Wednesday, February 21, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bucs' key position battles

TAMPA — If you've heard him say it once, you've heard Bucs coach Greg Schiano say it 1,000 times: Competition is priority No. 1.

No one is above it, he says, from the starting quarterback (that's Josh Freeman — we think) to this year's top draft pick.

"From the day we arrived, our whole program is (about) competition," Schiano said. "... It's the most competitive sports league in the world."

After the team traded with the Bears for guard Gabe Carimi last month, even general manager Mark Dominik parroted Schiano.

"I think it provides competition, which is our favorite word," he said.

The Bucs report for training camp today, but competition was on the coaches' minds even before the players arrived. Here's a look at some of this year's key position battles:

Backup running back

The backup running back job — critical given starter Doug Martin's major role in the offense — could potential go to someone who isn't yet on the roster. The team on Tuesday conducted a workout with former Browns star running back Peyton Hillis, an 1,100-yard rusher three years ago but rushed for 309 yards last season with the Chiefs, averaging a career-low 3.6 yards per carry. Hillis was in contract talks with the team Tuesday,

As for those already in-house, the Bucs will look primarily to rookie Mike James and second-year player Michael Smith. Veteran Brian Leonard is on the roster, too, but look for his role to be that of the third-down back with possible short-yardage duties.

There should be plenty of carries to split among these candidates during exhibition games. And that's exactly what preseason is for.

Slot receiver

It took several weeks of regular-season games for the Bucs to finally settle on Tiquan Underwood as their slot receiver last season. They'd like to not make things so hard this time around. It wasn't until Underwood was re-signed (after initially being cut at the start of the regular seasonz) that he seized his opportunity and become a fixture in the slot.

But he's got real competition this season from free-agent signing Kevin Ogletree. Like Underwood, Ogletree has speed, but might have a broader skill set. That's why it would not be surprising to see him ultimately win the job. But Underwood, after the best year of his career in 2012 (28 receptions, 425 yards), won't yield the job without a fight.

Strong-side linebacker

The third linebacker in a 4-3 defense is becoming a less-prominent role. But the Bucs have an opening at strong-side linebacker, a role that is critical on early downs, particularly against the run and short passing routes.

Fourth-year veteran Dekoda Watson is expected to get a chance to show he's ready to take the next step in his career, getting the first crack to replace injured Quincy Black. "It's early right now," said Watson, who has started three games in three seasons. "I'm not going to sit here and say that I've got the position or anything. All I'm saying is that I have the opportunity."

But Watson must hold off another young, hungry player, Jonathan Casillas. A free-agent pickup from the Saints, Casillas is a formidable foe. He feels he could be a fit.

"I like this defense," Casillas said. "It's made for people like me who like to run and hit."

Right tackle

There is no doubt Demar Dotson has value for the Bucs. The former college basketball player continues to develop and recently was re-signed to a long term contract. But none of that will guarantee him a place in the starting lineup.

Just like Dotson took Jeremy Trueblood's job last season, Carimi is lurking behind Dotson, making this a position to watch. But the Bucs aren't banking on Carimi.

Dotson was solid in 2012 and the Bucs expect nothing less. But he does have weaknesses as a run blocker, which makes him susceptible. But questions remain as to whether Carimi can rebound after his poor performance last season, something that wasn't unrelated to a prior knee injury.

"I was just trying to get my knee right, trying to be the best I could be," Carimi said of last season. "(Now) it feels good."

Right cornerback

We know who one starting cornerback is going to be: assuming he's healthy, Darrelle Revis will be locked in on one side.

It's the other cornerback that's the question. After releasing 2012 starter Eric Wright this week, the Bucs are showing some willingness to lean on some young and inexperienced players.

Chief among them is second-round pick Johnthan Banks, but the Bucs aren't sure about the wisdom of pressing him into a starting role so soon. That means Leonard Johnson, an afterthought who went on to start six games and play in all 16 last season, is very much in the picture.

This is a battle that will play out over the course of training camp and the preseason.

Comments
Bucs release Doug Martin and Chris Baker, two of their most disappointing players in 2017

Bucs release Doug Martin and Chris Baker, two of their most disappointing players in 2017

TAMPA – Early in his rookie year, Doug Martin was told he was losing his balance because he was dropping his head as he hit the hole in a game at Oakland.He quickly corrected that mistake and wound up rushing for a career-high 251 yards against...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Bucs release defensive tackle Chris Baker

Bucs release defensive tackle Chris Baker

Hours after they parted ways with running back Doug Martin, the Bucs continued their initial wave of roster cuts Tuesday afternoon, releasing defensive tackle Chris Baker.Baker, 30, lasted only one season with Tampa Bay, managing just a half-sack aft...
Published: 02/20/18
Bucs release two-time Pro Bowl running back Doug Martin

Bucs release two-time Pro Bowl running back Doug Martin

TAMPA — After six up and mostly down seasons, Doug Martin's run with the Bucs is over.The two-time Pro Bowl running back was released by Tampa Bay Tuesday, a move that was expected after he failed to rush for less than 500 yards in four of the ...
Published: 02/20/18
Some big Bucs roster decisions are looming

Some big Bucs roster decisions are looming

The Bucs plan to release running back Doug Martin and defensive tackle Chris Baker sometime before the NFL scouting combine which begins Feb. 27 in Indianapolis.There likely will be more, but they still are undecided on the future of defensive ends R...
Published: 02/20/18
Defensive linemen who could follow Brentson Buckner to Bucs

Defensive linemen who could follow Brentson Buckner to Bucs

Now that the Bucs have announced that Brentson Buckner is their new defensive line coach, could his connections help shape Tampa Bay's search to upgrade their pass rush this offseason?The chance to play for a familiar position coach can be a major fa...
Published: 02/20/18
Bucs agree to terms with Brentson Buckner to be their defensive line coach

Bucs agree to terms with Brentson Buckner to be their defensive line coach

Brentson Buckner didn't need to bring his resume when he interviewed for the Bucs' job as defensive line coach. No references were needed, either.All the Bucs had to do was ask quarterback Jameis Winston whether the Arizona Cardinals defensive line w...
Published: 02/19/18
On the mend: Bucs’ Noah Spence posts workout pic

On the mend: Bucs’ Noah Spence posts workout pic

Defensive end Noah Spence, whose two NFL seasons have both been limited by injuries to his right shoulder, is getting himself healthy for the 2018 season.Spence has kept a low profile since the Bucs placed him on injured reserve in late October, a mo...
Published: 02/19/18
Video: Bucs QB Ryan Fitzpatrick gives advice to Little Leaguers

Video: Bucs QB Ryan Fitzpatrick gives advice to Little Leaguers

Ryan Fitzpatrick is an unrestricted free agent, and his future with the Bucs remains uncertain. But the veteran quarterback is still very much here in Tampa and still sharing his wisdom with younger athletes.In this case, they're much younger —...
Published: 02/19/18
Jameis Winston is about to get a big pay raise. It will cost the Bucs more than money

Jameis Winston is about to get a big pay raise. It will cost the Bucs more than money

TAMPA – Jameis Winston is heading for a big payday with the Bucs. He's played well enough to make that an easy decision.But what impact will that have on the type of players they surround him with?The Bucs are expected to exercise the fifth-yea...
Published: 02/16/18
Bucs interview Brentson Buckner for defensive line job

Bucs interview Brentson Buckner for defensive line job

The Bucs continue to move quickly with the defensive line opening on Dirk Koetter's coaching staff, interviewing former Cardinals assistant Brentson Buckner.Buckner, 46, spent the last five years as Arizona's defensive line coach, leading the unit to...
Published: 02/16/18