TAMPA, Fla. – Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Dirk Koetter isn’t one to throw around compliments – especially to rookies. Linebacker Kendell Beckwith clearly is worth the exception.
Tampa Bay quickly learned that Beckwith, a former LSU star, isn’t your average NFL rookie, and they picked up on it early in training camp.
“After four practices, he’s probably our most improved player, as far as a guy where he started and where he is after four practices,” Koetter said in early August.
Where Beckwith’s story started was last November, when he suffered a torn ACL in his left knee in the first quarter of LSU’s loss to Florida. His first reaction was shock, as he had never suffered a major injury in his football life. After the realization that his LSU career was over, Beckwith was determined not to waste any time beginning his comeback.
“I was like, ‘When can I have the surgery?’ I was nervous about the surgery; it was my first big injury,” Beckwith said. “I was just ready to get the surgery over with and kind of move forward and start rehabbing.
“The day after my surgery, I was in rehab.”
Beckwith was on a mission, but he knew the long road was just beginning.
Beckwith had to cancel his invitation to the Senior Bowl, could only perform the bench press at the NFL Scouting Combine and wasn’t able to participate at LSU’s pro day – all while watching fellow Tigers linebacker Duke Riley climb draft boards for his performances in those events.
But that didn’t stop the Bucs from taking Beckwith. Late in the third round, they traded fourth- and sixth-round selections to move up and take a flier on a player projected by most to be a second-round pick before his knee injury.
“It worked out well,” Beckwith said.
The transition started slowly. When Beckwith started working out with the Bucs, he didn’t make the best first impression: Koetter said Beckwith “looked rusty.”
Beckwith may have endured a slow start, but once training camp kicked off and those “Hard Knocks” cameras stared rolling, so did he.
Since the start of camp, Beckwith has impressed, whether it’s big plays at practice or most recently forcing turnovers in preseason games.
“It’s kind of what I was planning to do,” Beckwith said. “My rehab went great. I felt good going into camp. I just wanted to go out and perform.”
And that he has. While he started at middle linebacker in Baton Rouge, Beckwith is now starting – and playing well – at strongside linebacker in the absence of injured starter Devante Bond.
The Bucs love his size (6 feet 3, 247 pounds) and his versatility. Among the team’s goals on defense are to be bigger up front and use more 3-4 looks, where Beckwith best fits. That he plays special teams doesn’t hurt, either.
Playing alongside former LSU teammate Kwon Alexander, who starts in the middle for the Bucs (coincidentally, he played outside with LSU), has helped Beckwith’s confidence.
“It’s definitely improved a lot. Taking a step to the NFL is definitely a challenge,” he said. “Feel like I’ve improved and I feel like this team has improved this camp.”
Improved and inspired, Beckwith’s journey is making the Bucs look good for believing in him on draft day, as he’s arguably the biggest story of the team’s preseason.
“It really is a good story — kind of an amazing story — how fast he’s back,” Koetter said.
(You can follow Mike Nabors on Twitter @MikeNabors)
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