With the Tampa Bay Buccaneers having among the top draft classes, roster moves and depth chart shuffling has begun. Wide receiver Raymond Webber and defensive tackle John McCargo were both released yesterday, followed by the signing of St. Louis Rams DT Gary Gibson. Coach Greg Schiano and Mark Dominik seem to be very particular about their vision and are making the moves to ensure that vision is executed.
Part of that vision came to fruition in the NFL Draft. Those players are likely to have a big impact in the coming months. Here’s a look at how these players will affect the current Bucs team and possible depth chart movement.
The Bucs did not trade back into the first round to watch Doug Martin serve as a change of pace back. Within days of Schiano’s hiring, rumblings about Mike Williams not being a #1 wide receiver were abound. The result was Vincent Jackson being signed to take over the lead role. Soon after, questions on Legarrette Blount’s fumbling issues followed. The result was Doug Martin being drafted. At minimum, Martin and Blount can be expected to split carries. Coach Schiano has committed to a power run game, but that is a description of the style of play. How many touches these backs will receive is likely to determine Blount’s role. Martin has already been considered a three down back, but he cannot stay on the field the whole time. Statements have been made on comparing the Bucs offense to what the New York Giants did during Mike Sullivan’s time there. Last season, the Giants ran the ball 40% of the time, roughly 25 times a game on average. That was with Eli Manning throwing an average 36 times per game. With Josh Freeman not expected to be asked as much, the number for the Bucs should climb to the possibility of 30 rushing attempts per game. The result will be a need for both Blount and Martin to share the rock.
Another area of change will be at fullback. The team signed undrafted free agent Cody Johnson, a highly touted fullback out of Texas. Johnson was possibly the top fullback in the draft, but he fell by the wayside due to few teams using the position any more. Johnson is well equipped to step in day one and fill the role. What that would mean for Eric Lorig is yet to be known. He could stay at fullback and share time with Johnson, but the converted defensive end could also be used there or at tight end. Lorig is versatile player who has taken the torch in a sense from Earnest Graham. That versatility should keep Lorig on the roster should Johnson take his starting fullback role.
The drafting of running back Michael Smith was a look towards the future for the Bucs since he is not likely to see much action. He will have a season to develop and could see his role increase significantly depending on what happens with Blount this year. Coach Schiano praised his elite speed after drafting Smith, which could lead to him seeing time on special teams. Mosis Madu is likely to fight for his #3 spot on the depth chart, especially if Earnest Graham returns from injury and is signed before final roster cuts are made. Graham believes he will be ready this month, so Madu could be the odd man out once the season starts.
WIDE RECEIVER/ TIGHT END
Vincent Jackson is the only clear cut starter to this point. As stated earlier, Mike Williams still has plenty of questions to answer, but should see him retain a starting role. The trickle down effect of Jackson’s signing is where things get interesting. Raymond Webber is the first casualty and the Bucs are deep in talent at the wide receiver position. Arrelious Benn is the consensus #3 receiver, but that means Dezmone Briscoe, Preston Parker, Ed Gant and Sammy Stroughter will all be fighting for roles. Despite Briscoe and Parker’s contribution last year, all signs point to an open competition. It will be one of the key battles to watch during training camp.
The rumors of Kellen Winslow Jr. being on the trade block continue to float around, even more so after drafting Drake Dunsmore. Coach Schiano stated Dunsmore was drafted to play tight end, a position which already has Luke Stocker, Zach Pianalto and Eric Lorig available. None of those mentioned are blocking tight end’s so the rumors on Winslow could be unfounded. As I’ve stated previously, the “Air Coryell” type of offense the Bucs want to implement actually needs a tight end who is a threat at catching the ball. Winslow Sr. was the first to thrive in the Coryell offense and it will not be a surprise to see Winslow Jr. have one of his best seasons. If anything, the opposite should be true. Winslow’s value should be higher than ever for this coaching staff. The drafting of Dunsmore serves more as a pick for the future, while adding depth at the position should Winslow go down with injury.
Bucs fans were rewarded with a linebacker many had been hoping for in Lavonte David. Like Doug Martin, David was not drafted to watch from afar. He will be an immediate insertion outside, relegating Dekoda Watson and Adam Hayward to their sub status to start camp. More interesting is the impact Najee Green could have on Quincy Black’s status. Though Greene is considered a run stopping specialist, Black did not live up to expectations last season. His contract is likely to keep his status secure, but if Greene does perform better, Schiano will have no problem removing Black. The organization is committed to Schiano’s vision, even if that means eating a bad contract. Both Watson and Hayward should not be forgotten either. These are two veteran players who have always had the ability but little time to shine. Either one could impress with a strong camp and catch Schiano’s eye.
The signing of Mark Barron immediately sends Ronde Barber back to the corner position, setting up the possibility of he and Eric Wright as the base package. Since Keith Tandy was drafted so late, it stands to believe the organization believes Aqib Talib will not face any discipline legally or from the league. If he does, the focus will shift towards the Nickel back position. E.J. Biggers and Myron Lewis provided more questions than answers in extended time and Anthony Gaitor is a player we still don’t know much about. Though Tandy is expected to need time for development, his competition is not as stiff as most rookies. Should Talib be unavailable, the battle for the Nickel slot will be a point of extreme focus by the coaching staff. The slot is made even more important when the prospect of not having Talib and either Wright or Barber suffering injury is presented. These scenarios make Tandy possibly one of the most important picks of the draft for the Bucs. There has been talk of the Bucs bringing in a veteran like Drayton Florence, a move which would ensure the Bucs have some breathing room until the Talib trial is over.
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