The next Tampa Bay Buccaneers mini camp isn’t until June 12th but things are slowly starting to take shape. Based on what head coach Greg Schiano and GM Mark Dominik are saying, the young crop of draftees will be given a fair shot to nab starting roles. Though training camp doesn’t start until late July, the three days in June should be expected to show fierce competition as everyone fights for a job. Here are 5 bold predictions which can result from these competitive workouts.
Leonard Johnson wins the corner back competition. As pointed out by Lee from Joe Bucs Fan on “Two Hand Touch”, Johnson was grouped in with Mark Barron during the rookie camp and Bucs nation has been abuzz with his potential. Outside of all the hype Johnson is getting, his skills seem to fit perfectly with the Bucs needs. After watching every ounce of tape available on Johnson, the best comparison to his style is that of Ronde Barber. He is excellent in zone cover skills and loves to play up in the box against the run. He is physical and is never one to shy away from serious contact. Like Barber, he has a nose for the ball and does his best to get his body on a receiver when attempting a catch. Also like Barber, his only drawback is his height and perception he is too small. At 5’10, Johnson is nearly the same size but plays much bigger. He is capable of playing man, but will get tested against very accurate passers who can place the ball where only lengthy receivers can catch it. Even then, he makes sure to quickly get his hands on the receiver and stop the bleeding.
Aqib Talib will have his court date at the end of June and will probably be cemented as the starting corner in camp. With his trial and rumors of him being trade bait, Talib’s future with the team is in question. The Bucs apparently had no takers on the trade with teams unsure of his future. If he does get sentenced, then it’s obvious where that leads. If not, look for the Bucs to put him back on the market and find an assortment of trade partners. That leaves Johnson with only E.J. Biggers, Myron Lewis, Keith Tandy and Anthony Gaitor as his main competition. Johnson is among the most NFL ready corners to come out of college despite not being drafted. An even more important byproduct of Johnson starting is allowing Ronde Barber to stay at free safety. Below is a Youtube video of Johnson versus Justin Blackmon. A reel which highlights not only his strengths but his faults.
Najee Goode or Dekoda Watson will start along side Mason Foster and LaVonte David. Gone are the days of linebackers evaluated based on their production level. While tackles and stuffs are still important, more important are those “splash” plays. Teams are willing to cough up nice contracts to those players who can do one thing extremely well versus everything pretty well. Mason Foster was ranked 44th in terms of tackles yet failed to truly make an impact defensively. However, the biggest names such as Terrell Suggs (59th), Tamba Hali (67th) and Von Miller (72nd) were all considered among the best at the position. Why? Because they were sack machines. Nobody remembers the great open field tackle, but everyone remembers the sack which changed possession.
A true splash player has eluded the Bucs ever since Derrick Brooks was shown the door. As proof via the draft, Dominik and Schiano sought high motor guys whom had obvious strengths. LaVonte David has already been compared to Derrick Brooks for his ability in coverage and overall output. Where things will become interesting is in the battle between Najee Goode and Quincy Black. Black totaled zero sacks last season and ranked 79th in tackles. In contrast, Goode is something of a run specialist who does some of his best work when heading downhill. At minimum, a time split between Goode and Black could be on the horizon. Mason Foster is best suited outside and if Goode can prove his game translates to the next level, a starting MLB job could be his. Even more important is both Goode and David are sound fundamental tacklers, something Geno Hayes and Quincy Black lacked last season. In fairness, the whole defense seemed to forget how to play basic football and that starts from the top. Black deserves a mulligan as much as anyone else, but he has had his chance to shine. Dekoda Watson is another player waiting in the wings who has always show flashes of potential but nary the opportunity. This will be year three for Watson and could also see a starting role arise now that the slate is clean.
George Johnson will enter the defensive end rotation. As reported by a Pewter Report interview with Johnson when Schiano was hired, Johnson has much to benefit from the new Bucs head coach. Jeremy Zuttah has already seen his stock soar and Johnson should be next in line. The 6’4″ versatile end understands the Schiano regimen and knows what the coach expects in his daily routines. That will equate to Johnson ascending up the depth chart given the loss of Da’Quan Bowers. The Bucs are still likely to seek help once vets are cut from other teams, but with contracts still to be negotiated there may be minimum spending available. Mark Dominik has expressed his intent to reserve money for extending core players and guys like Dwight Freeney or Darryl Tapp could be too costly if released.
Cody Johnson will win the starting fullback role. Erik Lorig has done well filling Earnest Graham’s shoes but will see a return to his original tight end position. Cody Johnson was arguably the steal of the century by signing him as an UFA. During his career at Texas, Johnson scored 36 touchdowns, good for 5th all time in school history. Not bad considering Cedric Benson, Jamaal Charles and Ricky Williams are all Longhorn products. He is tied for second all time in school history with 24 scores in his first two seasons. Johnson also averaged 4.2 YPC in his career. By signing him, the Bucs have a fullback capable of not only being a road grader, he has great ball skills. Johnson also has decent hands, catching 12 passes for 95 yards. With Schiano wanting a “power” run game, Johnson’s versatility and strength at the position should earn him the starting role with ease. Johnson adds yet another dimension defenses will have to account for on every snap. Memories of Mike Alstott will run rampant once fans see his physical play.
Kellen Winslow Jr. will have his best season as a Buc in 2012. Winslow had been tied to trade rumors but none have had much merit. It’s a good thing, because Winslow should be in for his best statistical performance of his career. As stated in previous articles, the Bucs will be running their own version of the “Air Coryell” system which is a power run game that takes shots down field. It has been run by Norv Turner in San Diego and has a proven track record of putting up points. Ironically, it was Kellen Winslow Sr. who made a name for himself under this system and redefined the tight end position. Little Winslow obviously has had great tutelage from his father but has always been hampered by a weak supporting cast. Like Antonio Gates, Winslow now has Vincent Jackson to distract defenses as well as the Doug Martin/Legarrette Blount combination. If Mike Williams or Arrelious Benn can bounce back to their 2010 showing, life only gets that much easier for Winslow. Expecting his total production to go down with so many mouths to feed is plausible, but the difference now will be quality. He has yet to break 5 touchdowns or 11.5 yards per catch as a Buc. With better looks and red zone defenses focused on Jackson, Winslow is a good bet to surpass both numbers. He could potentially even pass the 884 yards he totaled in 2009. Even with Vincent Jackson, Antonio Gates on average caught 70+ balls per season. In those years he fell under, he still averaged no less than 11.7 YPC or 7 touchdowns. Josh Freeman may not yet be in Phillip Rivers’ territory, but he has the supporting cast to put up similar numbers. The Freeman to Winslow connection will be one frequently seen.
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