Advertisement
  1. Sports
  2. /
  3. Bucs

Bucs rookie hopes to respond to Bruce Arians’ cutting question

Sean Murphy-Bunting looks to show up big in second preseason game against Miami after enduring jitters against Pittsburgh.
Bucs defensive tackle Sean Murphy-Bunting will look to make more plays against Miami after recording only one tackle in the preseason opener against Pittsburgh. MONICA HERNDON   |   Times
Bucs defensive tackle Sean Murphy-Bunting will look to make more plays against Miami after recording only one tackle in the preseason opener against Pittsburgh. MONICA HERNDON | Times
Published Aug. 15, 2019
Updated Aug. 16, 2019

TAMPA — Sean Murphy-Bunting made his NFL debut last week in the preseason opener at Pittsburgh, and for the rookie cornerback, it was action un-packed.

He was on Heinz Field for 41 plays, 40 of them as mostly a spectator. He had one assisted tackle to show for the game and a burn from coach Bruce Arians afterward.

“I asked him after the game, ‘Did you play?’ ” Arians said.

MORE BUCS: What to watch for vs. Dolphins

What happened to the second-round draft pick from Central Michigan?

“I would say, obviously, it wasn’t my best game,’’ Murphy-Bunting said. “But I got the first-game jitters out of the way.’’

It’s important to remember that only rookie starting linebacker Devin White, who was selected No. 5 overall, was taken higher in the draft by the Bucs than Murphy-Bunting, who came 34 picks later.

But stage fright in a dress rehearsal such as a preseason game is not unusual.

Though nine of the Bucs players in the secondary at Pittsburgh played for programs in the SEC, where crowds typically exceed 70,000, Central Michigan had a paid attendance of 10,097 for a game against their rival, Western Michigan, last season. One reporter counted 255 people on the east side of the stadium by the end of the first quarter of that game.

The attendance at Heinz Field was 45,396.

“I was a little bit surprised by (Murphy-Bunting) because he was playing so fast in all those practices and really showing up,’’ Arians said. “I think it was just the lights, Heinz Field, all those things that go with it.’’

As bad as Murphy-Bunting played, it could’ve been worse. He yielded an apparent touchdown to receiver James Washington, who was ruled out of bounds. So much for the highlights.

His forgettable debut began when he didn’t react fast enough to quarterback Josh Dobbs breaking containment for a 36-yard run. He missed a tackle on a run by Benny Snell Jr.

He appeared to have man coverage on receiver Johnny Holton, who ran a shallow crossing route to the middle of the field. But Murphy-Bunting turned Holton loose and was still pleading his case to teammates while running half-speed as Holton cut back toward him. But Murphy-Bunting, still waving his arms, wasn’t in position to make a tackle, and the play went for 60 yards to set up a touchdown.

Murphy-Bunting also was called for a questionable pass interference penalty on Holton when he grabbed the receiver’s left hand. The play resulted in a 27-yard gain. His only tackle on Snell came 20 yards downfield.

“I was waiting for the play to happen because (Murphy-Bunting has) made so many plays in practice, getting his hands on balls,’’ Arians said. “I asked him after the game, ‘Did you play?’ You didn’t do anything bad, but you didn’t make the play I was looking for.’ ’’

Bucs defensive back Sean Murphy-Bunting (26) breaks up a pass thrown to wide receiver Mike Evans (13) during training camp at the AdventHealth Training Center on Tuesday. Murphy-Bunting hopes to make more plays against Miami after a disappointing outing against Pittsburgh in the preseason opener. OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times
Bucs defensive back Sean Murphy-Bunting (26) breaks up a pass thrown to wide receiver Mike Evans (13) during training camp at the AdventHealth Training Center on Tuesday. Murphy-Bunting hopes to make more plays against Miami after a disappointing outing against Pittsburgh in the preseason opener. OCTAVIO JONES | Times
Stay updated on the Super Bowl champs

Stay updated on the Super Bowl champs

Subscribe to our free Bucs RedZone newsletter

We’ll deliver a roundup of news and commentary on Tom Brady and the Buccaneers weekly during the season.

You’re all signed up!

Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.

Explore all your options

Murphy-Bunting, the most highly selected of three defensive backs the Bucs drafted this year, is competing at nickel cornerback in the slot with M.J. Stewart. It’s Stewart’s job to lose, a surprise considering how well Murphy-Bunting played in the offseason.

MORE BUCS: How Bucs rookies have already learned valuable lessons

That’s one reason Friday’s preseason home opener against the Dolphins is so big for the Bucs’ young players.

Murphy-Bunting wasn’t alone in being criticized by Arians. The coach, who is not shy about calling players out, also said he was disappointed in the pass rush.

“I thought the young pass rush was nonexistent,’’ Arians said. “They’ve been showing some really good stuff, especially Kahzin Daniels. I thought he’d have a better night.”

Daniels played only 16 snaps and had one tackle. He just missed a sack on quarterback Mason Rudolph early in the second half.

Though Daniels is an undrafted free agent from the University of Charleston, much has been expected from the Bucs’ draft class. White played only 11 snaps and had one tackle against the Steelers. He was outplayed by Pittsburgh rookie linebacker Devin Bush, who had 10 stops.

The problem for Arians is that much of his draft class is hurt. Cornerback Jamel Dean didn’t play against the Steelers. Safety Mike Edwards aggravated a hamstring injury during the game. Defensive end Anthony Nelson has missed the past two weeks of practice and won’t play tonight. And Arians called out receiver Scotty Miller for not recovering more quickly from a hamstring injury.

“We had those two practices all of spring, so our rookies have gotten close to 500 snaps,’’ Arians said. “So, we kind of know what they can do now. It would be easy to cut down to 60 right now, for me. But again, we’ve got the preseason games coming up, and maybe guys can show up more when the lights come on than they have in practice. They’ve put in the time.’’

MORE BUCS: Does Warren Sapp have a point about Gerald McCoy?

Murphy-Bunting said he didn’t mind Arians calling him out in the media, which seems to be something the coach will do routinely. He said he was a little shocked by the speed of an NFL game. Now he just has to grow up faster.

“(Arians) holds everyone accountable, and he holds you to the highest standard possible, and that’s all you can ask for from a coach,’’ Murphy-Bunting said. “It keeps you motivated. It keeps you grinding away at work that much harder.

“It’ll go a lot better (Friday). I still have that high confidence that I had before. But I know that now I have to play a lot faster in the NFL. The game speed is a lot faster and stuff like that. So, just being out there quicker and being out there for that first game kind of opened my eyes.’’

Contact Rick Stroud at rstroud@tampabay.com. Follow @NFLStroud.