Breaking down the Bucs' final roster
We're less than 24 hours away from learning the details of the Bucs' final roster. To that end, I did an analysis of the roster and the decisions the lie ahead for the Saturday newspaper. But you're in luck: I'll give you a preview tonight.
Just remember, though based on actual reporting, conversations and personal observations, these are still just projections. Think of them like really, really educated guesses.
Anyway, here goes.
Josh Freeman and Josh Johnson are 1 and 2, respectively, in the lineup. About the only debate here is whether the Bucs will keep two or three quarterbacks, but everything from the upside of Rudy Carpenter to subtle hints from the staff indicates the top three in the Bucs’ quarterback lineup will remain intact.
Asked about Carpenter and whether he’s played his way onto the roster after a two-touchdown performance on Thursday, coach Raheem Morris offered a stock answer: “We have to go back and figure out what’s going to help your roster the (most).”
Still, the quarterback position seems set.
IN: Josh Freeman, Josh Johnson, Rudy Carpenter.
OUT: Jevan Snead.
The release of veteran Derrick Ward on Tuesday cleared things up a bit in the offensive backfield. What the Bucs have to figure out now is how they intend to structure their remaining personnel there, including how to divide it between running back and fullback.
We know Cadillac Williams is the starter at tailback and Kareem Huggins the backup, by default, with Ward gone. Earnest Graham is the fullback/all-purpose back who should have a noticeable role in the offense.
The debate at this position centers on Clifton Smith, the return man extraordinaire who hasn’t fared well as a running back. But he has two things going for him: The Bucs are a team willing to invest in special teams and associate head coach Rich Bisaccia, also the special teams coach, fights for his guys. The down side for him is that the Bucs have a surplus of talent in the return game. Smith probably makes the cut, but it's no sure thing.
If the Bucs keep a backup fullback, Chris Pressley gets the nod.
IN: Cadillac Williams, Kareem Huggins, Earnest Graham
OUT: Carlos Brown, Rendrick Taylor
BUBBLE: Clifton Smith, Chris Pressley
The starting lineup here has been set for some time, but depth is a bit of an issue. Still, the cuts shouldn’t be too difficult here because there’s a pretty big dropoff after the handful of key reserves.
One of the primary factors in deciding who stays is versatility. The Bucs might choose to go a bit light on their final number of offensive linemen, meaning those who stay must be capable of playing multiple roles.
Tackle James Lee, for instance, is capable of playing on either side and could chip in at guard, in a pinch.
IN: Jeff Faine, Keydrick Vincent, Davin Joseph, Jeremy Trueblood, Donald Penn, Jeremy Zuttah, James Lee, Demar Dotson
OUT: Derek Hardman, Xavier Fulton, Donovan Raiola
BUBBLE: Jonathan Compas, Marc Dile
This unit isn’t likely to see any upheaval. In fact, it could look exactly the way it did last season when the unit consisted of Kellen Winslow, Jerramy Stevens and John Gilmore. One possible change would involve a potential addition. Much-improved Ryan Purvis has made a push for a roster spot and will get serious consideration. He’s very capable of helping in the passing game but isn’t afraid to mix things up as a blocker.
For him, it comes down to a numbers game and whether there’s room after other tough roster decisions.
IN: Kellen Winslow, Jerramy Stevens, John Gilmore
OUT: Jeron Mastrud
BUBBLE: Ryan Purvis
This one is a migraine waiting to happen. The Bucs have potentially dynamic rookies in Mike Williams and Arrelious Benn, and they have a solid young player in Sammie Stroughter. Beyond that, it’s a little hit and miss.
Micheal Spurlock has evolved from former college quarterback into a sure-handed receiver with potent return ability, but he remains untested. Maurice Stovall is intriguing but can’t stay healthy. Reggie Brown offers a veteran presence but the playmaking seems lacking. Michael Clayton has a guaranteed salary this year with little to show for it.
And so it goes at this much-debated position.
The choices are hardly obvious. The Bucs will have to go with their guts and live with it. But Morris offered a possible clue of their intentions on Friday when speaking about the receivers, speaking excitedly about the young talent in the receiving corps. Perhaps that was a hint about Clayton and/or Brown.
Another consideration here: Morris said the Bucs are open to keeping six receivers, a slightly high number.
IN: Mike Williams, Sammie Stroughter, Arrelious Benn, Maurice Stovall, Micheal Spurlock.
OUT: Too close to call
BUBBLE: Reggie Brown, Preston Parker, Michael Clayton
The Bucs are strong at defensive tackle but have a lot of mediocrity at defensive end. Rookie tackles Gerald McCoy and Brian Price will team with Roy Miller to give Tampa Bay a formidable interior. But the rotation at defensive end will be impacted by what the Bucs do with their final roster.
IN: Gerald McCoy, Stylez White, Kyle Moore, Brian Price, Roy Miller, Ryan Sims, Michael Bennett
OUT: Dre Moore, George Johnson, James Ruffin, Carlton Powell
BUBBLE: Tim Crowder, Erik Lorig
This is something of an area of strength, particularly the starting lineup. But even the reserves will play a role, with Adam Hayward periodically lining up as a fullback and rookie Dekoda Watson showing all sorts of potential on special teams and in spot duty as an edge rusher.
IN: Barrett Ruud, Quincy Black, Geno Hayes, Dekoda Watson, Adam Hayward
OUT: Rico McCoy, Lee Robinson
BUBBLE: Niko Koutouvides
The starting lineup is set, but the decisions here are complicated by cornerback Aqib Talib’s one-game suspension to start the season. He won’t count toward the 53-man roster until he returns, so the Bucs will have to decide who their bonus defensive back will be.
Also, don’t be surprised if the Bucs keep five safeties, which is one more than most teams. You can credit Corey Lynch’s impressive preseason and special teams play for forcing a decision on that front. And yes, Sabby Piscitelli makes the roster in that scenario.
IN: Ronde Barber, Aqib Talib, E.J. Biggers, Myron Lewis, Tanard Jackson, Sean Jones, Cody Grimm, Sabby Piscitelli
OUT: Vince Anderson, Trae Williams, Brandon Anderson
BUBBLE: Corey Lynch, Elbert Mack, Derrick Roberson
This lineup is all but set. The Bucs feel good about kicker Connor Barth, who was perfect in the preseason. They were confident enough in rookie punter Brent Bowden to not bring in any competition for him, though has been up and down in the preseason. Andrew Economos returns as the long snapper.
IN: Connor Barth, Brent Bowden, Andrew Economos.