If there was a positive that the Bucs could take from their dismal loss to the 49ers, it would be the performance of new kick returner Deven Thompkins in his very first game.
The undrafted rookie free agent made his NFL debut last Sunday after the Bucs decided to waive Jaleon Darden during the week. Thompkins made the most of his very first game, returning five kickoffs for 123 yards and two punts for 21 yards. His highlight came on his return on kick-off to open the second half as he moved the ball past midfield for a 54-yard return.
Thompkins, who has good speed, showed a willingness to make contact and run to the center rather than avoiding hits and opting to go to the touchline as Darden did. He was able to break tackles on the field and showed a physicality that the Bucs just didn’t get from Darden in that role.
Thompkins spoke on Wednesday about the experience of his first game at the NFL.
“I was a little nervous – the first one, I was very nervous,” Thompkins said. “But when I got hit a little bit the first time and realized it’s just football, it’s nothing else.”
Thompkins had to wait his turn for this opportunity, but it seems that it has finally paid off. He had been with the team since training camp, but did not make the 53-man roster after the preseason. The Bucs liked him enough to keep him on the practice team, where he has been all season until this big moment of his call-up. He took advantage of that time to work on his whole game, which allowed him to relax as he progressed.
“I just trust the process and I kept working,” Thompkins said. “I wasn’t really worried about the noise around me, I kind of focused on what only I could do. That also helps me with my game. Being able to be free and not having to worry about the pressures of messing up. It allows me to work on my craft and the little things I need to work on.
Thompkins can get offensive snaps
Given the Bucs’ offensive struggles and the underperformance of some of their wide receivers, could Thompkins get some offensive use for Tampa Bay as well?
“We’ll use him,” head coach Todd Bowles said. ‘We have it, we will use it. He can come in and play and you shouldn’t be surprised if he’s in the game because he has a good feel for it and he can do some things for us.”
Thompkins was the second best receiver in Utah college football last year. The 5-foot-8, 155-pound speedster had 102 catches for 1,704 yards (16.7 avg.) and 10 touchdowns during his senior year.
“Anytime you can get some speed on the field, I feel like it adds an extra threat,” said Thompkins. “I’m just waiting to see what they do and hopefully I can go out and do some more plays.”
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