Given that the Buccaneers return their entire starting offense from last year’s Super Bowl team, they hardly need any newcomers to step in and make a difference right away.
Rookie wide receiver Jaelon Darden may very well force his way onto the field to make a difference anyway. The 2021 fourth-round pick out of North Texas has been impressing throughout training camp and flashing promise during the team’s first two preseason games, and on Wednesday, he received praise from both his head coach, Bruce Arians, and his position coach, Kevin Garver.
First, it was Arians being asked about his newest wide receiver, having this to say about the 22-year-old’s progress over the course of the last month:
“He has gotten better every single day. He learns a couple of things a day on reading coverages and a lot of this is new to him. His natural ability shows up every single day.”
Garver expanded on Darden’s progress, noting that he knows the rookie is working on the “little things” and saying that he likes the progress he’s making:
“Jaelon’s done a really good job. I think that any time you come in as a rookie there’s a lot of things you have to learn. He’s getting in the playbook, learning as he goes, taking each rep one at a time, learning from his mistakes. I think there is a really talented guy, really talented player. I think he brings a lot to the table. I think he can be explosive. I think he is very shifty. I think when he gets the ball in his hands, he can make a lot of plays. It’s just about getting him there. Being in the right spot at the right time [and] quarterbacks trusting him. Those are the little things that he is working on every day. I’m going to continue to work with him, and he really wants it – [he is] putting the time in to study. So, I like the way he is progressing.”
With Tampa Bay’s receiving corps as stacked as it is, Darden will really have to flash to see the field during the regular season. Luckily for him, he’s used to doing just that. After all, his Twitter handle is “@JDFlash1x.” Not to mention, he’s using the Bucs’ loaded receivers room to his advantage. He said Wednesday that he’s doing what he can to learn from “everybody” when asked if he was encouraged about getting reps with the offense’s veterans:
“Very encouraging. Like I said, I’m still learning. I’m in the learning process, so I’m learning from everybody – CG (Chris Godwin), Mike [Evans], A.B. (Antonio Brown) – I’m learning every day. There’s something new I am learning every day, so I more so say it’s a learning experience for me being able to get out there and go through trial and error and learn, ‘Oh, I’m not supposed to be here because of this coverage,’ or things of that nature. There are just small things that I’m still learning that I’m just really appreciative of.”
Based on Garver’s comments and what Darden said himself, it sounds like the young, shifty receiver is working hard to learn and get up to speed as fast as he can. Not to mention, getting the chance to work with seven-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady certainly can’t hurt either:
“It definitely means a lot. There is a lot of knowledge up there, so I’m trying to learn as much as I can. And I’m young, so it’s definitely good seeing [Brady] taking a chance [on me] and taking the time to really work with me and enhance my game on the field, [in addition to] him having to do what he has to do. That speaks volumes.”
While he won’t need to have a major role in 2021, don’t be surprised to see Darden work his way into the mix at some point in the regular season. And that kind of experience can only further his development as he takes the next step forward for his career in 2022 and beyond.