What to watch for: Bucs' final position battles ...
The Bucs' final preseason game is tonight at Raymond James Stadium against the Redskins, and while most starters will get the night off entirely, the backups stepping in will help determine the last roster spots as the team trims its roster to 53 players.
Don't underestimate the possibility of the Bucs scouring the waiver wire, finding the best players cut loose by other teams to address positions where depth is still a concern within the current roster.
To simplify things, we'll presume that 42 roster spots are already spoken for -- we have a list at the bottom of the post -- and we'll also make a case for nine players likely to be cut regardless of how they play tonight: QB Mike Kafka, FB Lonnie Pryor, TE Cameron Brate, OT Edawn Coughman, DE T.J. Fatinikun, LB Nate Askew, CB Marc Anthony, CB Anthony Gaitor and CB Kip Edwards. Most of those are still practice-squad possibilities, but it's unlikely they'll make the 53 from our perspective.
That leaves 24 players battling for 11 roster spots -- keep in mind that a 12th should open up after RB Charles Sims is shifted to "injured reserve -- designated for return," but he has to be on the initial 53. That opens a spot for one more player, either on this roster or as a waiver claim. Here are 11 battles we'll be watching -- in theory the Bucs could keep two from one line and none from another, as it's hard to know how they're weighing how many to keep at each position.
1. KICKER: Connor Barth vs. Patrick Murray. Barth has done nothing in preseason to hurt his position, but Murray has turned coaches' heads. Keeping the unproven Murray would be a risk, but would save the team $2.7 million due to Barth's salary. The Bucs are still well under the salary cap, so it'd be an actual savings, moreso than a strategic one.
2. FIFTH DEFENSIVE END: Da'Quan Bowers vs. Larry English vs. Scott Solomon. Perhaps the best battle in camp, though Bowers' groin injury has given English a clearer shot to jump in as backup pass-rusher. English had two sacks last week, and Bowers hasn't been back to practice, despite Lovie Smith's public comments about players getting "Wally Pipped." Solomon would need a strong game to beat out both, but we'll keep him in the conversation.
3. FIFTH RUNNING BACK: Jeff Demps vs. Jorvorskie Lane. As we've mentioned, Demps has underwhelmed in preseason, with no more than 8 yards on any of his 22 offensive touches. That could be the Bucs hiding him a bit, running him between the tackles and not throwing many passes his way. Lane expects to play despite a bad bruise on his left hand from last week's game.
4. SIXTH RECEIVER: Louis Murphy vs. Russell Shepard. We're presuming rookies Rob Herron and Solomon Patton make the cut, based on the investment of a draft pick and Patton holding down both return jobs. Now, do you opt for Murphy's speed and experience, or Shepard's special-teams role? Or perhaps the Bucs only keep five receivers ...
5. THIRD TACKLE: Jamon Meredith vs. Kevin Pamphile. Meredith has gone from starting guard to battling for a roster spot as a backup tackle -- he's due to make $1.05 million in base salary, which could work against him. The Bucs traded up to get Pamphile, so it's hard to imagine the new leadership dropping a 2014 draft pick when he's consistently worked as a second-string tackle.
6. FOURTH GUARD: Oniel Cousins vs. Rishaw Johnson vs. Andrew Miller. Cousins, like Meredith, has gone from starting to trying to survive the roster cut. Logan Mankins pushes Cousins to the second team, where he's competing with Johnson, who the Bucs acquired last week from the Chiefs for safety Kelcie McCray. Miller, like Johnson, can play center, which could help him. With the starting line likely resting tonight, all three will get significant reps ...
7. FOURTH DEFENSIVE TACKLE: Ronald Talley vs. Matt Masifilo. The Bucs may keep only three, trusting that Gholston (and potentially Bowers) can shift inside in nickel packages. Talley is a converted 3-4 end but has worked with the No. 2 defense plenty.
8. SIXTH LINEBACKER: Ka'Lial Glaud vs. Brandon Magee. Magee's been sidelined by a foot injury but could return tonight -- Glaud was in on every special-teams play last week, and is playing as much against the threat of a waiver addition as anything. He'll get a chance to show what he can do on defense tonight -- we could include rookie Nate Askew here, but he's played too little in preseason.
9. FOURTH CORNERBACK: Rashaan Melvin vs. Keith Lewis. We could include Gaitor, but he's already been cut once this summer; Melvin has missed two weeks with an ankle, leaving a window for Lewis to surprise -- waiving Danny Gorrer and Deveron Carr showed the team's interest in the small-school rookie with impressive size and speed.
10. TENTH DEFENSIVE BACK: Bradley McDougald vs. Quinton Pointer. Trading McCray seemed to help McDougald's chances, but then he was injured in last week's game and is in doubt for tonight. Pointer is the only backup at nickel and has been active on special teams
11. BACKUP CENTER: Josh Allen vs. Jeremiah Warren. The Bucs may keep only eight on the line and grab one of these two for the practice squad, but if they keep nine, they'll want a backup center they can trust. Allen, an undrafted rookie, could be a starter tonight, and Warren, a former USF guard acquired on waivers Tuesday, needs to make a quick impression.
There you have it -- the bottom of the Bucs' roster could go a number of ways, and tonight's game may or may not play a large role in those decisions. We'll be posting observations to Twitter throughout the game as well ... Here are the 42 guys we feel are already on the team, barring surprises ...
QB: McCown, Glennon; RB: Martin, Rainey, Sims, James; WR: Jackson, Evans, Owusu, Herron, Patton; TE: Seferian-Jenkins, Myers, Stocker; OL: Collins, Mankins, Dietrich-Smith, Omameh, Dotson, Edwards; DE: Johnson, Clayborn, Gholston, Means; DT: McCoy, McDonald, Spence; LB: David, Foster, Casillas, Fletcher, Lansanah; CB: Verner, Banks, Jenkins; NB: Johnson; S: Barron, Goldson, Wright, Tandy; ST: Koenen, DePaola.