BUCS

Tampa Bay Times - - Nfl - Con­tact Ed­uardo A. Encina at [email protected]­pabay.com. Fol­low @Ed­dieInTheYard.

ri­cane swept through. He said his fam­ily is okay now, bond­ing to­gether and help­ing one an­other, so it has al­lowed him to fo­cus on foot­ball. El­liott ad­mit­ted he’s some­what anx­ious to see the de­struc­tion first­hand.

“They just say it’s dev­as­tated,” El­liott said. “It hits close to home be­cause it is my home, but I still haven’t seen it with my own eyes, so I feel like when I do see it, it’s go­ing to hurt even more on the inside.”

In­juries to the Bucs se­condary have meant op­por­tu­nity for El­liott. In last week’s win against Carolina, he played 94 per­cent of the team’s de­fen­sive snaps. In­cluded in that was his first NFL in­ter­cep­tion, a play that might have been one of the game’s most im­por­tant.

With the Bucs lead­ing 10-7 and Carolina driv­ing to­ward the red zone inside two min­utes be­fore half­time, El­liott picked off Cam Newton and re­turned it 50 yards to the Carolina 32. That set up a touch­down and 17-7 half­time lead for Tampa Bay.

“He came in here as kind of an un­her­alded guy,” de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Mark Duffner said. “He just made noise with his ac­tions.”

El­liott played last week’s game wear­ing cus­tom-made “My cleats, my cause” cleats that had his late un­cle Cager Wells’ Panama City-based out­reach min­istry, The Heart of Cager Foun­da­tion, on one shoe and “Panama City” on the other.

Even though El­liott is fight­ing for play­ing time each week — hop­ing to make an im­pres­sion when he gets the chance — he said the hur­ri­cane put his own strug­gles in per­spec­tive.

“It’s some­thing that, you know, it makes you think, ‘Man, I could have it a lot harder,’ ” El­liott said. “Be­cause no mat­ter what I’m go­ing through, when I’m look­ing at what other peo­ple are go­ing through back home, sleep­ing in tents out­side of their houses and they have noth­ing, I can’t com­plain about any­thing. If any­thing, I should do my best to help them out back home.”

El­liott said he helped with a school sup­plies drive to aid his old high school, and he par­tic­i­pated in the Bucs’ do­na­tion drive for Hur­ri­cane Michael vic­tims on Oct. 30. That was he same week that he was cut from the ros­ter, added back to the prac­tice squad and went back on the ros­ter.

After play­ing just six snaps over the first eight weeks of the sea­son, El­liott has seen his role in­crease. This is his third sea­son with the Bucs, though he has spent a lot of that time mov­ing back and forth be­tween the ac­tive ros­ter and the prac­tice squad. But play­ers such as El­liott are more im­por­tant now than ever, Bucs coach Dirk Koet­ter said.

“You bet­ter have guys that you’ve been work­ing with, whether it’s on and off your ros­ter, or guys that have just been hang­ing in there bid­ing their time on you prac­tice squad,” Koet­ter said. “In a per­fect world, your 10 guys on a prac­tice squad are guys that you even­tu­ally want to put in a game, and that’s worked out well for us so far this year.”

El­liott played 66 snaps Sun­day and just three passes were com­pleted against him. He graded out as a 90 over­all, the best grade on the de­fense. Even as the se­condary gets play­ers back from in­jury, that kind of per­for­mance will keep El­liott in the mix for play­ing time.

“No mat­ter how you got here, it’s re­ally what you do when you get here,” El­liott said. “You have to build that trust with the coaches and with the team­mates, and it’s all a part of God’s plan. He’s the rea­son I’m here to­day.”

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