The Tampa Bay Buccaneers had their first practice at training camp yesterday, and they’re slowly getting back into the swing of things. We won’t see any position battles decided at this point, it’s far too early for that, but we can still keep an eye on some key points of competition. So let’s quickly go over the top position battles in training camp.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers signed Robert Ayers and drafted Noah Spence to rush the passer, but it’s not yet clear where these players will line up on which downs. The biggest competition here will involve Noah Spence: can he earn significant playing time as a rookie? Defensive ends tend to struggle to get on the field and make an impact in their first year in the league, and Spence is a bit of a lightweight — which means he may be restricted to passing downs only early on.
The rest will have to earn their specific spots, too. Can William Gholston be more than a run defender? Will Ayers rush the passer from defensive end or defensive tackle? Will Jacquies Smith or Howard Jones take another step and add consistent pressure to their decent number of sacks?
Of course, this competition won’t really heat up until the pads come on and we’re getting into full-contact practices.
Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans will be the two starting wideouts, but there’s a lot of room for players behind them to earn playing time. Kenny Bell and Russell Shepard are early standouts, and the Bucs hope Bell in particular can make good on the talent that made them draft him last year. Adam Humphries still wants a role in the slot, and Donteea Dye and Andre Davis are still on the roster as well, while Louis Murphy hasn’t been cleared for practice yet.
This competition could be decided fairly early on, but preseason performance will likely have a big impact on who gets to play. Humphries should earn a roster spot as a slot specialist, while Bell probably has the inside track on a speed receiver role. That leaves Russell Shepard as a special teamer and utility wideout. But a few standout performances in camp or preseason and things could look very different, very quickly.
The Bucs have a bit of a weird mix of tight ends. Luke Stocker is a very good blocker, but almost worthless as a receiver. Cameron Brate is a solid underneath receiver, but not a good blocker, nor does he have the explosiveness to be a real receiving threat. Austin Seferian-Jenkins has all the talent in the world, but has often been injured and hasn’t really shown that he can be a reliable player. And then there’s veteran Brandon Myers, who can do a little bit of everything but may be without a roster spot before long.
The real intrigue will surround not a true tight end, but fullback/h-back/tight end Dan Vitale, the Bucs’ sixth-round pick. The team hopes he can be a big part of the offense, and he could line up all over the formation. If he does get a big role, that’s likely to come at the expense of one tight end or another, in terms of playing time or even a roster spot.
Brent Grimes will start, and that’s about all we know. Alterraun Verner has had a good offseason and is currently slated to be the team’s second starting cornerback, but he’s facing stiff competition from Johnthan Banks and even rookie Vernon Hargreaves. Add in veteran addition Josh Robinson, who has been nearly invisible this offseason, and last year’s surprising undrafted rookie Jude Adjei-Barimah, and there’s a lot of depth and a decent amount of talent at this position. How much playing time will Hargreaves win, and will Verner be able to hold on to his starting spot?