Make us your home page
Instagram

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Breaking down position battles at Tampa Bay Buccaneers training camp

The Buccaneers report for training camp Friday, and what a camp it is expected to be. In recent seasons, there hasn't been a great deal of debate about key positions because those jobs had had limited turnover. Nothing could be further from the truth this year. The coaching staff is new. So, too, are the offensive and defensive schemes. Many players central to the team's hopes also are new. So this will be a camp full of story lines, and they will include position battles in key areas.

Quarterback

Get ready for endless debate about this position. It's wide open, even though the conventional wisdom is the job is Luke McCown's to lose. Even so, McCown's grip on it isn't secure given that the Bucs have options. Whether those options — veteran Byron Leftwich and rookie Josh Freeman — are better can be argued. Coaches will be fair about the opportunities afforded each player during training camp and preseason games, the idea being that they'll get a wealth of information upon which to base a decision. But it's possible there won't be a consensus starter if no one is clearly superior.

One thing is clear: The candidates are vastly different. McCown, 28, is a veteran but a career backup who hasn't established a reputation in the league. Leftwich, 29, is trying to live down his reputation for being immobile and prone to interceptions even though he has a big arm. Freeman is an unknown but a gifted athlete.

It should be an interesting ride.

Placekicker

The Bucs have gotten plenty of miles (and points) out of Matt Bryant. The 34-year-old has an average 83.1 percent success rate on field goals the past four seasons. But the one thing coach Raheem Morris and GM Mark Dominik have vowed to do is increase the level of competition among all players. That means no job is safe, even for a player who owns a franchise record 62-yard field goal.

To that end, Mike Nugent, 27, was signed during the offseason and will be given every opportunity to win the job. His 81.5 career success rate on field goals is slightly lower than Bryant's 82.1, but Nugent's tendency for longer kickoffs at least evens the competition.

Wide receiver

It would appear the Bucs can rest easy about at least one member of this group. Antonio Bryant is motivated to match his performance of 2008, when he stormed back onto the scene after a year away from football with 83 catches for 1,248 yards and a team-high seven touchdown receptions. But where else will the contributions come from?

Veteran Michael Clayton returns with a new contract and, with a new offense coming, a new lease on life after falling short the past four seasons of the promise he showed in his 2004 rookie year. He is expected to play a more noticeable role if new offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski makes good on his promise to spread the ball around more.

But depth remains an issue. Who will be the third receiver, assuming Clayton is the starter opposite Bryant? Just two other receivers have started a game (Maurice Stovall and Kelly Campbell, whose last start came in 2004). Rookie seventh-round draft pick Sammie Stroughter is an intriguing prospect who surprised coaches in summer workouts. He will vie for his share of playing time, too, along with former Chamberlain High standout Brian Clark, who got extensive playing time in big games last season.

Weakside linebacker

Eventual Hall of Famer Derrick Brooks is gone, and the Bucs can't truly say they've replaced him. They're in the middle of an experiment they hope will accomplish that, however, with former safety Jermaine Phillips, top left, entering camp as the starter. Here's why this is not a done deal: Phillips and his coaches say the moment that will indicate whether this is a wise decision will come when the pads come on. That will happen a couple of days into camp. Until then, the Bucs continue to believe the move will pay off. If using Phillips at linebacker proves less than ideal, Geno Hayes, above bottom, could be a factor.

Running back

This isn't as much a battle as a friendly competition. That's because Earnest Graham and Derrick Ward both will play plenty. The Bucs will look a lot like some other teams have in recent years in using a platoon system for perhaps the most punishing position. Ward formed a formidable tandem with Brandon Jacobs with his former team, the Giants. And the approach worked well in Carolina for DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, who combined for more than 2,300 yards last season. But in Tampa, how Graham and Ward are used, and who starts, hasn't been decided. Also a factor is how and when to use Clifton Smith, who offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski said will be included in game plans after being used almost exclusively on special teams last season.

Stephen F. Holder can be reached at sholder@sptimes.com.

Breaking down position battles at Tampa Bay Buccaneers training camp 07/26/09 [Last modified: Friday, July 31, 2009 5:17pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Aaron Hernandez had severe CTE; daughter sues NFL, Patriots

    Bucs

    BOSTON — Tests conducted on the brain of former football star Aaron Hernandez showed severe signs of the degenerative brain disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy, and his attorney said Thursday that the player's daughter is suing the NFL and the New England Patriots for leading Hernandez to believe the sport …

    Aaron Hernandez's lawyer says the former New England Patriots tight end's brain showed severe signs of the degenerative brain disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy. [AP photo]
  2. Bucs' Josh Robinson excited for return to Vikings

    Bucs

    For much of Josh Robinson's four seasons with the Vikings, there was excitement leading up to the arrival of the $1.1-billion U.S. Bank Stadium, which opened last season, just as Robinson signed with the …

    Josh Robinson (26) tackles Chicago punt returner Eddie Royal (19) during a game between the Bucs and Bears in 2016. [LOREN ELLIOTT | Times]
  3. For starters: Rays at Orioles, meeting up with ex-mate Tim Beckham

    Blogs

    UPDATE, 6:05: Cash gave both CF Kevin Kiermaier and SS Adeiny Hechavarria a day off, noting they have been playing pretty much everyday. ... That also gave them a chance to look more at two of their younger position players, OF Mallex Smith and INF Daniel Robertson. ... Cash said he was happy for Beckham that he …

    Tim Beckham made a smashing debut with the Orioles, hitting .394 with six homers and 19 RBIs in August.
  4. From the archives: Account of famed Riggs-King match heightens Tampa mob intrigue

    Tennis

    With the Sept. 29 opening of "Battle of the Sexes" — the movie starring Emma Stone and Steve Carrell about Billie Jean King's landmark 1973 tennis win over Bobby Riggs — we thought there might be renewed interest in this 2013 Peter Jamison story from the Tampa Bay Times.

    Emma Stone as Billie Jean King and Steve Carell as Bobby Riggs in "Battle of the Sexes."  [Melinda Sue Gordon, Fox Searchlight Pictures]
  5. It's not a game, but the names are all the same in this football family

    Footballpreps

    TAMPA — A coach yells across the field into a scrum of blue-and-white clad football bodies at Jefferson High: "Kim Mitchell! Kim Mitchell, come here!"

    These twins are not only identical, but they have almost identical names. Kim Mitchell III, left, and Kim Mitchell IV are  talented football players at Jefferson High with Division I-A college offers. Kim  III wears No. 22 and plays cornerback while Kim IV wears No. 11 and plays safety. (Scott Purks, Special to the Times)