FINALLY! Bucs training camp is opened this week with the first practice open to the public being on Friday. I already released an article similar to this back in May, but a lot has changed since then. Some releases and additions have changed the 90-man roster a bit so I wanted to take another look and see how those moves affected the position battles. In this article, I’ll point out some things to keep an eye on when you’re out there watching training camp and I’ll also give a run down of what I think the final 53-man roster could look like after cuts are made. So, here are the competitions that I’ll be watching over the next month or so…
Now that Ryan Fitzpatrick has been added to the mix, this might not be as much of a competition as I thought it was before. Fitz is a smart Harvard guy so he should pick up the offense relatively quickly which will help him compete for the backup QB position with Ryan Griffin, who’s entering his third year with the Bucs and this offense, and Sean Renfree, who played in Dirk Koetter’s offense for two years in Atlanta. It’s interesting that the Bucs brought in Fitzpatrick after signing Griffin to a $1.8 million contract this offseason, but apparently they weren’t as confident in his abilities as a backup QB as they led on earlier this year.
PREDICTION: Ryan Fitzpatrick wins the backup quarterback job resulting in the release of both Ryan Griffin and Sean Renfree with rookie Sefo Liufau possibly being sent to the practice squad.
3RD DOWN RUNNING BACK
This is one of the deepest positions on the team and there will be a fun battle to watch for a couple of reasons. Charles Sims is going into the fourth and final year of his rookie contract and has been the Bucs third down back during his time here…when he’s been healthy. Unfortunately, it seems like he’s been injured more than not missing 17 games in his first three seasons. The one full season that he did stay healthy was quite productive rushing for 529 yards while adding 561 receiving yards. He also led the NFL in yards per touch for the 2015 season. It looks as though Doug Martin will return for another season in Tampa Bay, but will be out for the first 3 games finishing his 4-game suspension from last year. Jacquizz Rodgers was re-signed during the offseason and will likely handle the load as primary back in Martin’s absence. The Bucs also drafted Jeremy McNichols, another Boise State running, who should come in and challenge Sims for that third down back position. Peyton Barber and Russell Hansbrough will be in the mix for one of those four running back spots as well.
PREDICTION: Doug Martin, Jacquizz Rodgers, Charles Sims and Jeremy McNichols complete the final group with Peyton Barber being sent to the practice squad. McNichols wins the third down RB job.
It seems as though the starters are set with Donovan Smith back at left tackle, Kevin Pamphile back at left guard, new center Ali Marpet, J.R. Sweezy in at right guard and Demar Dotson returning to right tackle. The fun competition to watch will be for the reserve spots. Last year’s starting center Joe Hawley was re-signed this offseason which should make him the backup. Some people, including myself, thought that backup G/C Evan Smith would end up as a salary cap casualty this offseason and it never happened. He ended up with a $1 million roster bonus and will likely be in the team’s plans as a reserve o-lineman this season. Typically, NFL teams keep between 8 and 10 offensive linemen on the active roster. Let’s just say that the Bucs split the difference and keep 9 guys which would mean there are two spots left at this point. The Bucs currently have seven more offensive linemen on their roster including centers Josh Allen and James Stone, guard Jarvis Harrison, guard/tackle Mike Liedtke and tackles Leonard Wester, Korren Kirven and Cole Gardner. Allen and Wester were both on the practice squad last year and saw limited action when moved over to the active roster throughout the season. Liedtke was brought in as a free agent while Kirven and Gardner were both undrafted free agents.
PREDICTION: Bucs keep 8 offensive linemen including D. Smith, Pamphile, Marpet, Sweezy, Dotson, Hawley, E. Smith and Benenoch sending Wester and possibly Liedtke to the practice squad.
This will be another interesting scenario that will play out in camp. Last season, the Bucs didn’t have a true fullback on the roster but they got by using tight ends Luke Stocker and Alan Cross as blocking backs. They could go that route again or they could keep one of the two true fullbacks currently on the roster. Austin Johnson started his career with the Saints before being signed by Tampa this offseason. Quayvon Hicks is a rookie out of the University of Georgia who spent the first part of his college career opening holes for Todd Gurley. The TE group consists of last year’s breakout star Cameron Brate, veteran Luke Stocker, second year players Alan Cross and Tevin Westbrook, first round draft pick O.J. Howard and undrafted free agent rookie Antony Auclair. The Bucs could face the decision of either keeping five tight ends or four tight ends and a fullback. They also have the option of keeping four tight ends and sending another to the practice squad as four of them are eligible.
PREDICTION: Bucs keep 4 tight ends including Brate, Howard, Cross and Auclair while sending Westbrook to the practice squad and releasing Stocker.
5TH & 6TH WIDE RECEIVER
While the top four wide receiver spots are pretty much filled, there will still be a really good battle for the final two spots. Superstar Mike Evans, newly signed free agent speedster DeSean Jackson, last year’s breakout slot man Adam Humphries and this year’s third round draft pick Chris Godwin are solidified in their spots. However, that still leaves seven wide receivers fighting for those last two positions. Those seven WR’s are veteran Josh Huff, third year players Donteea Dye and Freddie Martino, second year player Bernard Reedy, CFL star and Mike Evans former Texas A&M teammate Derel Walker and rookies BoBo Wilson and Thomas Sperbeck. Dye, Martino, Reedy and Huff were all on the practice squad last season and were all brought up to the active roster at some point due to injuries. Huff’s 3 years of experience could give him an edge on some of these young Bucs and Walker’s connection to Evans could do the same for him. But the rookies, Wilson and Sperbeck, will have to really impress on special teams in order to make this final roster.
PREDICTION: Evans, Jackson, Humphries, Godwin, Huff and Martino make up the WR corps while Wilson and Walker are sent to the practice squad meaning Reedy, Sperbeck and Dye are all released.
RESERVE DEFENSIVE LINE
I was going to break this group up into ends and tackles, but since so many of these guys can play both inside and outside I’ll just lump them all together. Most teams typically keep 10 or so defensive linemen on their active roster. The Bucs are no different. Keeping that in mind, I’ll start with the guys most likely making the team. The starting d-line should consist of Gerald McCoy, Chris Baker, Robert Ayers and Will Gholston. The real battle will be for the reserve spots. Other players like Noah Spence and Clinton McDonald will be secure in their positions but the guys that will be fighting for the last 3 or 4 spots are players like Jacquies Smith, Ryan Russell, George Johnson, Channing Ward, DaVonte Lambert and Sealver Siliga. There are four other defensive linemen on the current roster including free agents Sterling Bailey and Tavaris Barnes and this year’s seventh round pick Stevie Tu’ikolovatu.
PREDICTION: Bucs keep 10 d-linemen including McCoy, Baker, Ayers, Gholston, Spence, Smith, McDonald, Russell, Ward and Siliga while sending Tu’ikolovatu to the practice squad.
The Bucs are fortunate enough to have one of the best linebacking duos in the league in Lavonte David and Kwon Alexander. With the WLB and MLB in solid hands, the SLB is where the battle will be between second year player Devante Bond and this year’s third round draft pick Kendell Beckwith. The problem is that Bond didn’t look very good in OTA’s and Beckwith has yet to practice while recovering from an injury sustained in college. The Bucs will likely keep five LB’s so that only leaves one more spot up for grabs between Cameron Lynch and Adarius Glanton, both members of last year’s team, CFL stud Jeff Knox and rookies Eric Nzeocha, Richie Brown and Riley Bullough.
PREDICTION: Bucs keep 5 LB’s including David, Alexander, Bond, Beckwith and Glanton while sending Knox and Nzeocha to the practice squad. Beckwith wins the starting SAM job.
The Bucs currently have 10 cornerbacks on this roster and will likely only keep 6 of them. It’s safe to say that veteran Brent Grimes and second year CB Vernon Hargreaves are secure in their spots. It’s the rest of the guys who will be battling for their NFL lives. Jude Adjei-Barimah, Javien Elliott and Ronald McClain will be fighting for the nickel corner while Ryan Smith, Cody Riggs, Josh Robinson and rookies Maurice Fleming and Jonathan Moxey will be duking it out for the other spots. Robinson was just re-signed so it looks as though the special teams standout will be sticking around for this season. This should end up as one of the better position battles in camp to keep an eye on.
PREDICTION: Bucs keep 7 CB’s including Grimes, Hargreaves, McClain, Adjei-Barimah, Elliott, Smith and Robinson while sending Moxey to the practice squad.
This is one of the least exciting battles in camp since the four safety spots seem to be all but filled by veterans Chris Conte, Keith Tandy and J.J. Wilcox and this year’s second round draft pick Justin Evans. The only thing up for debate is who will be starting. Evans and Wilcox are both rehabbing injuries so Conte and Tandy took nearly all of the first team snaps as starting safeties throughout mini camps and OTA’s. Isaiah Johnson and Alex Gray are also in the mix but not likely to beat out any of them for spots on the active roster.
PREDICTION: Bucs keep 4 safeties including Conte, Tandy, Evans and Wilcox while sending Gray to the practice squad.
I think we all expected the Bucs to bring in some kind of competition for Roberto “Ya Never Know” Aguayo after his less than stellar rookie season where he only made 71% of his kicks. Nick Folk was brought in after being released by the Jets despite hitting on 87% of his field goals last year. The 32-year old veteran was signed to a one year deal worth $750K of guaranteed money. Aguayo’s rookie contract only pays him $480K for this season. Either way, the investment is minimal to find the best kicker for this team.
PREDICTION: Unfortunately, the Bucs stick with their second round draft pick Aguayo and release Folk. The kicking experiment continues.
FINAL 53-MAN ROSTER
QB- Jameis Winston, Ryan Fitzpatrick
RB- Doug Martin, Jacquizz Rodgers, Charles Sims, Jeremy McNichols
OL- Donovan Smith, Kevin Pamphile, Ali Marpet, J.R. Sweezy, Demar Dotson, Joe Hawley, Evan Smith, Caleb Benenoch
TE- Cam Brate, O.J. Howard, Alan Cross, Antony Auclair
WR- Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson, Adam Humphries, Chris Godwin, Josh Huff, Freddie Martino
DT- Gerald McCoy, Chris Baker, Clinton McDonald, Sealver Siliga, Channing Ward
DE- Robert Ayers, Will Gholston, Noah Spence, Jacquies Smith, Ryan Russell
LB- Lavonte David, Kwon Alexander, Devante Bond, Kendell Beckwith, Adarius Glanton
CB- Brent Grimes, Vernon Hargreaves, Ronald McClain, Jude Adjei-Barimah, Javien Elliott, Josh Robinson, Ryan Smith
S- Chris Conte, Keith Tandy, Justin Evans, J.J. Wilcox
ST- Roberto Aguayo, Bryan Anger, Garrison Sanborn
There you have it. The training camp battles to watch and my predictions for the entire 53-man roster of the 2017 Tampa Bay Buccaneers and their 11-man practice squad. We’ll see how right or wrong I was by the end of August but until then, as always…GO BUCS!!!