Players to watch in Bucs' rookie camp
We spent much of the past several days analyzing the Bucs’ draft and the merits of the players they selected, but we’ve not gone into as much depth on the players who were signed as rookie free agents after the draft.
Well, they’ll be among the players on the field this weekend when the Bucs conduct their annual rookie mini-camp at One Buc Place.
So, in advance of that, now is a good time to look closer at which of these undrafted prospects are worthy of some further examination and why.
It’s impossible to know which, if any, of these players will find their way onto the team’s final roster, but there are a few who seem to have a legitimate shot.
CB Leonard Johnson, Iowa State
Johnson was projected by a lot of reputable analysts to be a potential mid-round draft pick, but he went undrafted, in part, because he was in a deep class of cornerbacks. The native of Clearwater attended Largo High and is considered a good option in man-to-man coverage, but he has shown good ability in zone coverage, too.
The concerns about him were his speed (he ran a disappointing 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine) and his Senior Bowl performance left a lot to be desired. Still, you have to like the fact that Johnson played against elite competition in a heavy passing conference like the Big 12 and his willingness to be physical (he had 72 tackles last season).
With the Bucs not addressing cornerback until the sixth round, when they drafted Keith Tandy from West Virginia, don’t overlook Johnson’s ability to stick around – or at least catch onto the practice squad.
FB Cody Johnson, Texas
Let’s start by pointing out that we don’t really know what, if any, role the fullback will have in the Bucs’ new offense. The Giants, whom last employed offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan, aren’t known for using one very often, but there will be differences between Sullivan’s scheme and New York’s.
With that said, if the fullback is something the Bucs see as necessary, there’s opportunity there. The only semi-legitimate fullback on the roster is Erik Lorig, a converted defensive end. The Bucs could see seventh-round pick Drake Dunsmore as an option at fullback – he played an H-back sort of role at Northwestern – but he’s not an accomplished blocker.
That brings us to Johnson, who could have a real opportunity because of a lack of competition. Johnson has running ability, averaging 4.4 yards per carry in the past two seasons and rushing for a career-best 592 yards in 201.
But his chances for making this roster lie in his ability to be a lead blocker. His physical running style suggests he can do it, though he’ll be tested in that role in the NFL because the fullback is hardly a staple in today’s brand of college football.
QB Zach Collaros, Cincinnati
Here’s a news flash: Quarterback is not a high priority for the Bucs. We know Josh Freeman is the Bucs’ unquestioned No. 1 and, it appears, Dan Orlovsky will be his primary backup.
Beyond that, things are unclear. For one, we can’t say whether the Bucs are likely to keep three quarterbacks on their roster or settle for two. Even in the latter scenario, they’ll keep one on the practice squad.
Collaros hopes that’s him. His chief competition – really his only current competition – is Brett Ratliff, who joined the Bucs’ practice squad in December and remains on the team’s roster. Ratliff has been on several NFL rosters during the past three seasons, so he’s somewhat experienced.
But Ratliff hasn’t played in games, and Collaros will have a chance to prove he has more upside. He’s a tough, physical player who has shown he is a competitor. He completed 61 percent of his attempts in 2011 and had an average touchdown-to-interception ration of 15 to 10.
OT Bradley Sowell, Ole Miss
Sowell was a player seen as a likely draft pick by some, but he fell out of the draft, perhaps because of concerns about his lack of strength and physicality.
Still, he plays a position that will allow him to compete on this roster because the Bucs haven’t done much to solidify their depth at tackles. Behind starters Donald Penn and Jeremy Trueblood and key backups Derek Hardman and Demar Dotson, the Bucs don’t have much outside of journeyman Jamon Meredith.
Sowell played left tackle opposite Cardinals draft pick Bobbie Massie, the Rebels’ right tackle. He has impressive size (6-7, 316) and ability that can, possibly, be developed.