The Buccaneers currently have 80 men on the roster, soon to be cut down to just 53, each with the hope of securing a starting job at his position. Training camp began this past Friday, meaning the pads went on and the competition really began.
Every year in camp there is at least one dark horse who comes in and fights to earn a spot on the roster or more playing time than expected. Given the youth overhaul of the Bucs roster, the number of dark horse players is likely to increase.
To be fair to these players, the term dark horse is relative to our expectations and does not truly reflect the talent they possess. That said here are a few of the promising young players that could make an unexpected impact for the 2010 squad: RB Kareem Huggins, WR Mike Williams, LB Dekoda Watson and DT Roy Miller.
DT Roy Miller
Ok before you start pulling your hair out about Miller being on this list, let me explain. He is not a dark horse to make the team or to see his fair share of playing time at the DT position. So, why is Miller listed here? Unless you followed his career at the University of Texas, you should be surprised to hear that the team has been lining him up on offense.
Miller spent the off season trimming down from the 325lbs he was asked to play at last year, in Jim Bates defense, to a more fit 305lbs this year. This was done in efforts to help him adapt to the re-installation of the Tampa -Two defense Coach Morris will be running this year. At 305lbs he is playing much quicker and is ready to take on any role asked of him.
Back at Texas, Miller put in some work at fullback and saw game action as well. During a live action goal line drill, Miller found himself lined up against the defense as the jumbo package fullback. This move could spell trouble for fullbacks Chris Pressley or Rendrick Taylor, who are currently sitting behind Earnest Graham on the depth chart. One of them could easily find themselves on the practice squad if Miller continues to see action on the goal line.
Coming out of college Watson draws many comparisons to the great Derrick Brooks. They both play smaller and quicker than your average linebacker, Watson being 6’1", 240lbs and Brooks standing 6’0", 235lbs. They both played the same position at Florida State University and now they have both been drafted by the Bucs.
Watson is coming into a very competitive and talented group of young linebackers and is currently buried on the depth chart behind starting Sam LB Quincy Black and backup Adam Heyward. He brings solid depth to the position but will need to put in a lot of hard work to get on the field.
Last year Tampa Bay kept only 7 linebackers for their opening day 53-man roster and dressed just 6 of them. As of right now, Watson’s best chance of making the team appears to come down to his ability to contribute on special teams.
Williams had major issues in his final collegiate year, so much so, it culminated with him out of football completely. Prior to the draft, the Bucs spent an inordinate amount of time researching his background and ultimately made the decision to select him. A typical 4th round pick is not likely to see much game action, but we're finding out there's nothing typical about Mike Williams. Despite the adversity, he has put himself in a position to compete for the starting job.
Williams stands 6'1 and weighs a beastly 221lbs. He plays with good speed and runs great routes. He is also a very physical receiver in press coverage and has an innate ability to go up and get the ball. Thus far Williams has rewarded the Bucs' pre-draft efforts by displaying first round talent on the field and impeccable behavior off it.
If you were to ask Coach Morris or GM Mark Dominik, they would tell you Williams’ behavior has been no surprise to them. But his on field performance has created a buzz amongst the staff. If he can maintain his level of play throughout training camp, and the preseason, it would be difficult for any receiver on the roster to deny him a starting job.
Huggins began impressing the Bucs coaches in the 2009 training camp. He played in the first two games of the 2009 preseason, rushing for a very respectable 3.9 yards per attempt. Huggins performance showed enough potential to earn a spot on last year's practice squad. Eventually, he earned his way onto the active roster but did not play.
Hofstra University is where Huggins played his college football. During his 4 years there, he rushed 428 times for 2,188 yards, an average of 5.1 yards per attempt. He is a small RB by current NFL standards, coming in at 5’9", 198lbs. But plays with deceptive speed and makes clean cuts.
Huggins is currently competing with pro bowl return specialist Clifton Smith for the third RB position. Despite already securing a roster spot for his contributions on special teams, Smith would like to contribute more on offense. Smith has had a few opportunities to tote the rock in games but has struggled to hold on to the ball. The competition should be intense but Huggins has a good chance to earn the job.