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TAMPA — The edge rusher found himself on an island, and stayed there.

Even as portal fever started spiking across the collegiate landscape three autumns ago, Cam Gill remained embedded at Football Championship Subdivision Wagner College. Despite a monstrous junior season (13.5 sacks) in which he was named Northeast Conference Defensive Player of the Year, Gill insists he never pondered bolting the Staten Island school for a more prominent gig.

“I’m a firm believer (that) I was where I needed to be at the right moment at the right time,” said Gill, signed by the Bucs as an undrafted free agent in 2020.

“Everything works out. Who knows, if I was a transfer, I might have had to redshirt, and would’ve just been playing my redshirt senior year this year. So that’s no Super Bowl, that’s no sack in the Super Bowl, and missing out on this awesome opportunity.”

As 2022 dawns, Gill’s faith in the process has taken him on a full-circle odyssey, nearly all the way back to the borough where he was discovered. When the Bucs face the Jets at MetLife Stadium on Sunday in East Rutherford, N.J., their outside linebacker rotation will consist of Gill, rookie Joe Tryon-Shoyinka and third-year backup Anthony Nelson.

Team sacks leader Shaquil Barrett (knee) is out, and veteran Jason Pierre-Paul (shoulder) hasn’t practiced this week. Additionally, inside linebacker Lavonte David (foot) is on injured reserve.

Observers still are waiting for the dropoff.

With Barrett and Pierre-Paul absent in the second half of last week’s game at Carolina, the Bucs held the Panthers scoreless in the final 30 minutes. While the trio’s statistics were modest, it combined to help create the steady disruption that resulted in five second-half sacks (one by Nelson).

“We do some different things with them, but those guys have stepped up all year and they’ve come in and made some plays,” defensive coordinator Todd Bowles said. “Obviously it’s bad when you lose any starter for a long period of time (let alone) a week, but those guys have come in and made some plays and really showed themselves worthy of playing.”

While many Bucs fans have spent weeks clamoring for Tryon-Shoyinka (four sacks, 10 quarterback hits) to start, Nelson and Gill have been confined mostly to special teams. A fourth-round pick out of Iowa in 2019, Nelson has played in 25 percent of the Bucs’ defensive snaps; Gill has played in only 7 percent.

But they have sparkled in those limited sample sizes. Nelson has three sacks and eight quarterback hits. Gill has 1.5 sacks.

“It just shows that we have a lot of people up next,” Tryon-Shoyinka said.

“A lot of young dudes, a lot of people to find their role when injuries, COVID and situations like that happen. It just gives us that extra confidence in our team. We know we’re good but when you have dudes coming off the bench that are good, it just helps a lot.”

The primary longterm benefit could be a robust roster in the postseason.

The Bucs have a veritable Pro Bowl assemblage (Barrett, Pierre-Paul, David, tailback Leonard Fournette, receiver Chris Godwin) on the shelf. If they can keep winning with the understudies — including Tryon-Shoyinka, Nelson and Gill — in the regular season’s final two games, confidence and depth could spike in the playoffs as the veterans return.

“When you get in the game, Will (Gholston) always tells me, ‘Don’t count the reps, make the reps count,’” Nelson said.

“It’s unfortunate but injuries are a part of the game. It really sucks to see your friends and guys that you work with every day to go down like that, but we’re a team and we just need to step up, make plays and keep this train rolling because we have a bigger goal.”

Contact Joey Knight at Follow @TBTimes_Bulls

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