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'Hard Knocks' star Riley Bullough faces uphill battle to make 53-man roster

TAMPA, Fla. -- With his long hair and fiery style of play, Tampa Bay Buccaneers rookie linebacker Riley Bullough aka "Joe Dirt" found himself an unlikely star of HBO's "Hard Knocks." But he faces an uphill battle this week to make the Bucs' 53-man roster.

Head coach Dirk Koetter said last week that he's caught in a "numbers game," and playing behind two very good middle linebackers in Kwon Alexander and Adarius Glanton, who started Saturday night in place of Alexander.

He isn't letting that deter him though.

"I'm just trying to go out every day, do my best, put my best foot forward, and make it hard for them to try and get rid of me," said Bullough, an undrafted free agent out of Michigan State.

"Obviously everyone at this level is fast, strong and physical, so you've got to adjust to that," Bullough said. "But on the same token, I think I've played against some quality opponents in college to get me ready for this and that's been good for me so far. I'm just looking to continue to perfect my craft and keep getting better."

Whether that's with the Bucs after Thursday night or not, remains to be seen.

So far this preseason, Bullough's registered eight combined tackles (six solo) and one tackle for a loss. Glanton, who has played far more snaps, has nine combined tackles (seven solo) -- third-most on the team. He's registered two tackles for a loss, a sack, a quarterback pressure and a fumble recovery.

Glanton also has three seasons under his belt and can play all three linebacking positions in Mike Smith's defense, giving him a leg up. After him, there is Cameron Lynch, who has two years' experience. He spent last year in Tampa and also knows all three spots in the the defense. Lynch played 30 snaps Saturday while Bullough played 12.

The coaching staff does love that Bullough is such a vocal leader and plays to the whistle though.

"There’s positives, there’s negatives to everything that you’re doing and that’s been no different for me," Bullough said. "They like my high motor. They like that I'm getting to the ball. But on the same token, there's always things to work on."

Koetter spoke highly of Bullough but didn't sugarcoat his predicament.

"Riley's doing fine," Koetter said. "He's an excellent communicator, a tough guy, good in the run game. It's going to come down to numbers. We can't just say we have 10 linebackers we want to keep. It has to add up to 53, and you have to have two-deep in a game when you only have 46."

If he doesn't make the 53-man roster, Bullough would be an ideal practice squad candidate. His personality fits exactly what the Bucs have been trying to do in overhauling their culture. Unfortunately for them, though, he would have to clear waivers, and his newfound celebrity status may have piqued the interest of other teams.