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Bucs special teams units could be rife with rookies Thursday night

Notebook | Four of the 2021 draft picks are expected to appear on return and coverage units. Also, Bucs reveal opening night uniforms.
Seventh-round draft pick Grant Stuard, a special teams dynamo at the University of Houston, is expected to line up on punt coverage and perhaps kickoff coverage when Tampa Bay opens its season at home Thursday night against the Cowboys.
Seventh-round draft pick Grant Stuard, a special teams dynamo at the University of Houston, is expected to line up on punt coverage and perhaps kickoff coverage when Tampa Bay opens its season at home Thursday night against the Cowboys. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
Published Sep. 3

TAMPA — If the media’s limited practice glimpses these days are any sign, Bucs fans won’t have to wait too long into next Thursday night’s opener for their first formal look at the 2021 draft class.

Four of the six draftees who made the initial 53-player roster are expected to line up on one or more special teams units.

Edge rusher Joe Tryon-Shoyinka (first round) and inside linebackers K.J. Britt (fifth) and Grant Stuard (seventh) all lined up with the first-team punt coverage unit at Thursday’s indoor practice. Meantime, receiver Jaelon Darden (fourth) is expected to start out as primary punt returner.

“The young guys, they’re learning as we go, but they’ve done a great job, and they’ve made a big jump from (organized team activities) to the end of training camp,” special teams coordinator Keith Armstrong said Friday. “They’re starting to communicate, they’re starting to talk out loud, make calls, so they’re starting to get comfortable, which is good.”

A youth infusion stands to reason on punt and kick return, where the trio of Tryon-Shoyinka, Britt and Stuard also could appear.

The Bucs allowed 10.3 yards per return in 2020, nearly double their own return average (5.9). On kickoffs, they surrendered an NFL-worst 33.6 yards per return.

“In college, effort was enough to make plenty of special teams plays,” Stuard said. “I made so many special teams plays just because I was running harder.

“The return men in in the NFL are the best athletes here. They’re the fastest, quickest guys, so you’ve also got to have technique. You’ve got to be thinking. It’s not just run down there and knock somebody’s head off, you might have to squeeze to the ball and stuff like that.”

Bucs reveal uniform combos

The Bucs ceased all suspense over their uniform combination for the season opener — and the whole regular season — by announcing their wardrobe lineup for all 17 games.

They’ll wear white jerseys and pewter pants against the Cowboys, setting a tone for the entire autumn at Raymond James Stadium. Presumably in deference to the heat, Tampa Bay will wear white jerseys for their first four home games.

The entire uniform lineup can be found at this link.

Odds and ends

As expected, the Bucs on Friday formally placed outside linebacker Cam Gill — sidelined nearly all of training camp with an unspecified injury — on injured reserve. In a corresponding transaction, they removed offensive lineman Nick Leverett from the COVID-19 list. ... Kicker Ryan Succop, also back from the reserve/COVID-19 list, sparkled in his return to practice. “I think he may have missed one field goal in practice (Thursday),” Armstrong said. “So he had a good period.” ... For now, the Bucs’ other kicker, 2020 Lou Groza Award winner Jose Borregales, remains on the 53-player roster. However, someone will have to go when defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh comes off the reserve/COVID-19 list, which should be any day.

Contact Joey Knight at jknight@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.

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