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NFL: AUG 21 Preseason - Titans at Buccaneers Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Nick Leverett battles adversity in roster fight

The second-year utility man vies for a backup spot along the Buccaneers offensive line.

Nick Leverett has endured his fair share of challenges throughout the last year, as the 6-foot-4, 315-pound offensive lineman has gone through professional and personal struggles.

The promising 24-year-old missed out on the Buccaneers 53-man roster last season before landing on the practice squad, where he remained before the team made the tough call to release him just prior to the Super Bowl in favor of the more-experienced Earl Watford.

Leverett also dealt with the loss of his grandfather. However, he weathered these trials and honed his focus in pursuit of his goals this season.

“I just honed in on everything that I didn’t do last year,” he said. “At the end of the season last year, it was heartbreaking for me. I went through a lot. I lost my grandfather, I got cut from the team right before the Super Bowl, so I mean it was a lot.

“That definitely helped me focus in on what I needed to do, and I set my goals and priorities straight right then and there. I took my diet to another level. I took my workout schedule and everything to a different level. That helped motivate me to come out this year and be the best player that I can possibly be and basically just put my best foot forward.”

Leverett has emerged as a pivotal jack of all trades for the team throughout training camp and the preseason, earning praise at several points.

A rash of injuries to fellow depth players have forced him into 4 of the 5 line spots. When the Bucs went without Josh Wells for the preseason opener, Leverett played most of the game at left tackle. In the second game against the Titans, he played all four quarters at center due to the absence of second-rounder Rob Hainsey and John Molchon.

Luckily for Tampa, Leverett has fully embraced all that has been asked of him.

“It’s been nothing but opportunities for me,” he said. “I actually played four out of five [positions] in college. I played mostly left tackle, played both guard positions and got here and came in as a guard. Last year, I spent most of my time playing tackle on [practice squad]. Like I said, it’s been nothing but opportunities. I’m definitely grateful for it and being able to just go out and show these coaches I can play multiple positions with my versatility.”

Tampa Bay Buccaneers Training Camp Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

Leverett went on to explain that he’s tried to be proactive, taking snaps with rookie QB Kyle Trask after practice before even be asked to play center in real game time.

The Rice University product’s hard work appears to have made an impression on the coaching staff, with Arians complimenting his effort after the game Sunday.

“It’s a great thing to be that position-flexible, especially if you want to dress on Sunday,” Arians said. “One thing about Nick, he’s a tremendous effort player, a very smart player. Yeah, if you can play five positions you’ve got a great chance to dress on Sundays.”

The primary starters - Donovan Smith, Ali Marpet, Ryan Jensen, Alexa Cappa and Tristan Wirfs - are locked in, as are top backups Josh Wells and Aaron Stinnie, but Leverett is looking strong. That said, he’s not taking anything for granted.

“I’m fighting. I’m fighting every day,” Leverett said. “I want to make the team. I told my coach at the beginning of camp. My aspirations for this game [are] high. I want to be a starter one day. I want to be an All-Pro guy. I want to be in the Hall of Fame. I have so many high aspirations for this game. I’m not letting my foot off the gas by any means. I’m still striving and I’m still staying after every day. I’m still watching more film and stuff like that. It’s definitely crazy.”

It’s easy to forget about the battles like this in August and September, but players like Leverett can prove indispensable when it really counts. His teammate Stinnie serves as a sterling example, as he went from not seeing any significant NFL action in his career to starting Tampa’s playoff run in Cappa’s stead after an injury. He proved indispensable against some intimidating defensive fronts, so the value of good depth can’t be overstated.

Leverett has one more chance to cement his place on the roster when the Bucs travel to take on the Houston Texans at 8 p.m. Saturday in the final preseason game.

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