Now that the Bucs 90-man camp roster is pretty much set (there will always be little tweaks here and there, but for the most part it’s set), I decided to take a closer look at this group and see where the interesting position battles will be during training camp. There are a ton of them! Some are obvious. Some not so much. But here are the ones that I’ve come up with that will peak my interests this summer.
Backup QB- My first camp battle is between Ryan Griffin (6’5″/210lbs), who’s going into his third year with the Bucs and recently signed Sean Renfree (6’5″/225lbs). As much as some of you fans apparently hate the idea, Griffin is going into camp as the designated backup to Winston after signing his $1.8 million offer from the Bucs. Why some of you would rather bring in some 35-year-old, past-his-prime veteran or even Colin Kaepernick for that matter, I have no idea. It’s baffling to me (Editor’s Note: You mean besides arm strength, escapability, proven ability to win at this level and stuff like that?). At least Renfree, on the other hand, makes sense. He’s the same age as Griffin and the same style of quarterback. He was the Falcons 7th round pick of the 2013 draft and played there for two seasons as Matt Ryan’s backup in Dirk Koetter’s system so he does have some knowledge and experience in the offense. Griffin was originally signed as an undrafted free agent in 2013 by the New Orleans Saints where he spent two seasons going back and forth between the practice squad and active roster. He’s a strong-armed, pocket passer with two full seasons of knowledge and experience in Dirk’s offense. The head coach thinks he’s worthy and ready to take on the responsibility so that’s good enough for this Bucs fan (Editor’s Note: Be careful deferring blindly to leadership. That path leaves little room for editorial). That said, this could be a nice battle between the two because I’m not so sure that they keep three QB’s on the active roster this season. There is so much talent on this team and so many other position battles going on that the “3rd QB” spot may be used for another position.
PREDICTION- Ryan Griffin keeps his backup job and the Bucs send undrafted free agent QB Sefo Liufau to the practice squad and release Sean Renfree.
3rd down RB- This could be a battle between Charles Sims (6’/210lbs), who’s going into his 4th year with the team and their 5th round draft pick from this year Jeremy McNichols (5’9″/215lbs) from Boise State. Sims was the Bucs 3rd round pick in the 2014 draft and has missed 17 games in his three seasons here in Tampa. His one healthy, full, 16-game season was highly productive with 529 rushing yards and 561 receiving yards while leading the NFL with 6.9 yards per touch. He’s entering the final year of his rookie contract and I can see the team keeping him around to play out this final year in hopes that he can stay healthy and produce. McNichols finished his final season with 1,709 yards rushing, 474 yards receiving and 27 touchdowns. He has potential to be the Bucs future every down back, but right now I see him more as a 3rd down back based on his receiving and pass protection skills. I think the Bucs could potentially keep four RB’s this season which would be Doug Martin, Jacquizz Rodgers, Charles Sims and Jeremy McNichols. But if they only decide to keep three, that final spot could come down to this battle.
PREDICTION- Jeremy McNichols wins the 3rd down back job should they only keep 3 RB’s.
Right Tackle/Left Guard- I don’t know that this will be a major battle, but it could make things interesting for the o-line in camp. The Bucs have stated that they will be giving last year’s starting left guard Kevin Pamphile (6’5″/310lbs) a look at right tackle during training camp meaning last year’s starting right tackle Demar Dotson (6’9″/315lbs) could have some competition. I personally think that this is simply a coaching ploy to light a fire under Dotson’s ass, but if it happens and Pamphile outperforms him…what then? It could make for an interesting scenario with the rest of the o-line. With Pamphile at right tackle, who plays left guard? With Dotson as a backup, who else makes the active roster as a reserve lineman? It may not be juicy, but it could be a camp battle to watch nonetheless.
PREDICTION- Demar Dotson keeps his job at right tackle and Kevin Pamphile ends up as the reserve G/T due to his versatility.
Reserve O-line- The Bucs are entering training camp with 14 offensive linemen and will likely only be keeping 8 or 9 on the active roster. With Ali Marpet (6’4″/305lbs), Donovan Smith (6’6″/340lbs) and J.R. Sweezy (6’5″/300lbs) solidly in place in their respective positions, there could be battles in camp for the other two starting spots at left guard and right tackle as well as for the 3 or 4 reserve spots. That leaves Demar Dotson (6’9″/315lbs) and Kevin Pamphile (6’5″/310lbs) possibly fighting it out for right tackle. Caleb Benenoch (6’5″/305lbs) and Jarvis Harrison (6’4″/330lbs) possibly fighting it out for left guard. And Josh Allen (6’3″/315lbs), Joe Hawley (6’3″/300lbs), James Stone (6’3″/290lbs), Evan Smith (6’2″/310lbs), Michael Liedtke (6’3″/310lbs), Leonard Wester (6’6″/305lbs), Cole Gardner (6’6″/300lbs) and Korren Kirven (6’4″/315lbs) fighting it out for whatever reserve spots are left. Presumably, recently re-signed Joe Hawley will be the backup at center which leaves 2 or 3 spots open for the other 9 players. The Bucs may still be trying to figure out how to get the best five linemen on the field at the same time, but an even harder decision might be who to keep as their backups with versatility being a major factor in this decision if any of the races are close.
PREDICTION- The starting 5 consists of Donovan Smith (LT), Jarvis Harrison (LG), Ali Marpet (C), J.R. Sweezy (RG) and Demar Dotson (RT) while the reserves are T/G Kevin Pamphile, C Joe Hawley, G/C Evan Smith and G Caleb Benenoch with T Leonard Wester back on the practice squad.
Fullback vs 4th Tight End- This could end up being an interesting battle with the new additions to the tight end group this offseason. The Bucs are taking 3 of their 4 tight ends from last season’s active roster into camp in Cameron Brate (6’5″/235lbs), Luke Stocker (6’6″/255lbs), and Alan Cross (6’1″/235lbs) with the only missing player being Brandon Myers who was not re-signed. The additions of first-round pick O.J. Howard (6’6″/250lbs) and the signing of undrafted free agent Antony Auclair (6’5″/255lbs) will make this year’s tight end battle a competitive one. Practice squad regular Tevin Westbrook (6’5″/255lbs) is also on the roster for camp but it’s hard to see him factoring in on this decision. That’s six TE’s fighting for 3 or 4 spots and the number of those spots could be determined by whether they keep an actual fullback on the team this season. The Bucs have two true fullbacks on the roster right now in Austin Johnson (6’2″/240lbs) and Quayvon Hicks (6’1″/255lbs). If they do keep one of them, then I see them keeping only 3 TE’s with Johnson winning this fullback battle. He has the experience having spent two seasons with the Saints. However, if they decide not to keep a true fullback, I see them keeping 4 TE’s including Cross who could end up as the primary blocking back and maybe even crossed over into a more traditional fullback role in the future.
PREDICTION- They keep 4 TE’s including O.J. Howard, Cameron Brate, Alan Cross and Antony Auclair with Luke Stocker being released and Tevin Westbrook sent back to the practice squad.
5th & 6th WR spots- In my opinion, this will be the most competitive position battle and most difficult decision in training camp. The Bucs were disgustingly anemic at wide receiver last season due to injuries but after this offseason, find themselves with an embarrassment of riches at the position. With Mike Evans (6’5″/230lbs) and Adam Humphries (5’11″/195lbs) returning, the free agent signings of DeSean Jackson (5’10″/175lbs) and CFL stud Derel Walker (6’1″/200lbs), the drafting of Chris Godwin (6’1″/205lbs) and bringing in undrafted free agents Thomas Sperbeck and BoBo Wilson to add with returners from last year’s active roster and practice squad Freddie Martino (6’/195lbs), Donteea Dye (5’10″/195lbs), Josh Huff (5’11″/205lbs) and Bernard “Speedy” Reedy (5’9″/175lbs), the Bucs have at least 11 receivers (not counting invites from the rookie camp) going into camp fighting for what will probably be 6 spots. The top four spots are solidified which means the remaining two spots will be fought over by at least seven players. Whoever those two players are, they’ll have to have a significant impact on special teams in order to make the 53-man roster.
PREDICTION- They keep Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson, Adam Humphries, Chris Godwin, Derel Walker and BoBo Wilson as their wideouts with Thomas Sperbeck and Freddie Martino and possibly Bernard Reedy headed to the practice squad.
Siliga vs Tu’ikolovatu- In the 7th round of this year’s draft, the Bucs picked Stevie Tu’ikolovatu (6’1″/320lbs), a big, run-stopping defensive tackle from USC. They already had Sealver Siliga (6’2″/345lbs) on the roster who they claimed off of waivers in March of last year after he was released by Seattle. He had 10 tackles and 1 sack in 10 games for the Bucs last year. They are similar players in that both are “black holes” on the defensive line, meaning they suck up a lot of space. They’re both good run stoppers. They’re both strong and quick off the line. This battle will come down to two things. First, youth vs experience with a rookie competing against a five-year NFL veteran. And second, practice squad eligibility since Tu’ikolovatu is eligible and Siliga is not. Should this be a tight race, the Bucs could elect to keep Siliga and send the rookie to the practice squad. However, should they do that they run the risk of another team snatching him up off of waivers and I’m not so sure the Bucs are willing to take that gamble with Big Stevie.
PREDICTION- Stevie Tu’ikolovatu wins the job as backup DT and Siliga is released.
Starting SAM LB- Before the draft, the overwhelming assumption was that second-year LB Devante Bond (6’1″/235lbs), the Bucs 6th round pick from last year, would be taking over the starting strongside LB spot vacated by veteran Daryl Smith after the team didn’t re-sign him this offseason. After the draft, not so much. The Buccaneers decided to trade up from the 4th round back into the 3rd round, giving up their 6th round pick in the process, to draft LSU linebacker Kendall Beckwith (6’3″/250lbs). He was leading the Tigers with 91 tackles and 6 for loss when he suffered a torn ACL against the Gators. With both players coming off of season-ending injuries last year, this should be a good position battle to watch.
PREDICTION- Kendall Beckwith wins the starting SAM LB job with Devante Bond being kept on in a reserve LB role.
Reserve LB- This will also be one of the better competitions in camp. The Bucs are headed into this summer with ten LB’s on the roster with room for only six. Besides obvious starters Lavante David (6’1″/235lbs) and Kwon Alexander (6’1″/230lbs), the rest of the positions are up for grabs. As I showed above, the starting strongside LB spot will be a battle between Devante Bond (6’1″/235lbs) and rookie Kendall Beckwith (6’3″/250lbs). Behind those four will be another wide open competition between two players that were on the team last season in Adarius Glanton (6’1″/230lbs) and Cameron Lynch (6’/230lbs) as well as recently signed CFL stud Jeff Knox (6’2″/225lbs) and undrafted free agents Richie Brown (6’1″/235lbs), Riley Bullough (6’2″/230lbs) and Paul Magloire (6’/225lbs). Glanton is almost assured of one of those spots as he performed well when called upon last season. Lynch, not as much. He spent a majority of the year on special teams and could end up on the practice squad as he is still eligible. Knox had 177 tackles in two seasons playing with the Saskatchewan Roughriders of the Canadian Football League. Brown led Mississippi State in tackles in his final two seasons with 109 and 102 tackles while adding 8 sacks in those two years. Bullough was voted team captain his senior year at Michigan State where he finished with 76 tackles and 6.5 tfl’s despite missing 3 games due to a shoulder injury. Magloire ended his college career at Arizona with 81 tackles, 5.5 tfl’s and 2.5 sacks.
PREDICTION- They keep Lavonte David, Kwon Alexander and Kendall Beckwith as starters with Devante Bond, Adarius Glanton and Jeff Knox as reserves while Paul Magloire ends up on the practice squad.
Nickel Corner- The job of nickelback should be up for grabs once again between CB Jude Adjei-Barimah (5’11″/200lbs) and second year CB Javien Elliott (5’11″/175lbs). Adjei-Barimah is going into his third season with Tampa after being signed as an undrafted free agent in 2015 while Elliott was signed last year as an undrafted free agent and spent some time on the Bucs practice squad before being promoted to the active roster following some injuries in the secondary. They both played well when called upon and should put on a good battle in camp for the spot.
PREDICTION- Javien Elliott wins the nickel corner job while Jude Adjei-Barimah ends up as the 4th CB on the depth chart.
Safety- Every one of the safety positions are up for grabs, both starting jobs at free and strong safety, as well as the two reserve spots. At first glance, it would appear that last year’s starters Chris Conte (6’2″/205lbs) and Keith Tandy (5’10″/205lbs) have a slight advantage if for nothing else other than experience in Mike Smith’s system. Experience in this defense proved to be valuable last year as it took about 8 weeks for the players to finally grasp the new concept. For now, the other two safety spots will be filled by free agent signee J.J. Wilcox (6’/210lbs) and 2nd round draft pick Justin Evans (6’1″/195lbs) from Texas A&M. Wilcox had 215 tackles and 5 int’s in his 4 seasons with Dallas in a part-time role in the Cowboys secondary. Evans totaled 165 tackles, 5 int’s and 11 pd’s in his two years with the Aggies. Undrafted free agent Alex Gray (6’3″/225lbs) had 98 tackles and 3 int’s in his final two years at Appalachian State and could end up in the mix as well with a strong showing in camp.
PREDICTION- J.J. Wilcox and Justin Evans end up as starters with Chris Conte and Keith Tandy as reserves while Alex Gray ends up on the practice squad.
Kicker- I think most of us expected the Bucs to bring in some kicking competition for training camp after the less than stellar rookie season by Roberto “Ya Never Know” Aguayo where he only made 71% of his field goals while missing two extra points. Nick Folk was brought in to compete for the job and compete he will. He may be 32 years-old, but he’s seasoned with 10 seasons under his belt (three with Dallas and the rest with the Jets) the most recent of which was last season where he hit 87% of his kicks. This seems to be more than just “competition for Aguayo”. Folk was signed to a one year deal worth $750K guaranteed where as the remainder of Aguayo’s contract is worth $480K. This job is up for grabs and Roberto better get his head out of his ass if he wants any chance of winning it.
PREDICTION- Nick Folk wins the Bucs kicking job and Jason Licht makes good on the one draft mistake he ever made by sending Roberto Aguayo packing to miss kicks somewhere else.
Now I realize it’s a bit early for all of these predictions and presumptions…but I’m bored. This stretch between rookie camp and OTA’s is almost as bad as the long stretch between the Super Bowl and opening day of free agency. However, I do feel fairly confident in most of these. There’s always a surprise or two or an unexpected free agent signing here and there, but this should be pretty close to what we can expect in training camp this summer. And bonus, we all get to watch it unfold on HBO’s Hard Knocks which I’m excited about as any Bucs fan should be!
Until then, as always…GO BUCS!!!