TAMPA — Dee Delaney took his stance as the gunner on the right side of the punt coverage team against the Tennessee Titans two weeks ago.
The odds were, as usual, stacked against him as he faced another double team.
But surrender is not what he learned as a graduate of the Citadel, and the 26-year-old defensive back needed to maximize every rep if he was going to earn a job on his fifth NFL team.
“It was an extra-effort play,” Bucs special teams coach Keith Armstrong said. “He could’ve easily given up. But he tried to what we call finish twice. He beat the (double team) at the line. Beats them again downfield. They shove him past the ball. He gets up, comes back and makes the tackle.
“So you’re like, ‘All right, I can’t coach that.’ You know what I mean? When you see pictures, it’s like, ‘That’s what I’m looking for.’”
A year ago, no NFL team was looking for Delaney. Despite having played for Jacksonville, Washington, the New York Jets and Miami, Delaney found himself back at his alma mater at Whale Branch Early College High School in Seabrook, S.C., as an assistant defensive backs coach.
“It was tough. I got off social media because I didn’t want to see nobody else in the league,” Delaney said of his year away from football. “I thought I should’ve been there. I mean, it was hard just working out every day knowing, well, I may never get an opportunity. ... I was thinking maybe it’s over, maybe I need to do something (else).
“My wife said, ‘Look into your options.’ So I went and took the military test for an officer and ended up passing it. And I was like, “Ah, I don’t know about that.’ So I ended up looking for jobs. It was all right, I just kept working.”
Delaney said he did some correctional work with students in school. He continued training in case a team needed him sometime during the 2020 season.
“I just kept God first through it all. I just kept my faith in Him knowing (an NFL career) is what I wanted to do and obviously my family,” he said " I just had a daughter (Madison, who has Down syndrome) last year. She’s 1. She was extra motivation for me. And my trainer, he never let off me. He said, ‘You’re going to get back to the NFL, so I want you to be ready by any means.’”
Delaney had grown accustomed to change. After graduating from the Citadel, where he was an All-American and set a school record with 13 interceptions, he transferred to Miami. He played in six games, collecting one interception and a fumble recovery as the Hurricanes advanced to the ACC title game.
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Delaney said that prepared him for the speed of the NFL.
He signed with the Jaguars as a free agent and made his pro debut against the Eagles at Wembley Stadium in England.
But from there, he spent four days with the Dolphins before being waived and re-signing to their practice squad. The story wasn’t any different with the Jets or Washington, where he never appeared in a game.
From his daughter, he learned patience.
“I love being with her no matter what,” he said. “She’s kind of kept me up through the whole process.”
When the Bucs signed Delaney after a workout in May, his prospects of earning a roster spot with the Super Bowl 55 champions, who were returning 22 starters and numerous backups, appeared remote.
In the final preseason game at Houston, Delaney intercepted a pass. Then he intercepted another one.
He was with Madison when he got a call from his agent telling him he had made the team.
“Even just the kids in my community, I go out to just talk to them and tell them, ‘You know, you can make it. You just have to believe that you can and don’t listen to all the people,’” Delaney said. “It’s going to get hard. Of course, life is hard. I think it’s very important to ... never give up on yourself.”
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