Like every other team, the Bucs brought 90 players to training camp, have trimmed that down to 75 and now must move 22 players off the active roster. For many of these young (or old) players the NFL is their dream and this preseason the result of 15-16 years of hard work, dedication, and sacrifice. For that reason I didn’t want to treat this as a trivial matter by calling out those who will be cut, but prefer to focus on those who avoid walking off the gang plank by having a solid camp and earning their chair on the pirate ship.
After the preseason finale against the Miami Dolphins the Buccaneers will turn their attention to preparing for the Tennessee Titans (something they’ve already begun), but before that they need to trim their roster to 53 players and 10 practice squad spots. The Buccaneers could no doubt be in the market for a few veteran free agents available on the market, which they started by signing Tim Jennings last night.
Beyond just the 53-man roster is the desire of players to make the 46-man active roster, so we have actually four competitions going at the same time:
• Making the 46-man active roster for weekly playing time and a rotational position
• The 53-man roster to be on an active NFL team
• 10-man practice squad
No matter who is brought in, by my count there are 35 Bucs who are completely safe, with 33 active players. Demar Dotson will be inactive early in the season due to injury, while Kenny Bell may not be active as he develops as an NFL player.
Highly Likely to Make the Squad
Another group of players I would call "highly likely" to make the 53-man roster. All 6 of the below should very well be in the 46-person active pool. I’ll examine them one at a time:
Russell Shepard WR – While Bell appears safe based on draft position and demonstrated potential, Shepard has been a key special teams player for Tampa the past two seasons and now that he’s demonstrated some receiving proficiency, I was very tempted to put him on the totally safe list. He’s about as near a lock as can be, but I think he’s competing, mostly with himself to get on the 46-man roster and I think he will.
Brandon Myers TE – Myers is a veteran presence behind Seferian-Jenkins and adds receiving that Stocker simply doesn’t bring. Hypothetically he could be unseated by a free agent pickup or Cameron Brate but I think that’s highly unlikely despite Myers’s blocking deficiencies.
Tony McDaniel NT – He hasn’t done much since arriving from Seattle, but then again I don’t think he needed to in the preseason. The 10-year veteran has a reputation and that alone probably keeps him in the game. I could still see McDaniel being released and re-signed after week 1 in order not have his contract become fully guaranteed. He's been downright awful in preseason, though. I don't think he deserves to make the cut but probably will.
Lawrence Sidbury Jr.DE – Perhaps no player has done more to help themselves than Sidbury through 3 preseason games. Not only has he flashed on film but through the first 3 preseason games PFF actually has him tied for 1st among 4-3 DE’s. I’m not sure even a bad performance in game 4 would keep him off the roster, though it might keep him out of the top 46.
D.J. Swearinger SS – Swearinger has improved in coverage and very well could be the starter at SS this season. In fact I think that’s what should happen despite the versatility and scheme skills of Major Wright.
Chris Conte FS – I know, I know, oft injured. The issue is the coaching staff loves him and when healthy he’s been a play maker. Plus, no one else left on the roster can give him a shove.
Active 46-man roster bubble
We now have 39 players who will appear on the active roster minus Dotson who is injured at the moment, which gives us 8 remaining weekly active spots to decide on. Position versatility and special teams play ability become a huge factor at this point in roster decisions.
Speaking of special teams, let's start there:
Place Kicker: Kyle Brindza vs. Connor Barth vs. Patrick Murray. Brindza would seem the most likely to win here since we just traded for him, with Barth being cut and Murray not even getting a single kick against the Dolphins. Advantage: Brindza is near lock after hitting from 50+ in the final preseason game and seeing Barth cut.
Wide Receiver: Rannell Hall & Adam Humphries vs. a Kenny Bell trip to IR. Again special teams is big here, we have not talked about KR/PR yet and here is the spot. The Bucs have Clay, Hall, and Humprhies involved in a battle here. While they would have liked to have seen draft pick Clay establish himself it didn’t happen. Hall has been consistent in all 4 games and Humphries after a shaky start with a couple drops against Minnesota put together a good game against Cleveland and a great game against Miami. Advantage: Hall
Offensive Guard/Backup Center(2): Oh boy! While the starters have struggled, the backups have been a total mess. We’ve had reports from Jenna Laine on Twitter that the Bucs have been calling around for offensive line help in a possible trade and the interior would seem the most likely spot. This battle is one that I don’t think settles down even after the 53-man roster is initially set. Right now it’s two spots between: trade candidate vs. free agent pickup vs. Patrick Omameh vs. Garrett Gilkey vs. Kadeem Edwards vs. Jeremiah Warren. That’s a big hot mess, Omameh brings versatility being equally sub-par at about 4 different line positions, Gilkey would seem to be okay run blocking at right guard though his snaps have not been good and now he might be headed to IR, Kadeem Edwards has been mostly below sub-par at left guard, and Warren’s pass blocking as a backup center leaves much to be desired. Advantage: Trade & Omameh. Though if forced to choose I’m going Omameh & free agent right now.
Defensive End/Defensive Tackle: William Gholston vs. Larry English(IR Possible) vs. Free Agent Pickup. I think Gholston has the clear edge right now and maybe playing versus himself at this particular point. He needs to show Tampa he can bring some heat from the edge as we have plenty of players who can rush up the middle. Advantage: Gholston.
Linebacker: Jason Williams vs. Free Agent. This is the only unsettled linebacker spot. Greene seemed to cap this with a 98 yard interception return for a TD against Miami, but was released anyway as the contributions of Jason Williams on special teams were deemed of greater value. Decision: Jason Williams
Cornerback: Mike Jenkins vs. (signed last night) Tim Jennings. Hard to think Tampa will want to keep both on the active roster once Jennings is signed, though also difficult to see them going with only less experienced cornerbacks at this point. That said, I wouldn’t be surprised if the loser stays on the 53 man roster for depth in case of injuries or poor play. Advantage: Tim Jennings
Cornerback(2): Jude Adjei-Barimah vs. Isiah Frey vs. Brandon Dixon vs. free agent. Jude’s been working this week as the slot cornerback backup to Moore. I think a good game against Miami seals the deal for the Bowling Green rookie. A big special teams hit also helped. Advantage: Adjei-Barmiah.
That leaves 6 spots(plus 1 for Dotson initially) who won’t be part of the regular active squad but who will be kept on the roster for injury reserve reasons. I expect to see several good battles here though there are some clear favorites.
Spot 48: RB Bobby Rainey vs. TE Cameron Braite: Most teams keep a 7 person combination at RB/TE, 4 of one 3 of the other when roster breakdowns happen. Rainey has been productive for Tampa in the past and gives versatility to backup the 3rd down runningback. Advantage: Rainey (Huge)
Spot 49: CB (unsigned) Tim Jennings vs. CB Mike Jenkins. The coaching staff obviously likes both guys. I expect Jennings will sign in the next day or two and that whoever is not active that week, the other will remain on the roster.
Spot 50: OT/OG Matthew Masifilo vs. himself. Masifilo converted from the defensive line this summer and has flashed some ability. It’s difficult to keep 5 tackles on the roster or 4 guards but given the injury trouble at tackle so far Tampa could feel its worth continuing the experiment a little bit longer. Advantage: Masifilo.
Spot 51: DT Caushaud Lyons vs. DE T.J. Fatinkun vs. DE Ryan Delaire vs. (English, Bowers, Gholston loser): This is probably 5 guys for one spot as most teams carry 9 downlineman. Llyons has had the best preseason of the group. While English my presumptive loser above could make a strong push, most everyone knows how I feel about the Tusculum product so I’m going to go homer pick here. Advantage: Lyons.
Spot 52: WR Adam Humphries vs. WR Donteea Dye vs. Kaelin Clay vs. Tavarres King vs. Bigger Needs. Remember way back when I put Kenny Bell as possibly inactive? Most teams carry 5 active WRs. If one of these guys shows a propensity in the slot (or Hall does and Clay gets better on returns) one could see time as the 5th /6th WR. It’s highly likely at least two of the above end up on the practice squad. Advantage: Humphries
Spot 53: Chris Hackett vs. Keith Tandy vs. injury need. A 5th safety for depth might end up being a luxury, especially if we keep 6 corners. Add to that Hackett is practice squad eligible. Keith Tandy though had a heck of a game in the 4th preseason affair great special teams play to go along with a pair of interceptions (even though he was out of position on one Freeman gift) Advantage: Keith Tandy
LB Larry Dean vs. LB Josh Keyes vs. Khaseem Greene vs. other needs vs. street free agent: I don’t think any of these players has done enough to earn a roster spot. On the other hand, only Keyes is practice squad eligible and he may be the worst of the bunch. When it comes down to roster math I’m not sure Lovie wants to be in a position where 2 injuries at LB push him to start someone who is not Tampa 2 fluent at LB (it looks horrible). Advantage: other needs
Reid Fragel vs. Edward Coughman vs. Other needs. A 5th offensive tackle is a lot a 6th is just absurd. I could see Fragel rock on the practice squad but Coughman has been horrid. Advantage: other needs.
Practice Squad Probables
The 10-man practice squad is a job on a football team and an opportunity to further develop. Generally one has to have played in fewer than 6 games to be on the practice squad with two or fewer seasons in the league. There are also two "super slots" which extend eligibility and years by a few games but I won’t belabor minutia and I’ll just list the players who are likely practice squad invites if they don’t make the roster:
CB Jude Adjei-Barimah – The last man standing at CB we’ve had in camp who is actually eligible.
WRs Rannell Hall, Adam Humphries, Kaelin Clay -- If one or two don’t make the roster I imagine they will make the practice squad and you can add Donteea Dye strictly for speed, I imagine we keep two receivers on the squad.
TE Cameron Brate – The Harvard product likely stays for depth.
C Jeremiah Warren – The former Bull might develop into a backup center with more time.
OT Reid Fragel – With two injuries already at tackle (albeit one of them minor) we’ll stock another OT here.
DT Caushaud Lyons & DE Ryan Delaire – Even if neither of these two makes the 53 man, assuming another team doesn’t claim them first they have shown enough promise in the first 3 games alone to merit a spot here.
S Chris Hackett – A 5th safety maybe a luxury on the 53 man roster, it’s prudent to keep one on the practice squad and Hackett has done well.