There was a lot of excitement, and probably some validation, when every single one of the Buccaneers’ 2018 draft picks (plus an undrafted free agent) made the initial 53-man roster. Some of those good feelings probably disappeared on Sunday when Tampa Bay hit New Orleans for its season opener. Let’s dive into this week’s rookie recap.
Inactives: DT Vita Vea, RB Ronald Jones II, OL Alex Cappa, WR Justin Watson
When the inactives report came out prior to kickoff, four rookies were on it. In the case of Vita Vea, it was no surprise. The first-rounder injured his calf early in training camp and has been out ever since. For Alex Cappa and Justin Watson, it was also expected to an extent. Considering how many offensive linemen Tampa Bay is carrying, a few are bound to be inactive on Sundays. The same goes for wide receivers, as Freddie Martino got the nod over Watson. That was likely due to special teams purposes, but the rookie could see his first NFL action this week if DeSean Jackson is unable to play.
The big surprise among the inactives was Ronald Jones. The second-rounder out of USC was drafted to be a complement to Peyton Barber, but a poor preseason has delayed that. Instead of keeping Jones on the gameday roster, the Bucs opted to go with undrafted free agent Shaun Wilson. Wilson is more valuable as a kick returner and appears to be a little more advanced as a pass-catcher. Regardless of his strengths, it was extremely discouraging to not see Jones make his professional debut on Sunday. Not too long ago, there was a lot of hope and hype for him. By now, any worry surrounding him is probably warranted.
CBs Carlton Davis and M.J. Stewart
With Brent Grimes out on Sunday, Carlton Davis got his first NFL start in his first NFL game. His results were what you would expect from a rookie making his first career start against future Hall of Famer Drew Brees. Davis had his moments, but was largely taken advantage of throughout the afternoon. He finished with four tackles (three solo), but struggled to keep receivers in front of him a lot of the time. Again, there were some positives for the Auburn product. Sunday was a learning experience and he’ll get plenty more of those throughout the season with the injury to Grimes and what is potentially a season-ending injury for Vernon Hargreaves III.
With Hargreaves occupying an outside spot, M.J. Stewart saw his first action at the nickel position. Like Davis, he had a few strong moments and more struggles. He racked four tackles (all solo) and played tight in coverage at different points. But going up against Brees in your first game is never going to be an easy time. With the unfortunate injury to Hargreaves, Stewart will need to step into a bigger role as the season progresses. Here’s what head coach Dirk Koetter had to say about the two rookie corners:
“If you’re a rookie cornerback and your first NFL game is in the Superdome against a Hall of Fame quarterback, I would say that they did about how most rookie cornerbacks would do in that same situation. I thought they both got better as the game went on and I think they both learned some lessons that will carry with them as we move forward.”
The best of the rest
Undrafted free agent Shaun Wilson showed a nice flash on special teams, taking his lone kickoff return for 29 yards. He had one carry out of the backfield for six yards... Safety Jordan Whitehead only got one snap... Jack Cichy came up with two tackles on special teams.