TAMPA — In the next week, the Bucs will play their final two preseason games and cut their roster from 90 players to 75 (by Tuesday) and to the final 53 (by Aug. 30).
For conversation's sake, let's assume that 41 of those 53 jobs are spoken for (see chart at right), which leaves 10 position battles for the final 12 spots. Pick one from each position, plus two wild cards, and you should be close to the opening day roster (though there could be a waiver pickup or two from other teams' final cuts).
1. KICKER: Connor Barth versus Patrick Murray. Barth was superb in 2012 but missed last year with an injury. Murray, an unheralded rookie who could pinch-hit as punter, has impressed coaches since signing in January.
2. FIFTH RUNNING BACK: Jeff Demps versus Jorvorskie Lane. It's speed versus power. Demps' Olympian sprinting skills are coveted, but Lane gives the team a short-yardage back with good pass-catching ability. With Charles Sims' ankle injury keeping him out 12-14 weeks, both could make the cut.
3. SIXTH RECEIVER: Louis Murphy versus Tommy Streeter versus Russell Shepard. Losers here could easily land elsewhere. Murphy has downfield speed. Streeter would be the team's third 6-foot-5 receiver. Shepard is a special teams standout. This presumes rookie Solomon Patton keeps the return jobs.
4. BACKUP TACKLE: Kevin Pamphile versus Jamon Meredith. The team will dress a third tackle each week to back up both tackle spots. Is rookie Pamphile safe as a fifth-round pick? Meredith, once a starting guard, is battling to stay on the 53-player roster.
5. BACKUP GUARD/CENTER: Jace Daniels versus Jason Foster versus Andrew Miller versus Rishaw Johnson. We're presuming Patrick Omameh, Oniel Cousins and rookie Kadeem Edwards make the roster, but the arrival of Johnson via trade this week could complicate that. A team's seventh offensive linemen typically is the backup at center and guard, and Daniels, Foster and Miller have shown that positional flexibility.
6. FIFTH DEFENSIVE END: Da'Quan Bowers versus Larry English versus Scott Solomon. If Steven Means is healthy, he should be the fourth end. Who's next? Bowers and English are former high-round draft picks, and Solomon would be an under-the-radar choice.
7. FOURTH DEFENSIVE TACKLE: Ronald Talley versus Matt Masifilo versus Euclid Cummings. Talley has gotten lots of second-team work, but there's no clear-cut leader, so it's a spot where the team could add a player off waivers at the deadline.
8. SIXTH LINEBACKER: Ka'Lial Glaud versus Damaso Munoz versus Brandon Magee. Danny Lansanah should be the fifth linebacker, and Glaud has consistently worked as a second-team outside linebacker as well. Magee was making a push, but he injured his foot in the most recent preseason game, which could take him out of the hunt.
9. NINTH DEFENSIVE BACK: Danny Gorrer versus Rashaan Melvin versus Deveron Carr versus Keith Lewis. Gorrer has the most experience and has stepped up during injuries at the position. Melvin has been slowed by an ankle issue but has the size the coaches want in the secondary.
10. 10TH DEFENSIVE BACK: Bradley McDougald versus Quinton Pointer. Both are heavily involved on special teams. Pointer is the only backup at nickel back, which could help him. McDougald would be the fifth safety if he made it.