here that defied the odds."
The Bucs have Evan Spencer as their fifth receiver, winning a battle that saw Kenny Bell (concussion) and Bernard Reedy (knee) fall to injuries in Wednesday's preseason finale. Spencer was on the Bucs' practice squad last season and was active for the season finale -- the son of Bucs running backs coach Tim Spencer, he'll be active on special teams as well, much like Shepard.
"Evan's a coach's kid, so he's very smart, has a very good grasp on the game," Shepard said. "To see his physical ability catch up with his mental understanding of the game has been a beautiful thing. He catches the ball extremely well. He's a strong guy. He can be a special-teams guy for us, can do a lot of things. To see his hard work come to the forefront is very exciting."
OTHER SIDE: Second-year corner Jude Adjei-Barimah has been among the Bucs' top four corners throughout preseason and could be the first-team nickel when rookie Vernon Hargreaves works outside. As successful as his preseason was, Adjei-Barimah said there was still a thrill upon hearing he's made the 53-man roster, knowing he'd gotten the opposite news a year ago, opening the season on the practice squad before joining the roster and later starting.
"This time last year, I was packing up my locker," said Adjei-Barimah, one of six corners on the initial roster. "It just feels good. My main goal was to be on that opening-day 53. Being here during OTAs and the offseason program helped me a lot. I was able to build that chemistry with the guys."
Like Hargreaves, Adjei-Barimah has shown the ability to play at nickel and outside corner, a flexibility that will help his playing time this season.
"We're ready to show the fans that support us, to show the city and everyone what the 2016 Bucs really look like," he said. "We worked really hard through our training camp, OTAs and everything to put it together."
STILL HERE: Lost in the surprising news that the Bucs kept an undrafted rookie and cut a draft pick at tight end is the fact that veteran Brandon Myers, 30, showed enough in camp to stick as one of five tight ends on the initial roster. Myers was a healthy scratch in each of the Bucs' last five games last season, inactive down the stretch, and he had only one catch for minus-1 yards in the preseason.
"I came in this offseason and Coach just told me to do what I've always done, just work. I'm a guy that's never really been handed anything," said Myers, who has 34 catches for 317 yards in two seasons with the Bucs. "I took his advice, just came in and worked and things worked out. I'm very blessed, very excited for this season. We have a good group of guys in our room, a lot of guys in that room that can do a lot of good things for this football team."
With no fullback on roster, the tight ends will cover both the pass-catching side of the position and the blocking side, with veteran Luke Stocker among those who could handle blocking duties in the backfield.
UPGRADE: The Bucs' offensive line is without guard J.R. Sweezy for the first five games, but there's confidence in Kevin Pamphile stepping in as a starter, and in the line as a whole, said Ali Marpet, who is confident he'll be healthy for the opener after missing time with an ankle injury.
"We know how talented, at least as an offense, we are, and the offensive line, we're pretty darned confident," Marpet said. "Playing together for a little while now, the way everything shaped out, we're a talented offensive line. (Pamphile) is starting caliber guard and it's really not a concern of any of ours. We're excited to play and ready for Atlanta."
Five of the Bucs' nine offensive linemen are 25 or younger, including two rookies in tackle Leonard Wester and guard Caleb Benenoch.