TAMPA — Life on the bubble isn’t easy, even when nearly two weeks remain until NFL rosters have to be cut to the final 53 players. That’s life for Bucs tight end Tanner Hudson despite playing the role of preseason sensation.
Through two games, Hudson is the Bucs’ leading receiver. The second-year player has scored two of the team’s six touchdowns, and his late fourth-quarter connection with quarterback Ryan Griffin offered an exciting end to an otherwise ugly 16-14 win over the Dolphins on Friday.
Not many players have done more to raise their stock, but here’s the problem: Though the Bucs will run plenty of two-tight-end sets, they are deep at the position. So Hudson’s preseason numbers — 177 yards on 13 catches — don’t guarantee him a roster spot.
With O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate, the Bucs have one of the top pass-catching tight-end duos in the league. Antony Auclair, whose specialty is as a blocking tight end, sits third on the depth chart.
Coach Bruce Arians is open to carrying four tight ends. For Hudson to make the roster he must show he can do more than catch.
“The blocking and the special teams have to pick up to beat out the other guy,” Arians said. “Whether it’s a fifth linebacker or a fifth corner … it’s special teams (that’s the difference).”
Hudson went undrafted out of Southern Arkansas and spent most of last season on the practice squad, dressing but not playing the the final three games.
He followed a seven-catch, 84-yard, one-touchdown night in Pittsburgh on Aug. 9 with another big game against the Dolphins. He caught six passes for 93 yards and scored the Bucs’ only touchdown, on a 4-yard pass from Griffin with 3:38 left.
His best effort on Friday night, however, might have come after the Dolphins answered with a touchdown. Hudson caught passes for gains of 18 and 27 yardsin the final 34 seconds to set up Matt Gay’s winning 48-yard field goal.
"This preseason, I feel like (I have) an honest shot to go through and show what I’m capable of doing," Hudson said after Friday's game. "Just trying to put my talent out there."
Arians wanted to talk after the game less about Hudson’s receiving numbers and more about a block he missed in the third quarter.
“He hurts himself when he gets beat on third-and-1 and we don’t make the first down,” Arians said. “But if he learned to block, he could be an asset, because can really run and catch.”
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Arians has until Aug. 31 to trim the roster to 53.
If the Bucs choose to carry four tight ends, Hudson will have to beat out Jordan Leggett and Scott Orndoff. He also might have to prove that carrying him is better than keeping another running back or a wide receiver.
Fast-rising Dare Ogunbowale, veteran Andre Ellington and rookie Bruce Anderson are battling for the final running backs spots. Rookies Scotty Miller and Spencer Schnell are battling for the final receiver spots, through Miller has been injured and the Bucs last week claimed rookie receiver Emanuel Hall off waivers.
Justin Watson and Bobo Wilson are the favorites to round out the top five receivers after Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Breshad Perriman.
Hudson will have his chance to show his worth on special teams. His 21 special-teams snaps Friday were the most of any player.
“I like to say I’ve been doing good, but you know it all comes down to the film,” Hudson said. “Watching it and getting better every day and learning from these older guys in front of me.”
Contact Eduardo A. Encina at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @EddieInTheYard.