Well, the time has come Buc Nation. Training camp is upon us and we will finally get to see the new look offensive and defensive lines, the revamped secondary and the explosive rookie running back. But those aren’t the only things for fans to watch during camp this year.
The Buccaneers have 89 of their 91 spots filled on the current roster. Over the course of the next six weeks or so, they’ll have to cut that 91-man roster down to a 53-man roster to start the regular season. They will also have to fill their 10-man practice squad as well. With that in mind, I wanted to take a deeper look at the battles that I think will be the most competitive during this camp at each position.
The Bucs have four QB’s on their roster right now, so they will be releasing at least one, maybe even two of them. Obviously, Jameis Winston will be the starter once he returns from his 3-game suspension, but there’s still three questions that need to be answered. First, will they keep three quarterbacks on this roster? With the amount of talent on this team and limited space at certain positions, I’m not sure that they can afford to use one of those spots for a third QB that may never see the football field. My guess is that they only keep two of them and use that other slot on a different position like a sixth receiver or an extra defensive lineman. The second question is, who will be the starter for those first 3 games and backup Jameis when he does come back? The veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick would be the obvious choice to most. However, the younger Ryan Griffin could make a case for himself during camp. Last season, he was doing just that before suffering a camp ending shoulder injury. Could he possibly do it again this year? The third and final question is will the rookie QB from Arkansas Austin Allen impress the Bucs enough to earn a valuable spot on the practice squad?
Bold Prediction: Griffin beats out Fitzpatrick for backup QB and Allen earns his spot on the practice squad.
RUNNING BACKS (4)
Right now, the Bucs have seven running backs on the roster. Peyton Barber and rookie Ronald Jones might be the only ones in the group that have an almost guaranteed spot on this team. Jacquizz Rodgers is entering the final year of his contract and the team just re-signed Charles Sims to a one year/$1 million contract. At least one of them should make this roster. The team will likely keep four backs active, so the question in this group is will the versatile rookie from Duke Shaun Wilson do enough in camp to beat Sims or Rodgers out for that fourth spot? Second year running back Dalton Crossan and fullback Austin Johnson are the final two backs in the group and I’d be surprised if either of them is still on the roster by the end of camp.
Bold Prediction: Wilson impresses enough to win the final RB spot with Barber, Jones and Sims while Rodgers is released.
WIDE RECEIVERS (6)
One of the best position battles in this camp should be at wide receiver. This could possibly be the deepest WR group to ever play in Tampa Bay. With Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson, Chris Godwin and Adam Humphries already locking up roster spots, the real battle will be for the fifth and possibly sixth wide receiver positions. There are currently 11 receivers on the roster which means at least five of them will not make the 53-man team. In addition to the four players mentioned before is Bernard “Speedy” Reedy, Freddie Martino, second year player Bobo Wilson, Jake Lampman and rookies Justin Watson, Sergio Bailey and Ervin Philips.
Bold Prediction: Wilson and Watson join the “Fantastic Four” to make the WR group six strong while Philips earns a practice squad spot.
TIGHT END (4)
Tight end is another talent filled position group. There are seven of them on the current roster meaning at least three of them will be walking the plank by the end of camp. Cameron Brate and second year players OJ Howard and Antony Auclair should have their spots sewn up already. So that means that three year veteran Alan Cross will be battling rookies Jake Reese, Donnie Ernsberger and Tanner Hudson for that fourth spot.
Bold Prediction: Ernsberger beats out Cross for that final spot and Hudson earns a spot on the practice squad.
OFFENSIVE LINE (8)
This should be an interesting situation to keep tabs on throughout camp with at least one position, right guard, up for grabs. Left tackle Donovan Smith and now left guard Ali Marpet will be watching Winston’s blindside while free agent center signee Ryan Jensen will be snapping him the football. Right tackle Demar Dotson should be recovered from his season ending injury from last year and should be good to go. But that right guard spot vacated by the JR Sweezy’s departure is wide open. As of now, it appears that three year vet Caleb Benenoch has the slight edge on that starting job. However, the Bucs did draft the versatile and nasty offensive lineman Alex Cappa in the third round of the 2018 NFL Draft. He could challenge Benenoch in camp for that starting right guard spot.
In addition to the six players mentioned already, there are nine more offensive linemen on the current roster. Evan Smith was just re-signed to a two year deal and he’s really the only other player on the team with experience at center besides Marpet so he should end up as the backup center to Jensen. Veterans Leonard Wester, Cole Gardner and Adam Gettis, as well as rookies Cole Boozer and Ruben Holcomb and second year players Mike Liedtke, Brad Seaton and Givens Price round out the large group (pun intended). Typically, most NFL teams will carry 8 or 9 offensive linemen on their final 53-man roster which means that there will likely only be two spots up for grabs during camp and eight players battling for them.
Bold Prediction: Liedtke joins D. Smith, Marpet, Jensen, Benenoch, Dotson, E. Smith and Cappa as the Bucs new look o-line while Boozer and Seaton earn spots on the practice squad.
DEFENSIVE LINE (10)
The biggest difference between last year’s and this year’s team might be the defensive line. The Bucs released the cancerous Chris Baker and unfortunately didn’t re-sign Robert Ayers or Clinton McDonald. However, they did add Super Bowl champs Vinny Curry and Beau Allen along with Mitch Unrein from the Bears to the mix in their place. They also traded for Jason Pierre-Paul and they still have the perennial Pro Bowler Gerald McCoy as well. I have to believe that Vita Vea, William Gholston and Noah Spence will have roster spots as well. Since most teams only keep nine or ten d-linemen on their active roster, this scenario only leaves one, maybe two spots left. Rookies Evan Perrizo, Kiante Anderson and Demone Harris, Will Clarke, Channing Ward, Patrick O’Connor, DaVonte Lambert and Stevie Tu’ikolovatu are all in the mix for those final one or two spots.
Bold Prediction: Tu’i and Clarke make this group ten strong while Perrizo earns a spot on the practice squad.
This should be another interesting situation to watch in camp this summer. Although the Bucs starting linebackers are set with Lavonte David, Kwon Alexander and Kendell Beckwith, they still have eight other LB’s on the current roster. With only five or six LB spots to fill, there will still be five or six of these guys who will be clearing out their locker by the end of camp. Adarius Taylor and Cameron Lynch are both going into their fifth season and should have the edge on the fourth and fifth spots. The questions here is will the Bucs keep a sixth LB? And if so, who will earn that position? The rest of this group consists of three year veteran Devante Bond, second year players Riley Bullough and Eric Nzeocha, Nigel Harris, and rookies Jack Cichy and Shaheed Salmon. Cichy is definitely one to watch in camp. The Bucs lucked out drafting him in the sixth round of this year’s draft after he missed his entire senior season at Wisconsin with a knee injury. Had it not been for that injury, he probably would’ve been considered a second round pick. He could challenge for that final LB spot or at the very least end up on the practice squad. Nzeocha is from Germany and is part of the NFL’s International Player Pathway program which was implemented last season. It allowed each of the four NFC South teams to add a player from another country as the eleventh player on their 10-man practice squad. So he will likely end up back there again in accordance with the program.
Bold Prediction: Bond, Taylor and Lynch round out the final LB group with Cichy and Bullough earning spots on the practice squad. Nzeocha will return for his second year on the practice squad as well.
There are nine cornerbacks on the Bucs current roster and three of them are rookies. The team drafted Carlton Davis and MJ Stewart in the second round of the 2018 NFL Draft and signed Marko Myers as an undrafted free agent. Brent Grimes and Vernon Hargreaves are two that you could pencil in on the final 53-man roster, but the Bucs still have to decide whether they’re keeping five or six corners. Three year vets Ryan Smith and Javien Elliott, Josh Robinson and second year player David Rivers complete the group. Robinson is an excellent special teamer and should have one of the spots locked up, but who will get that final CB position? It will definitely be a battle to pay attention to in camp.
Bold Prediction: Grimes and Davis will be the starting outside corners with Stewart and Hargreaves sharing time at nickel. Elliott and Robinson will round out the group with Rivers earning a spot on the practice squad. Bucs fans everywhere cheer as Smith is released.
Even though there are only seven safeties on the Bucs current roster, this could be an interesting situation to pay attention to throughout camp. Much to the disappointment of some fans, Chris Conte will likely be returning for his fourth season in Tampa and second year player Justin Evans will most certainly have one of the four safety spots. The team used a fourth round pick on Jordan Whitehead in this year’s draft and the Bucs have liked his versatility so far so he will likely take that third safety spot. However, that fourth and final safety position will be up for grabs between the seven year vet Keith Tandy, second year player Isaiah Johnson and rookies Josh Lidell and Godwin Igwebuike who was highly sought after as an undrafted free agent.
Bold Prediction: As much as I hate to say it, I think Tandy will get released and the rookie Igwebuike will earn that final roster spot. I only say that because I don’t think the Bucs will gamble sending Igwebuike to the practice squad risking that another team could snag him off of waivers and Tandy is pushing 30 years old. Johnson will end up on the practice squad for the second straight season.
SPECIAL TEAMS (3)
This should be a no brainer. Bryan Anger is the only punter and Drew Ferris is the only longsnapper on the current roster. However, there are two kickers in camp. Chandler Catanzaro was just signed in free agency to hopefully solidify the Bucs kicking game which has been a disaster for about a decade. But the team also brought in undrafted free agent kicker Trevor Moore from North Texas. It appears that Moore is nothing more than camp competition for Cat, but stranger things have happened. Moore made 91% of his field goals and 100% of his extra points in his senior year and has a career long of 51 yards.
Bold Prediction: No BOLD prediction here. Anger, Ferris and Catanzaro will be the kicking crew.
Well, there you have it folks. If my math is correct, then I’ve just predicted the 2018 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 53-man roster and their 11-man practice squad. So here’s what it would look like:
53-man Final Roster
QB- J. Winston, R. Griffin
RB- P. Barber, R. Jones, C. Sims, S. Wilson
WR- M. Evans, D. Jackson, C. Godwin, A. Humphries, B. Wilson, J. Watson
TE- C. Brate, OJ Howard, A. Auclair, D. Ernsberger
OL- D. Smith, A. Marpet, R. Jensen, C. Benenoch, D. Dotson, A. Cappa, M. Liedtke, E. Smith
DL- G. McCoy, J. Pierre-Paul, V. Curry, B. Allen, M. Unrein, W. Gholston, N. Spence, S. Tu’ikolovatu, W. Clarke
LB- L. David, K. Alexander, K. Beckwith, A. Taylor, C. Lynch, D. Bond
CB- B. Grimes, V. Hargreaves, C. Davis, MJ Stewart, J. Robinson, J. Elliott
S- C. Conte, G. Igwebuike, J. Evans, J. Whitehead
ST- B. Anger, C. Catanzaro, D. Ferris
11-man Practice Squad
LB E. Nzeocha
LB R. Bullough
LB J. Cichy
QB A. Allen
WR E. Philips
TE T. Hudson
DL E. Perrizo
CB D. Rivers
S I. Johnson
OL C. Boozer
OL B. Seaton
Now I’ll admit, I was pretty excited last training camp at the level of talent on this team. I know all of us were and we were all devastated with the 5-11 season that followed. However, this season feels different. No hype. No Hard Knocks. No daily plugs from Kay and the boys on Good Morning Football. No playoff hopes. No high expectations from the outside. Just talent and experience. Hard work and positive vibes. Football and family.
But, THAT is how you get things done. THAT is how you accomplish goals. THAT is how you win games and make the playoffs. And THAT is how you win championships.
Nobody outside of One Buc Palace or Buc Nation expects much out of this team this year. Vegas has the over/under set at 6.5 for the number of games the Bucs will win this year and it’s 12 to 1 odds that they’ll win the division. But it’s good to be the “underdog” sometimes. Just ask the 2017 Philadelphia Eagles.
The rookies reported to One Buc yesterday and the veterans report tomorrow. The whole team hits the field in “shells” on Thursday and the first practice in full pads will be on Saturday, which is the first day that camp is open to the public. It’s time to get in on Bucs fans! The Tampa Bay Buccaneers 2018 training camp is now open!
Until then, as always…GO BUCS!!!