Saturday, January 20, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bucs seek answers as workouts near

The Bucs begin offseason team activities, or OTAs, on Monday. If you don't know what those are, the description is simple: football practice. • They're allotted 10 such workouts during the next few weeks, plus a three-day mandatory minicamp next month. • That's not a lot of time to evaluate the many elements the team has worked on in the meeting room and in limited field work during the past few weeks of the offseason program, but it's plenty of time to get a head start on some important pending decisions. • So, as the team embarks on the crucial weeks ahead, let's look at five important questions to be dealt with during OTAs:

Is Mike Glennon a quick study?

This question isn't relevant because the third-round pick is not going to overtake starting QB Josh Freeman. That's not the plan anyway. But Glennon, one would assume, is going to be the No. 2 on a team that last season kept only two.

If the team employs a similar approach in 2013, it had better be certain the rookie is ready to take over in the event something happens to Freeman. That makes the next few weeks crucial for Glennon. He has to learn the offense — no small task — as well as build relationships and trust with his linemen and receivers. His head is going to be swimming, but he's a smart guy and can handle it, or so the Bucs hope, anyway.

Can Luke Stocker be the man?

There were times last season when the tight end seemed like an afterthought in the passing game. But did you know Dallas Clark was targeted 76 times in 2012, third most of any receiver?

With Clark, a free agent, expected to play elsewhere in 2013, the featured tight end could very well be third-year player Stocker.

Is he ready? We'll see, but his opportunity starts now. He's healthy, which hasn't often been the case, and he has a legit chance after playing behind Kellen Winslow and Clark in 2011 and 2012, respectively.

The Bucs need to come out of OTAs with a comfort level about Stocker and his ability to fill this role. He has caught just 28 passes in two seasons, but the players behind him, including newcomer Tom Crabtree, have even thinner resumes.

Who's the strongside linebacker?

The Bucs don't need to have an absolute answer to this one right now. This can be ultimately settled in training camp. But coaches will want to enter camp with a pecking order, so they'll need to decide whether newcomer Jonathan Casillas is the frontrunner, or whether, say, Dekoda Watson finally makes a breakthrough.

This job belonged to Quincy Black last season, but he's dealing with a career-threatening injury and was released after a settlement was reached. It's one of only a handful of starting positions that truly is wide open.

Is Akeem Spence a starter?

He's a fourth-round pick, which doesn't necessarily mean he will start. But Spence, selected last month out of Illinois, is squarely in the mix at nose tackle, competing against veterans Derek Landri and Gary Gibson.

When the Bucs traded up 12 spots on Day 3 to draft Spence, it was a fairly strong indication of how they feel about him.

This won't get decided in OTAs. Linemen can't be accurately evaluated until the pads go on, and that won't happen until training camp. But Spence can make a mark by learning the scheme and showing his quickness off the line.

Three years ago, when WR Mike Williams was a rookie in 2010, he shined through OTAs and you knew he was destined for extensive playing time. We'll see whether Spence does the same.

How do the receivers look?

The team knows Vincent Jackson and Williams are its top two receivers in its base personnel grouping. But there's a jumbled group behind them vying for playing time and prominent roles. It will be interesting to see whether any of them begin to create separation from the pack.

This is a big offseason for Tiquan Underwood. He established himself as the No. 3 receiver last season, working mostly out of the slot, to catch a career-best 28 passes. This is a chance for the journeyman to develop continuity for the first time in his career. But he will have to fend off challenges from Cowboys free agent Kevin Ogletree, former Giants second-round pick Steve Smith, and even little-known speedster Chris Owusu.

Because of the limitations of offseason practices — contact isn't allowed — you tend to be able to evaluate skill positions such as receiver better. That's good, because the Bucs are going to have decisions to make here.

Stephen F. Holder can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @holderstephen.

 
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