Quarterback (3): Josh McCown, Mike Glennon, Mike Kafka
Lovie Smith has a history of hanging on to three quarterbacks throughout a season, and he's needed all three of them on several occasions. There's no real reason to believe that will change this year, and Alex Tanney isn't exactly a challenging player for Kafka to deal with.
Update: Greg Auman points out that Lovie only kept two QBs in 2012. He was forced to bring in a third a quarterback when Cutler got injured, though. So take that how you want.
Running back (5): Doug Martin, Charles Sims, Jeff Demps, Mike James, Jorvorskie Lane(fullback)
Again, Lovie Smith has a history of hanging on to four running backs with one fullback added in. That's not likely to change this seasons, which means one of Jeff Demps, Mike James and Bobby Rainey will have to leave the squad. Demps brings some unique speed and value as a kick returner, which should give him that job. I thought James was a little more well-rounded last year, which is why I'm giving him the nod over Rainey.
Wide receiver (6): Vincent Jackson, Mike Evans, Louis Murphy, Chris Owusu, Tommy Streeter, Robert Herron
Lovie Smith's history says five or six receivers stick on this roster. Given the team's depth, I'm going to go with six. Robert Herron is the bubble player here and his ability to be a productive punt returner may be the difference between hanging on to a spot or not. Of course, if he can't be a productive punt returner that may simply mean losing Streeter or Owusu to a dedicated punt returner instead.
Tommy Streeter sticks because he's been blowing up training camp and his size makes him a good backup to Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans in terms of playing style, if not quality. Owusu will have to show that he can finally translate his practice tape to games in preseason, but I like his raw skillset. Louis Murphy's the reliable veteran who hangs around as insurance.
Tight End (3): Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Brandon Myers, Tim Wright
Seferian-Jenkins is coming around quickly, which means Luke Stocker becomes obsolete: you don't need a dedicated blocking tight end when you have one who can block and catch. Myers is a reliable but not spectacular player who should play second fiddle if Seferian-Jenkins develops, while Tim Wright is seen as a receiving/move tight end. You'll see all three players on the field at the same time.
Offensive Tackle (3): Anthony Collins, Demar Dotson, Kevin Pamphile
With Jamon Meredith's ability to play tackle and Kadeem Edwards and Jace Daniels having the ability to switch over in a pinch as well, the Bucs don't need a ton of depth in dedicated tackles. Pamphile sticks over Patchan because he's a draft pick.
Guard/Center (5): Jamon Meredith, Evan Dietrich-Smith, Kadeem Edwards, Patrick Omameh, Jace Daniels,
Meredith and Dietrich-Smith get two starting spots as the reliable veterans here, with Patrick Omameh and Kadeem Edwards fighting over the third starting spot on the interior offensive line. Jace Daniels is a versatile backup who can play everywhere, which is why he gets the nod over Oniel Cousins.
Defensive End (5): Michael Johnson, Adrian Clayborn, Steven Means, William Gholston, Da'Quan Bowers
William Gholston and Da'Quan Bowers both get roster spots because both of them can shift inside on passing downs. That versatility allows the Bucs to keep one fewer defensive tackle on the roster. However, one of them is likely to not actually be active on game days because the Bucs plan on activating just seven defensive linemen for each game. Steven Means looks like the unquestioned backup at right defensive end right now.
Defensive Tackle (3): Gerald McCoy, Clinton McDonald, Akeem Spence
McDonald can play both spots, while Gholston and Bowers can also backup McCoy on passing downs. You have to skimp on depth somewhere, and the Bucs don't have that much overall talent at defensive tackle, which is why they keep only three. Eight total defensive linemen is what Lovie Smith generally keeps.
Outside linebacker (5): Lavonte David, Jonathan Casillas, Ka'lial Glaud, Danny Lansanah, Nate Askew
Linebackers usually get an extra roster spot because they're so prominent on special teams. This fits Lovie Smith's history, too. Danny Lansanah has been standing out a bit in training camp, while Ka'lial Glaud hasn't looked bad either. Nate Askew sticks because he should be a tremendous special teams player and has a ton of potential, but needs a significant amount of development, too.
Middle linebacker (2): Mason Foster, Dane Fletcher
Yes, Mason Foster will stick as the starting middle linebacker. There's no indication that Dane Fletcher is seriously challenging him, but he's a quality player who will get some playing time, too.
Outside cornerback (4): Alterraun Verner, Johnthan Banks, Mike Jenkins, Deveron Carr
The Bucs are separating the outside cornerback and slot cornerback positions in their depth chart, which means we're doing so too. Four outside cornerbacks is quite a bit, but Lovie Smith loves to hang on to a ton of defensive backs. The top three are obvious, it's just the fourth spot that's a bit in doubt. I'm going with Carr, but this may well be Rashaan Melvin or someone else.
Slot cornerback (2): Leonard Johnson, Danny Gorrer
A separate position for the first time, both of these slot cornerbacks are capable of playing on the outside. I like Danny Gorrer's athletic potential more than Johnson's, but Gorrer has been inconsistent on the field. I think he sticks in part because of his versatility, but Johnson will win this starting spot.
Safety (4): Mark Barron, Dashon Goldson, Major Wright, Bradley McDougald
Two starters, obviously, with two decent backups. Major Wright hasn't stood in camp, but he knows Lovie Smith's system and was a terrific starter two years ago before collapsing when Lovie Smith left Chicago. I'm betting he'll return to form. I'm also having Bradley McDougald beating out Keith Tandy mostly because I don't like Keith Tandy.
Special Teams (3)
Michael Koenen (P), Connor Barth (K), Jeremy Cain (LS)
Boring result, but the Bucs haven't really brought in quality competition for any of these players. Andrew DePaola might challenge Cain, but it's a long-snapper position -- how are we going to judge that? And who even cares? Patrick Murray can both punt and kick but nothing has really suggested that he'll challenge either Koenen or Barth. Unless he booms a few in preseason, because both of those players are a bit overpaid.
Practice squad bonus (8)
C Josh Allen, T Matt Patchan, DT Euclid Cummings, DE Chaz Sutton, TE Cameron Brate, WR Skye Dawson, CB Keith Lewis, FB/RB Lonnie Pryor.
Bonus round! I'm just going to throw a bunch of players I like but who will struggle to make the roster in here, and who aren't quite good enough to get picked up by another team instead. Limiting my options here is the fact that players who have been on an active, game-day roster for more than eight games in one season or have been on a roster for six games in each of two seasons are not eligible.
Lots of linemen on the practice squad because they need those for practice, and because finding them can be hard. Cameron Brate has been getting a solid amount of playing time, so I like him to stick around. Skye Dawson had some potential last year, and Keith Lewis is the obligatory high-potential undrafted rookie cornerback. Finally, Lonnie Pryor because Lonnie Pryor.
Photo credit: Kim Klement, USA TODAY.
Update: clarified practice squad eligibility rule.