TAMPA — For six days a week, Keith Tandy prepared for a job nobody wanted him to perform. He lifted weights, practiced hard and studied like he was taking the bar exam.
He did this for five years. But at 5-10, 205-pounds, Tandy was easy to overlook. The fact he had a spot on an NFL roster was remarkable achievement, considering he was the 174th player taken in the 2010 draft out of West Virginia where he studied forensic sciences.
The real crime?
Nobody discovered the guy can really impact a football game. Not Greg Schiano, Lovie Smith or Dirk Koetter.
That was until the final five games of the 2016 season, when Tandy finally got his shot and kept draining it.
"It's like an underdog story about a guy that was smart," said Bucs safety Chris Conte.
It was a chest injury to Conte, when he had to be hospitalized overnight coughing up blood after a chest injury against the Seahawks, which put Tandy at the intersection of Preparation and Opportunity.
In his first start the next week at San Diego, with the Chargers driving for the tying touchdown, Tandy made a leaping interception in the end zone to seal the Bucs' 28-21 win.
The next week, he picked off Saints quarterback Drew Brees on fourth down with less than a minute remaining in a 16-11 victory.
"The Tandy man can!" shrieked Bucs radio play-by-play man Gene Deckerhoff.
And don't think Tandy only played the pass. He had 14 tackles, including nine solo, against the Dallas Cowboys. He had 12 tackles (10 solo) in the season-ending win over Carolina, including two interceptions of quarterback Cam Newton. Tandy's four interceptions tied Brent Grimes for the most on the club.
"Last year at the end of the season, I got a chance to start," Tandy said. "I made a couple plays. I mean, I'm be lying to you if I said it wasn't a great feeling. It would've been better if we get to the playoffs, which we're working on."
So this training camp, the Bucs are trying something different. Tandy is working opposite Conte as the Bucs' starting safety.
"What we learned about Keith is that Keith is always ready," Koetter said. "He does a great job with his preparation and he made plays. That's what you always want from everybody. Keith is working with the first group right now and he's going to be a hard guy to get out of there."
Funny thing about being an NFL backup: You rarely lineup against starters in practice. If Tandy got any reps at all in training camp and practice, it would be against a backup quarterback throwing to the No. 3, 4, or 5 receiver.
"I think the reps with the (first string) are very beneficial," Tandy said. "First off, it's the guys you're going against. No disrespect to anyone, but you're going against Jameis (Winston) you're going against Mike Evans, you're going against DeSean (Jackson), you're going against Cam Brate and O.J. Howard. It's definitely a step forward so you can see that. "
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Safety is one of the better position battles in camp and it's far from settled. The Bucs let starter Bradley McDougald go via free agency to Seattle. They re-signed Conte to a two-year, $5-million deal with half of it guaranteed. Tandy still is a relative bargain with a base salary of $840,000 this season.
"Everyone's goal in this league is to first become a starter, to become a great starter, and win a Super Bowl," Tandy said.
Tandy may not want to get too comfortable as a starter. The Bucs used a second-round pick on Texas A&M safety Justin Evans, a 6-foot-1, 195-pounder who is a terrific looking athlete with range and highlight knockout hits.
Word of advice for Evans: don't underestimate Tandy. Everyone else did.
Contact Rick Stroud at firstname.lastname@example.org.Follow @NFLStroud