Friday, June 22, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

5 story lines for Bucs preseason camp

Here are five story lines expected between now and the start of the regular season. We'll get some answers with the first practice, with others not resolved until final roster cuts in September.

1. Is anyone still injured?

The biggest concern might be G J.R. Sweezy, who hasn't practiced since he was signed in March, due to a still-undisclosed "procedure." He's expected to take over for the retired Logan Mankins at left guard, so having one of the Bucs' biggest additions healthy is important.

Coach Dirk Koetter said in June that no players had injuries expected to make them miss training camp. So has DE Jacquies Smith's shoulder fully recovered? And what about WR Louis Murphy, who had ACL surgery in November?

2. Which familiar names are battling to keep their jobs?

The team hasn't cut any players with expensive salaries, but it could if key veterans can't emerge from camp as starters.

If Gosder Cherilus is a backup to Demar Dotson at right tackle, does the team pay him $4.5 million if Kevin Pamphile is already a solid backup? Evan Smith, likely backing up Joe Hawley at center, has guard/center flexibility to better justify his $2.5 million salary as a backup. Other veterans in jeopardy include DE George Johnson ($2 million), TE Brandon Myers ($1.75 million) and S Major Wright ($1.75 million).

3. Which undrafted rookies can make it?

Dirk Koetter mentioned the team can upgrade some spots with waiver pickups after final cuts, but a handful of undrafted rookies have this preseason to convince the coach he doesn't need to.

Can Auburn's Peyton Barber, with only one season as a college starter, flash enough promise and establish some special teams value to beat out Mike James as No. 3 running back?

Can Cassanova McKinzy and/or Luke Rhodes find a spot in a young linebacker group that should already have rookie Devante Bond as a backup? Can T Leonard Wester grab the last offensive line job? Or Travis Britz at defensive tackle?

4. Who will emerge as backup receivers?

If Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson are locks, the other wide receivers are still, at best, penciled in for jobs.

Kenny Bell, who missed last season with a hamstring injury, looked strong and fully recovered in spring drills, and Adam Humphries, productive as an injury replacement last year, also looked good in noncontact practices.

Can Louis Murphy return from his knee surgery in time to claim a job? Is Russell Shepard's special teams value strong enough to keep him on the roster when he hasn't contributed much on offense? Can an unproven young player such as Donteea Dye, Lakewood High's Bernard Reedy or USF and Jefferson High alumnus Andre Davis grab a return job (or two) and keep a spot that way?

5. How will the cornerback competition shake out?

The team tried every combination of corners last season with little success as opponents completed 70 percent of their passes.

First-round pick Vernon Hargreaves (Florida and Wharton High) will be a major part, and veteran Brent Grimes is being paid like a starter, so the conversation has to start there. But how well can Alterraun Verner and Johnthan Banks — two former starters all but abandoned at times by then-coach Lovie Smith last season — bounce back as reliable contributors?

After those four, there's competition between Jude Adjei-Barimah, who played well in 2015 as an undrafted rookie, and Josh Robinson, who got a modest one-year prove-it contract in free agency.

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