The Bucs have two entrenched starters in Lavonte David and Mason Foster at weakside and middle linebacker respectively. Those two aren't going anywhere, and they were outstanding on run plays last season. However, both could stand to improve on passing downs both as blitzers and in coverage. No one on the roster is going to come close to threatening their starting spots, however.
This position isn't the most important position on defense, but it's not irrelevant, either. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers cut Quincy Black this offseason as he's struggling with a potential career-ending injury. That leaves one starting spot, and the Bucs have two contenders there: fourth-year special teams demon Dekoda Watson, and new addition Jonathan Casillas.
Interestingly enough, both players are slightly undersized. Casillas is listed at 6'1", 227 lbs. while Dekoda Watson comes in at 6'2", 240 lbs. The Bucs have for years rung the "we want to get bigger" bell, but that just won't happen for the team's linebackers, somehow.
In a way, Watson represents the draft-and-develop approach to roster-building. The linebacker was drafted in the seventh round of the 2010 NFL draft and has developed into a special teams demon and sub-package player. He's been deployed as an edge rusher, largely unsuccessfully, and platooned with Adam Hayward to replace Quincy Black last season. The question is whether he can develop into a full-time starter this season.
Meanwhile, Casillas represents the new motto of the Buccaneers under Greg Schiano, which appears to be "grab players wherever you can". He's fairly pricey for a depth player at $1.4 million for a single season, which could balloon to $3 million with incentives. He's been an occasional starter for the Saints the past years and is another core special teams player. One thing that will appeal to the Bucs: he's a very good and experienced blitzer.
This is probably the best position battle on the roster right now, as we really can't project a winner here. Training camp will have to determine whether Watson or Casillas comes out with the starting job -- or whether
Jonathan Casillas, Dekoda Watson, Mason Foster and Lavonte David will almost certainly make it onto the roster. But who else will get there? Any linebacker has to be a core special teams player, and that could be the difference between having a job in the NFL or being out on the street once the season starts for a number of players.
Adam Hayward has been a stereotypical utility player for years on end. He was capable enough to replace injured starters, versatile enough to do so at multiple positions and worked hard enough to be a very good special teams player. But his presence on the roster is far from guaranteed with several players looking to take that utility job.
Jacob Cutrera and Najee Goode are perfectly positioned to do just that. The team doesn't seem to trust Cutrera on defense, but he was a very good special teams player when he did get on the field. Najee Goode was one of their draft picks last year, but he couldn't get on the field, even as a special teams player. But if either player shows improvement this offseason, their cheaper pricetags could prompt the team to release Hayward.
Never count out the guys at the bottom of the roster, either, especially at linebacker, where undrafted free agents regularly make an impact both on special teams and as backups. Joe Holland and Ka'Lial Glaud both have a realistic chance of hanging around if they show up during training camp.
Projected roster: Lavonte David, Mason Foster, Jonathan Casillas, Najee Goode, Adam Hayward, Dekoda Watson
Check out our Training Camp Previews section for more on the team's posittion battles.