Since January, all we’ve been able to do is talk about what the Buccaneers will look like in 2019. With training camp just over one week away, talking season is nearly over. We’re about to actually see what the team looks like on the field.
For NFL players, the end of July and the entire month of August is all about returning to game shape, getting reps and in some cases, fighting for roster spots. For fans, it’s simply a time to appreciate finally having football back. There’s always a group of players that get a bit of extra attention throughout training camp and the preseason.
Who is in that group this year for Tampa Bay? Last week, we looked at five returning players to watch. Over the next couple of days, we’ll be looking at five players to watch in the following categories: newcomers and undrafted free agents. Today, we look at five newcomers to watch in the next month or so.
LB Devin White
2019 first-round pick Devin White might be THE player that I’m most excited to see hit the field for training camp and the preseason. Tampa Bay drafted White with the fifth overall pick in this year’s draft fully expecting him to step right in and lead a turnaround for the defense. At LSU, the 6-foot-1 linebacker was the leader of the Tiger defense. He made plays all over the field for Dave Aranda, playing in a defensive system that he said is similar to the one he’ll play in for the Bucs under Todd Bowles. Bowles loves to blitz and be aggressive, and he will love having White to send after opposing quarterbacks.
Training camp and the ensuing exhibition games will be our first chance to see the new-look Tampa Bay defense at work. No longer will Kwon Alexander be the guy in the middle of the defense calling the shots. It’ll be Devin White. This month, the exciting young prospect gets his first chance to participate in NFL training camp and perform in front of some of the home fans. He is sure to bring some energy to the practice fields. How can you not be excited to see what he brings to the table? We’ll get our first look at what all of the hype has been about and what the future will look like for the middle of the defense.
DT Ndamukong Suh
Speaking of new faces in the middle of the defense... One of the more newsworthy moves the Bucs made this offseason came not all that long ago. After months of speculation, the team released longtime defensive tackle Gerald McCoy. The front office wasted no time bringing in someone to occupy his spot, and it just so happens that it’s the guy who was drafted one spot ahead of McCoy in the 2010 NFL Draft. Ndamukong Suh, wearing McCoy’s No. 93, will occupy one of the Bucs’ defensive line spots when the team takes the field for training camp.
It still feels weird to picture Suh lining up on the Bucs’ side of the ball. That’s part of the reason he’s such an intriguing guy to follow throughout the month of August, simply because we’ll be able to get used to him being a Buc. It’ll be interesting to see how the veteran fits in with the young defense. Scheme-wise, we know Suh will be a fit. But seeing how he acclimates to the team and its new culture will be worth keeping an eye on. He surely feels like he has something left to prove, considering he was unsigned until late May. If the Bucs get a motivated Suh over the next few weeks, optimism about Todd Bowles’ defense will only grow.
S Mike Edwards
From rookie to veteran now back to the rookie side of the “newcomers” category. One of my personal favorites in Tampa Bay’s 2019 draft class is safety Mike Edwards. The former Kentucky Wildcat models his game after current Chiefs safety Tyrann Mathieu. He even dyes his hair like him. As a huge fan of Mathieu’s, that has me excited. I wanted the Honeybadger to come to Tampa as much as anyone else did, but the Bucs drafted Edwards hoping to find that same kind of impact. The third-rounder plays aggressive, physical and quickness. He doesn’t have a lot of size, but the ability is there.
Bruce Arians and Todd Bowles got a lot out of the undersized Mathieu back in Arizona. Now, they’ll look to do the same with a guy who would love nothing more than to follow in the Honeybadger’s footsteps. I’m stoked to see what Edwards can do in camp and then in the preseason, especially because the opportunity is there. By no means is the team’s safety position set. Justin Evans is sidelined with an injury, and there’s no clear frontrunners to take hold of the starting positions. Edwards could get a lot of looks over the next three or four weeks, and depending on what he does with the opportunity, he could be in position to make a big impact for the Tampa Bay defense this fall.
WR Breshad Perriman
Back to the veteran side of things we go! This pick, admittedly, has a little bias in it. I’m a UCF graduate, so I’m familiar with former Knight Breshad Perriman. Perriman played in Orlando a couple of years before I got there, but I remember watching him closely as a high school student. He was a big part of the program’s success in 2013 and 2014, and I vividly remember seeing his “Hail Perriman” catch against East Carolina on SportsCenter the morning after it happened. Long story short, I’m excited that Perriman is a Buccaneer.
UCF bias aside, I’m still intrigued by what Perriman can bring to the Bucs in 2019. We’re just days away from seeing how he and Jameis Winston connect. Of course the hope is that there’s more chemistry between the two than there was between Winston and DeSean Jackson. Perriman, who hasn’t quite lived up to his expectations as a first-round pick, has blazing speed. Before the 2015 draft, he was clocked in between 4.19 and 4.27 on his 40-yard dash by NFL scouts. Are you kidding me? Seeing how Bruce Arians can put that speed to use is going to be exciting, as will the deep ball attempts from Winston and the other Buccaneer quarterbacks throughout the month of August. Can Perriman be the deep threat Tampa has been needing? We’ll get our first looks soon.
K Matt Gay
Yes, I put a kicker on this list. No, I don’t feel bad about it. Drafting Matt Gay — a Lou Groza Award winner in Utah — brought back nightmares for Bucs fans. Drafting a kicker only a few years after the failure of the Roberto Aguayo selection was definitely a risk. But it’s a risk I’m curious about. Gay has made headlines for the Bucs already, namely for his 50-yard field goal that sent the team home early from OTAs. Early returns on the former soccer player have been nothing but positive. Are we getting our hopes up about a kicker again?
Well, I am. Tampa Bay so badly needs Gay to be the guy to end the Curse of Matt Bryant. The kicking woes for this franchise have to end if there is any chance of competing any time soon. The Bucs absolutely need to find a guy who won’t make them nervous when he goes out for a simple 35-yard field goal this fall. Every kick of Matt Gay’s throughout the next month is going to be watched closely. He’s going to be over-analyzed. But if he can show some consistency early in his NFL career, it could go a long way for confidence. It would be good for his confidence, the team’s confidence and the fans’ confidence. I know a lot of fans are in “I’ll believe it when I see it mode.” That’s more than fair. But I’m ready to see what this guy’s got. Training camp — and then the preseason — is the start.
All right, Bucs Nation. Which newcomers are you most looking forward to following when training camp gets underway? Stay tuned tomorrow for five undrafted free agents to follow throughout August.