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Bucs will open training camp with few guarantees

So, maybe the Bucs didn't exactly overhaul their roster after a thrifty offseason. No, they didn't inject their lineup with a large dose of star power. They didn't land Randy Moss or Jared Allen or any other headliner to whom they were linked. And despite it all, don't think for a moment training camp won't have the typical battles for starting jobs and precious roster spots. Eighty players will take the field on Saturday during the first practice at Disney's Wide World of Sports in Lake Buena Vista. Twenty-seven won't be around by opening day. There are no promises and few second chances. Training camp can make or break a player's season. Here are some areas in which the competition is expected to be most heated.

Running backs galore

The Bucs certainly have options in their backfield with Earnest Graham, Warrick Dunn and Michael Bennett and fullback B.J. Askew. But they have just one football.

Who will start? Who will get pushed to the side? Who gets the ball at crunch time? The answers will begin to emerge when coaches get a better sense of what they're working with.

No. 2 receiver

No one on the roster seems capable of overtaking Joey Galloway as the No. 1 option, but there is nothing resembling a consensus No. 2.

Michael Clayton has found his way back into Jon Gruden's good graces after a strong finish in 2007, but he still must produce enough to remain there. Ike Hilliard is back on the scene, but at 32 and coming off shoulder surgery, it's possible he loses his grip on a starting job after two seasons. The most intriguing possibility is free-agent pickup Antonio Bryant, more than 18 months removed from his last NFL game after a league suspension left him unsigned in 2007. His offseason was rather impressive.

How many LBs?

Is this the year Derrick Brooks finally loses ownership of the weakside spot? Uh, we're not touching that one, folks.

But the Bucs still must decide who to keep at a position that is perhaps the team's deepest. Cato June, Barrett Ruud and Brooks are a three-headed beast, but what to do with the likes of Ryan Nece, Quincy Black, Adam Hayward, Antoine Cash, rookie Geno Hayes and newcomer Teddy Lehman, a former starter in Detroit? The Bucs most likely will have to settle for six at most.

Quarterback quandary

As of now, there's no strong indication Brett Favre will be wearing red and pewter. But quarterbacks will remain a frequent topic of discussion. Jeff Garcia is firmly entrenched as the starter, new contract or not (most likely not). There is plenty of evidence Luke McCown should be the first off the bench under any scenario considering his 91.7 quarterback rating in Garcia's absence last season. But if the Bucs are in contention for anything much this season, they might feel it wiser to go with the experienced Brian Griese if they find themselves in a pinch for a brief period. Griese is less prone to the sort of mistakes McCown has shown a tendency to make.

One last question here: Will the Bucs carry four quarterbacks on their regular-season roster — again? Assuming Chris Simms is on the outs, they're still left with Garcia, McCown, Griese and fifth-round draft pick Josh Johnson. Johnson would seem a candidate for the practice squad. But if he lands there, remember the Bucs cannot block another club from signing him to its active roster — a distinct possibility.

Left defensive end

Remember the days of 50-plus quarterback sacks, such as in 2000? The Bucs want to get back to battering quarterbacks more than they did in 2007, when they ranked 16th with 33 sacks. The left defensive end will be a key factor in that effort, but just who lines up there remains to be seen.

Greg White spent much of the summer at the position, but the Bucs also re-signed Kevin Carter (who started much of last season) and former 49er Marques Douglas, signed as a free agent, also is a candidate. If nothing else, Tampa Bay should have ample depth on the defensive line.

Bucs will open training camp with few guarantees 07/20/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 22, 2008 4:47pm]
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