It happens every year in the NFL and seemingly every year with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. A player not many have heard of outside of his under appreciated college program gets into training camp, then gets a chance in the first preseason game, and blows up.
No matter how many times we see it happen, we love it every time. It’s the underdog story. The guy nobody even noticed jumping onto the NFL playing field and forcing himself into everyone’s line of sight. Not just the peripheral.
Spencer Schnell did this in Week 1 of the 2019 preseason when he gashed the Pittsburgh Steelers defense for 119 yards on seven catches coming on nine targets while playing 29 snaps on offense. It was huge. Especially considering the departure of Adam Humphries and an injury to fellow wide receiver Scotty Miller that just won’t go away.
Schnell not only got his name on the map, he helped stoke the flames of conversation asking just how many wide receivers the Buccaneers might keep for the regular season. But first, he needed to continue his solid play on the practice field.
And he did. He wasn’t the best receiver on the field, but he was able to take multiple quick and short passes and turn them into decent sized gains against the Miami Dolphins defense. He blocked about as well as you’d expect a 5’8” 180 lbs (if he’s standing in a Tampa rain storm) receiver to block.
Then came Friday night. This was going to be Schnell’s chance to get back on the playing field and show the deficiencies we might see on the practice field don’t matter on the playing field.
What we got — well, what Schnell got — was six offensive snaps. Six. Zero catches, and as far as I can tell, zero targets. He did get to practice his fair catch technique though and got on the field for eight more snaps, on special teams.
So, what gives? Why would Schnell play on fewer snaps than he had receptions just one week ago?
One reason could be injury. Perhaps the young receiver had a nagging something that simply wasn’t significant enough for the team to report, but significant enough for the team to feel they didn’t want to push too hard for the sake of a preseason contest.
Thus far, there’s no reason to believe this is the case. With Saturday off, there’s no way to know for sure unless Arians or Schnell themselves come out and say so in the near future.
Then of course there are strategic possibilities. Coach Arians mentioned earlier this week that some of the players may not get a lot of playing time depending on how he and the coaching staff felt about their work during the practices with Miami.
So it’s possible, the Bucs coaches already know for the most part what Schnell brings to the table and already have an idea of how they want to move forward with their assessment of him as a player.
If this is the case, then the only thing to really get him work on is shagging punts, which he was doing and figuring out what the rest of the wide receiver group brings to the team.
Perhaps the Bucs have Schnell pegged as a potential punt and/or kick return specialist and decided to keep him limited in full contact play to avoid injury and hide him a bit before the regular season kicks off.
Speaking of hiding him, this leads to another theory.
When an undrafted rookie plays less than expected, you wonder a bit if team is trying to keep them under the radar, make it easier for them to clear waivers and return on practice squad. Sometimes that overrides the desire to see them in game action.
— Greg Auman (@gregauman) August 17, 2019
Perhaps he didn’t play much because the team already has a practice squad decision made.
If Schnell is destined for the practice squad then the team is going to want to continue developing him – in practice – while keeping other teams from catching on to what he could turn into so they don’t steal him away when the time comes.
One snag in this plan however, is the fact the team just wrapped joint practices with Dolphins head coach Brian Flores. Flores knows a thing or two about fielding an offense with slot guys who have short area quickness, toughness and the ability to separate early in his route. And he’s seen Schnell in person.
Again, this plan would at least hint at a return for Miller who Bruce Arians mentioned as a guy he hoped to see back on the field soon.
With Miller on the field, then the team could conceivably try to stash Schnell on the practice squad. Several times after practice I saw Schnell and Miller talking and walking off towards the locker room together. So the two apparently have more in common than size and talent sets.
Miller is without a doubt the more electric of the two, and brings an edge Schnell just hasn’t shown yet or doesn’t have.
Just as confusing as Schnell’s lack of play Friday night against Miami was the fair catch he hauled in without a Dolphins defender even close to him.
Tis the season for reading a lot into decisions which may not mean a whole bunch. But what’s happening with Schnell is intriguing due in part to the amount of meanings it could carry.
It’s a mystery coated with enigma and shrouded with a cloak of secrecy. But one way or another we’ll find out if we have Adam Humphries 2.0, or another one week star who lands on the practice squad.
What’s going on with Spence Schnell?
He’s practice squad bound, no matter what
He’s going to make the 53, no matter what
He’ll make the 53 if Miller can’t come back
He’ll be on the practice squad if Miller comes back
I still can’t believe the Bucs gave Jason Licht a new contract!
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