Football is back, and training camp is under way. And with training camp come position battles: who will step up and start for the Bucs this season? There are plenty of established positions: no one is unseating Josh Freeman as the starting quarterback, Donald Penn, Jeff Faine and Davin Joseph are all starters. Quincy Black will start at Sam linebacker. But there is room for competition at other positions, so let's take a look at the top three position battles going into training camp.
The most obvious position where no starter is set is Middle Linebacker. With Barrett Ruud an unrestricted free agent set to leave town, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have two candidates to take over as the starter: Mason Foster and Tyrone McKenzie. Mason Foster may have a leg up in the long run, as the Bucs have obviously invested more in the third-round draft pick than in the player who was on the practice squad mid last season. Despite that, Tyrone McKenzie was taking first-team reps in training yesterday.
That's because McKenzie himself is pretty talented, as a third-round draft pick in 2009. In addition, McKenzie has had much more time with the playbook than Mason Foster - as in, he has seen the playbook before this week. McKenzie has been a hard student since he came to the Buccaneers and should have a good grasp of the playbook by now. That could give him the advantage over Foster at least in the short term, even if Foster is the draft pick.
With Jeremy Trueblood re-signed, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have two possible starters at right tackle: James Lee and Jeremy Trueblood. Lee started last year when Trueblood was injured, and retained his job after Trueblood came back from injury. But with a new offensive line coach and a move back to a predominantly power scheme, Trueblood may come back into the picture. After all, Trueblood is a good run-blocker, and Pat Morris has spoken highly of the man. If the focus of the team is running the ball, Trueblood has a shot.
Of course, Mark Dominik and Raheem Morris always emphasize that everything they do is about "protecting 5 [Josh Freeman]". And if they put Jeremy Trueblood out at right tackle, we know that's not the case. Trueblood is a poor pass blocker. Having him in at right tackle will hurt Josh Freeman. With the Atlanta Falcons bringing in Ray Edwards opposite John Abraham and the Carolina Panthers re-signing Charles Johnson, protecting Freeman will be hard enough without helping the opposition on passing downs by starting Trueblood.
At nickelback, the Bucs will have a hefty competition going. Against pass-heavy personnel Ronde Barber moves from his position as a corner outside the numbers, to a slot corner. That means the Bucs need a cornerback to play on the outside on passing downs. Last season, that was one of the more surprising contributors of the season: 2009 seventh-round pick E.J. Biggers.
2010 third-rounder Myron Lewis was expected to take over as nickelback going into the season, but injuries hampered his progress and he was scarcely seen on the field until late in the season. When he did show up, he was very raw in terms of technique but did show a lot of physical potential. Myron Lewis has worked hard on improving this offseason, and if he can show proper technique he has a shot to take over as the third cornerback instead of E.J. Biggers.
Other players who could be in for some significant playing time in pass-defense packages include S Ahmad Black and CB Anthony Gaitor. Both are diminutive guys with excellent instincts who are probably best suited to playing over the slot. This could get them on the field against certain personnel groupings.