Bucs coach Lovie Smith insists the final decisions about his roster haven't been made, that a few players on the outside looking in can earn a job with strong play in tonight's preseason finale against the Dolphins. • "It does happen," Smith said this week, preparing to cut his roster from 75 players to the final 53 by Saturday afternoon. "Guys get an opportunity, and they know it. Sometimes when you come down to that final strike, you hit a home run. We are looking for that." • The easiest way to make the final cut is to take the preseason finale off. In the past two years, 90 percent of the Bucs players not dressing for it have made the cut, the exceptions being mainly injured players. • For the rest, there is uncertainty about the future, overshadowed for a few hours by the excitement of having a larger platform on which to prove themselves. • "This is what I've been waiting for, to get in a game, get warmed up all the way and show what I've got," said undrafted rookie defensive tackle Caushaud "Cash" Lyons, who had a sack on the last play of the Bucs' preseason game against the Bengals on Aug. 24.
"That's all I've been waiting for is an opportunity. I'm going to take advantage of it."
The Bucs have nine undrafted rookies remaining on their roster, including new kicker Kyle Brindza. Those with the best chance to stick might be the best three receivers — Rannell Hall, Adam Humphries and Donteea Dye — and linebacker Josh Keyes.
"Very excited," said defensive end Ryan Delaire, trying to challenge veterans Larry English and Lawrence Sidbury for a backup job. "I know all the rookies are very excited, because they get a chance to show what they can really do. In the first three games, the majority of us only played in the fourth quarter. You feel more comfortable being on the field longer. It can help a lot."
Just like second-round draft pick Ali Marpet of Division III Hobart College, a few of the bubble rookies are from small schools. Delaire played at I-AA Towson, Lyons at Division II Tusculum, and Dye at Division III Heidelberg. That makes for a more difficult transition to the NFL but even more upside if they can stick around.
"Understanding the playbook down to a T," Dye said when asked in what area he has made the most progress. "The playbook is so big, so much to it, and learning it is harder than just knowing it. There's a big difference, but I'm starting to understand it."
The Bucs already have cut two recent draft picks — 2015 seventh-round fullback Joey Iosefa and 2014 sixth-round receiver Robert Herron — so players are not taking their jobs for granted.
"This is very important for people like me," said guard Kadeem Edwards, a 2014 fifth-round pick who was inactive or injured last season. "It's your last time to prove it, so you have to put everything on the table. They pay me to do a job, and I've got to do it. I have to execute."
Preseason opportunities have been fleeting for those near the bottom of the roster. Linebacker Khaseem Greene played only 11 snaps Saturday against the Browns but had four tackles. Receiver Tavarres King has had only 11 offensive snaps combined in the first three games, with no passes thrown his way.
Last year 43 Bucs players participated in the final preseason game, and 22 made the final cuts that followed. With the Bucs having first position on all waiver claims, players aren't just competing against each other but against the Bucs feeling tempted to bring in castoffs from other teams to take the last roster spots.
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The players are auditioning not only for the final spots on the 53-man roster but 10 jobs on the practice squad, which can lead to more opportunities. Seven Bucs on the roster were on the practice squad last year, so though it's not the ultimate goal, it's a job that pays about $110,000 for a full season as a step in the right direction.
"You have an idea about the group of guys it might come from," Smith said of potential last-game surprises. "Some of the young guys who haven't really had an opportunity to get a lot of reps, they are going to get those reps this week."
Contact Greg Auman at email@example.com and (813) 310-2690. Follow @gregauman.