This next installment of my “Welcome Aboard” series is about undrafted free agent safety Alex Gray. Safety is going to be an interesting position to watch in training camp as the Bucs currently have 6 safeties on their 90-man camp roster. Three of those six, Chris Conte, Keith Tandy and J.J. Wilcox, have NFL experience while two of them, Conte and Tandy, were starters for Tampa last year. Gray is going to have a very tough time making the final 53-man roster, but he’s off to a good start in rookie camp and OTA’s and he will surely make things interesting in training camp.
Paul Alexander Gray went to Peachtree Ridge High School where he played two-ways as a tight end and as a hybrid defensive end/outside linebacker. Going into college at Appalachian State, Gray was redshirted in 2012 due to a hamstring injury, but started every game at safety as a redshirt freshman in 2013 totaling 73 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and 1 pass defensed. He finished his four-year college career with 197 tackles, 4 tackles for loss, 7 passes defensed, 3 interceptions, 1 forced fumble and 1 fumble recovery in 49 games.
Heading into the 2017 NFL Draft, Gray was being looked at by most teams as a safety, but by some as a weakside linebacker. At 6’2″/220lbs with an 80″ wingspan, he has the NFL size to play either position but feels he fits better as a strong safety. As the 56th ranked safety out of 185 draft eligible players, he wasn’t invited to the NFL Combine so he had to display his speed and athleticism at his school’s pro day. He did just that by posting a 4.52 forty yard, a 35″ vertical jump, a 10’3″ broad jump, a 4.42 twenty-yard shuttle, a 7.37 three-cone drill and 15 reps on the 225lb bench press.
Gray watched the 2017 Draft at his sister’s house with his family, including his mother, girlfriend and 6-year-old son. The Dallas Cowboys called him towards the end of the sixth round and said they were looking at him for their seventh round pick but as a weakside linebacker. After the seventh round had concluded and Gray had gone undrafted, he received another phone call from the Cowboys, this time with a free agent contract offer to play linebacker for them. He talked to his agent who told him that he had two more offers on the table, one from the Vikings to play linebacker and one from the Bucs to play safety.
Despite the Buccaneers using their second-round pick on safety Justin Evans, he decided to go with them. “I went with my gut and felt better after talking to their defensive backs coach Brett Maxie.” Though he had familiarity playing safety in college, he still had a bit of a learning curve going from a free safety in a 3-4 defense to a strong safety in a 4-3 defense. “Everything was different for me from the terminology, the side of the field, the defensive fronts and gaps…I was trying to wrap my head around it all and keeping it as simple as possible.”
Knowing that the Bucs will likely need to keep a fifth safety in order for him to make the final 53-man roster, he says that he’s focusing on showing his value on special teams. He’s gonna need to if he wants to stick out with this group. We’ll see if he does in a few months but until then, as always…GO BUCS!!!