TAMPA — Even after scoring a touchdown in the Buccaneers final preseason game last Thursday night, rookie wide receiver/return man Solomon Patton was a little nervous about the roster cuts that loomed this weekend.
It turns out he had good reason to be nervous.
Despite ranking sixth in the NFL in kick return average (27 yards) during the preseason, Patton was among the eight players let go Saturday when the Bucs reduced their roster to the NFL’s 53-man limit.
Patton was waived along with running back Jeff Demps, quarterback Mike Kafka, defensive end Matthew Masifilo, tight end Cameron Brate and linebacker Brandon Magee. Defensive tackle Ron Talley and safety Major Wright were released.
Some of those players, Demps and Kafka in particular, may not be gone for long.
Teams can start piecing together their 10-man practice squads at noon Sunday, and Demps and Kafka are two players the Bucs are expected to extend offers to in an effort to get them back.
The trick is to squeeze them through waivers. If another NFL team puts in a waiver claim on any player - and there’s a chance Demps will be claimed – then their original team can’t bring them back.
That’s why the 53-man roster the Bucs have currently settled on is not worth cutting out and taping to the refrigerator. It is almost certain to change, perhaps as soon as Sunday.
And one of the places where it may change is at the return positions. With Patton out of the picture the Bucs might be in the market for a specialist, though they do have some options remaining on the roster.
One of those is projected backup running back Bobby Rainey. During his time with Cleveland and the Bucs last year Rainey returned seven kicks, posting a respectable 23.1-yards-per return average.
Rainey also returned one kick for 19 yards during the preseason this year, when he also fielded five punts, returning three for an average of 10 yards per return, including one that he brought back 10 yards.
Another candidate, at least for the kick return job, is second-year running back Mike James, who returned two kicks for 37 yards, including one for 22 yards, during the preseason.
And then there is rookie wide receiver Robert Herron. Herron only handled a few kick returns during his days at Wyoming, but he and fellow wideout Russell Shepard were among those fielding kicks and punts during training camp.
But so was Patton, who wound up handling the majority of the return duties for the Bucs during the preseason, returning eight kicks for 216 yards and six punts for 50 yards, including one for 21 yards.
Where Patton struggled was as a pass catcher. He was utilized in that role unto the final preseason game and he responded by catching only two of the six balls thrown to him, though he did turn one of those receptions into a 25-yard touchdown.
“I feel like I lost one or two balls,’’ Patton said after the loss to the Redskins. “I was trying to see but the lights were so bright and the ball just kind of disappeared. I definitely have to make those plays.’’
Demps struggled as a pass catcher, too. He caught just one of the five passes thrown to him, that for 8 yards, and failed to bring in a potential touchdown pass on a long throw two weeks ago against Buffalo.
Demps also struggled as a runner. The Olympic silver medal-winning sprinter carried the ball a team-leading 41 times this preseason but gained just 120 yards (2.9) and failed on several occasions to beat defenders to the edge.
Bucs coach Lovie Smith, though, has always found Demps’ speed intriguing, which is why the team is interested in bringing him back to the practice squad in an effort to continue his development.
It’s possible, in fact, that Demps could wind up replacing fellow running back Charles Sims on the roster. Sims, who is out for at least half the season following ankle surgery, is expected to be place on the Injured Reserve-Designated for return list next week.
That list will allow Sims to return to the Bucs later in the year and will allow Tampa Bay to temporarily add another player to the roster in his stead.