TAMPA – When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers grabbed Boise State running back Jermey McNichols in the fifth round of the 2017 NFL Draft, there were many who thought he would eventually, of not immediately, replace Doug Martin on the Bucs roster.
As it stands now, McNichols might have to get lucky just to replace anyone on the Bucs roster.
While Martin has so far made an impressive and inspiring comeback from the off-field issues that left him suspended and in a rehab facility earlier this year, McNichols has struggled mightily and consistently to play the level the Bucs anticipated of him.
As we learned through the lens of HBO’s Hard Knocks, McNichols has had a difficult time learning not only where it is he’s supposed to be on certain plays but how to execute his assignments on them.
Those struggles have not disappeared as the preseason has dragged on and while it seems like a bit of a stretch, it’s possible the issue could cost McNichols a roster spot if he doesn’t improve quickly.
After pulling him from the Bucs 13-9 loss to the Browns on Saturday for yet another “mistake,’’ Bucs coach Dirk Koetter suggested Sunday McNichols may be running out of time to prove he can play error-free football.
“He’s doing fine on special teams,’’ Koetter said of McNichols. “He’s just making too many mistakes on offense. He had a protection error (Saturday night) that led to a sack and so I took him out.
“That was my decision. Now he’s going to play a lot on Thursday night (in the Bucs final preseason game against Washington) and he’s going to get one final chance to show what he can do.’’
One final chance. It’s possible Koetter simply meant that McNichols has one final chance to prove he can be better this preseason, but it’s also possible he meant he had one final chance to prove he’s worthy of a roster spot. After all, the Bucs are rather deep at the position.
They have Martin, Jacquizz Rodgers, Charles Sims and the seemingly ever-improving Peyton Barber ahead of him right now and this is a team that a year ago only kept three running backs.
Now, the Bucs did keep five running backs in 2015, which was Koetter’s first year with the team, but one of those was a fullback (Jorvorskie Lane) and the other was a special teams ace (Mike James).
The fact McNichols is doing “fine’’ on special teams is a good sign for him, but there’s a chance with all the injuries the Bucs are dealing with that McNichols could get caught up in a numbers game.
It’s safe to say then that this game coming up on Thursday will probably be the biggest of McNichols career. If he can play at the level that enticed the Bucs to get him in the first place he should be fine.
If not, well, this can be a game of hard knocks.