TAMPA — WR Russell Shepard's first experience with final cuts in the NFL wasn't a good one. He was waived as an undrafted rookie by the Eagles in 2013. Not long after, he was claimed by the Bucs. Entering his fourth season in Tampa Bay, Shepard said the good news of making a roster is never to be taken for granted.
"Every year it's a blessing," Shepard said Friday, when the Bucs cut down to their initial 53-man roster. "I've been on both sides. It's an amazing opportunity to come in. I'm ready to go. It's Week 1, a really exciting time for a lot of guys. You're excited for the people you've come along with. It's a bittersweet meeting. You're seeing guys you sat next to for the last three, four months, and you shared the dream of making this team. You see certain guys gone, but you see guys here that defied the odds."
The Bucs have Evan Spencer as their fifth receiver, winning a battle that saw Kenny Bell (concussion) and Bernard Reedy (knee) fall to injuries in Wednesday's preseason finale against the Redskins. Spencer was on the Bucs' practice squad last season and was active for the season finale. The son of running backs coach Tim Spencer, he'll be active on special teams as well, much like Shepard.
"Evan's a coach's kid, so he's very smart, has a very good grasp on the game," Shepard said. "To see his physical ability catch up with his mental understanding of the game has been a beautiful thing. He catches the ball extremely well. He's a strong guy. He can be a special-teams guy for us, can do a lot of things. To see his hard work come to the forefront is very exciting."
OTHER SIDE: As successful as CB Jude Adjei-Barimah's preseason was, he said it was still a thrill to hear he made the cut to the initial roster, which became official Saturday. He got the opposite news a year ago, opening the season on the practice squad before joining the roster and later starting.
"This time last year, I was packing up my locker," said Adjei-Barimah, one of six corners on the initial roster. "It just feels good. My main goal was to be on that opening-day 53. Being here during … the offseason program helped me a lot. I was able to build that chemistry with the guys."
STILL HERE: Lost in the surprising news that the Bucs kept an undrafted rookie and cut a draft pick at tight end is that Brandon Myers, 30, showed enough in camp to stick as one of five tight ends. Myers was a healthy scratch in each of the Bucs' last five games last season, and he had only one catch for minus-1 yards in the preseason.
"I came in this offseason and Coach (Dirk Koetter) just told me to do what I've always done, just work. I'm a guy that's never really been handed anything," said Myers, who has 34 catches for 317 yards in two seasons with the Bucs. "I took his advice, just came in and worked, and things worked out.
"I'm very blessed, very excited for this season. We have a good group of guys in our room, a lot of guys in that room that can do a lot of good things for this football team."
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With no fullback on roster, the tight ends will cover pass catching and blocking, with veteran Luke Stocker among those who could handle blocking duties in the backfield.