Special teams is always the key to making the roster for low-ranked players, but it's not the only avenue. And special teams battles are hard to track -- so which position battles should we focus on while the offense and defense are on the field tomorrow?
Every guard on the roster not named Logan Mankins
Let's count them down: Rishaw Johnson (#65), Oniel Cousins (#75), Patrick Omameh(#66), Josh Allen (center, #61), Jeremiah Warren (center, #68), Kadeem Edwards (#71), Andrew Miller (#76).
That's a lot of guards, and the Bucs aren't about to keep all of them. In fact, if they're very lucky, four of those guys will stick on the roster. More likely, two or three will hang around. So who? They traded for Rishaw Johnson, but it's not like they gave up so much that he's guaranteed a roster spot. They drafted Kadeem Edwards, but that was just a fifth-round pick. They picked up Jeremiah Warren yesterday, but things can happen quickly in the NFL. And while Oniel Cousins and Patrick Omameh were starting games just a few days ago, neither played well enough to have definitively earned his way onto the roster.
In other words: it's a giant mess, and we don't know what will happen. If I had to guess, Patrick Omameh, Kadeem Edwards and Rishaw Johnson (who can also play center) will make the roster, along with Kevin Pamphile and Jamon Meredith, who are both versatile enough to play tackle and guard. But a strong performance from any one player could crowd out any of these guys. This will be by far the most interesting position to watch tomorrow.
Ka'lial Glaud (#58) and Brandon Magee(#44)
These two linebackers are probably competing for one spot. Danny Lansanah and Dane Fletcher seem safe enough: Lansanah has gotten repeated with the first-team defense in preseason, while Fletcher was signed to be the main backup at middle linebacker and has performed well in training camp and preseason. That leaves Magee and Glaud fighting for one spot as one of the backups for either outside linebacker spot. A strong special teams performance will help, and it's possible that the Bucs keep both if they do well.
Scott Solomon (#60) vs Larry English(#74)
Players definitely safe at defensive end: Adrian Clayborn, Michael Johnson.
Players probably safe: Steven Means. Also, Da'Quan Bowers, William Gholston, as Lovie Smith said he'd seen enough to like both of them earlier this week, even with their injuries.
That doesn't leave a lot of room on the roster, but with those injuries the Bucs are probably going to keep another defensive end. So who will that be? Scott Solomon, who has looked pretty decent as a right end this preseason, although his performance wasn't eye-popping? Or will it be Larry English, who played one game and immediately recorded two sacks -- albeit very lucky sacks?
I'm discounting Ronald Talley (who plays more of a defensive tackle role) and T.J. Fatinikun here, but a strong performance could see them bump both Solomon and English.
Connor Barth (#10) vs Patrick Murray (#7)
No, I'm never giving this up. Connor Barth's salary just isn't commensurate with what he earns: he's set to make $3.15 million this year. Meanwhile, Patrick Murray is set to earn $420,000. That's a lot of money saved. Money they could probably use given the fact that they just assumed a pretty big contract by trading for Logan Mankins.
Murray has looked good in preseason, and hasn't yet missed a kick. He also looked good in training camp. And he has the added benefit of having a strong enough leg to consistently handle kickoffs, something Barth cannot do. Murray could genuinely bump Barth off the roster with a strong performance tomorrow.