Deven Thompkins’ career finally is gathering speed

Tampa — Deben Tompkins didn’t lack speed and confidence. What he needed was an opportunity to run together.

When the Bucks released kick-returner Jeron Durden before last week’s game in San Francisco, Tompkins said auditions for the job would move him from a practice team player to one of the most important jobs on special teams. I knew I could give some starters a boost.

“I prepared week after week to really play. I stayed calm and stayed true to what was going on. I just obeyed,” said Tompkins.

The diminutive (he’s 5-foot-8 and generously-listed at 158 ​​pounds) undrafted free agent from Utah State uses log jams at receivers that include Mike Evans, Chris, and a 53-man roster. I knew it would be difficult to get out of training camp. Godwin, Julio Jones, Scotty Miller, Breshad Perriman.

In a spectacular camp and preseason, he caught everything thrown at him, but he needed to impress as a scout team receiver during practice, working alongside the Bucks offense and quarterback Tom Brady. I rarely did.

“It also helps my game,” Tompkins said. “Being free and not having to worry about the pressure of failure, I can actually work on my work.”

Durden was among the top 10 punt returns in the NFL at the time of his release. The Bucks haven’t fully explained the timing of the North’s farewell to his fourth-round pick from Texas in 2021.

However, coach Todd Bowles noticed that Tompkins offered something as a kick returner and Durden did not.

“Tompkins, he can put his feet on the ground and come out upfield,” Bowles said. “Durden was more of a sideline repeater. Tompkins can come up in the middle. Let’s. And he did it in the game.”

Deben Tompkins returns a kick for the Bucks in a 35-7 loss to the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday in Santa Clara, Calif. [ SCOT TUCKER | AP ]

Tompkins admits his heart beat a little faster in Sunday’s first kickoff return after the 49ers’ first possession led to a touchdown.

“It was my first time and I was very nervous,” he said. “And after the first hit, I realized it was just football. It’s really nothing different.”

Tompkins caught the kickoff at the goal line, cut right to head down the middle of the field, and was hit hard by Ambry Thomas at the Tampa Bay 23-yard line.

“First contact and first play feels great,” said rookie running back Rashard White. “You can see the speed of the game and you can feel it. The confidence and everything is there. You have seen it. I have faith in his plans for the game he has.”

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On the first punt return, Tompkins fielded the ball at the 11-yard line, missed one of the 49ers players, and was tackled by a mob of players at the Tampa Bay 30, making the ball out of bounds.

“It’s just having the ball in the wrong arm. I understand that if I go to this sideline, I have to have the ball in this hand,” Tompkins said. “What I need to understand.”

The Bucks trailed 28-0 before Tompkins showed what he could do. Fielding the second half kickoff with his two yards on his line in Tampa Bay, he exploded out of a hole on the left side and 54 yards out the ball he returned to the 49ers’ 44.

It was memorable for another dubious reason. It was the first time since Week 5 that the Bucks’ drive of the season started on the opposing side of the 50-yard line.

Bucks wide receiver and kick returner Deben Tompkins warms up before Sunday's game against the 49ers at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, California.
Bucks wide receiver and kick returner Deben Tompkins warms up before Sunday’s game against the 49ers at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California. [ JED JACOBSOHN | AP ]

Of course, the Bucs didn’t do anything about field position. On the third play of the half, Brady threw his second of two interceptions on the day.

But Tompkins delivered the kind of big play that special teams have been missing all season.

“It felt great,” Tompkins said. “I haven’t run this fast in a long time, so my legs were a little heavy. It was really nice to actually get the first player in the NFL.”

Poor field position has plagued the Bucks this season. As the Bucks won Super Bowl 55 following the 2020 season, he recorded 18 touchdowns on his drives of 50 yards or less. Last season they recorded 16 of those drives, ranking second in the league.

But after 13 games this season, they tied Washington for the fewest single TD drives of 50 yards or less.

Tompkins may reverse that trend.

Bowles said Wednesday that Tompkins was very close to making a 53-man roster out of training camp.

“He got very close. I had a tough relationship with (Kailon) Geiger, Tyler (Johnson), Scotty (Miller), ‘BP’ (Breshad Perriman). Time. At the time, offensively speaking, he had enough.” I didn’t have the knowledge

But while the approaching new year could bring Tompkins many happy returns, Bowles said he wouldn’t be limited to any particular team and could find a role on the offense.

“We have him. We use him,” Bowles said. Because he has a good feel and he can do something for us.”

Tompkins’ career is now ahead of him, and he’s picking up speed.

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