Early training camp surprises for Tampa Bay Buccaneers

TAMPA

The Bucs have conducted eight practices since the start of training camp, each one revealing more about what Tampa Bay will be this season. Along the way, unexpected facts have been uncovered. No one is shocked by the remarkable performance of receiver Vincent Jackson or the fleet feet of running back Doug Martin. But not everything that has been seen was as predictable. A look at the five biggest surprises at the halfway point of training camp, 2C

Dallas Clark, TE

In an NFL offseason when big-name players such as Peyton Manning changed uniforms, the move of one of Manning's favorite targets to Tampa Bay only briefly made headlines. Even here, the signing of Clark was overshadowed by the megadeals given to WR Vincent Jackson, G Carl Nicks and CB Eric Wright. But if what we've seen so far is any indication, Clark just might make people stop and take notice. He looks fine physically for a guy who has played sparingly the past two seasons (he has missed 15 of a combined possible 32 games in 2010 and 2011). And here's a telling fact: He hasn't missed one practice with the Bucs, barely taking breaks during workouts, even at 33 years old. The Colts' No. 1 pick in 2003 out of Iowa was a safety blanket for Manning for nine years with Indy, and it seems Bucs QB Josh Freeman believes Clark could be his. He wins matchups with linebackers, runs good routes and is catching intermediate passes with more yards after the catch. Already, Jackson's presence alone has put defenses on alert. Can Clark also become a weapon? Everything he has done so far in camp suggests he will. And here's a bonus: He's a fabulous locker room presence, seeing his role as "being just a positive influence, a role model for our tight ends and a leader for our team."

Quincy Black, LB

Linebacker is one of those positions that is difficult to evaluate before teams play actual games, but, for now, Black looks like he could be a factor in the defense. He had the occasional big game during the past few seasons, but even he will admit he hasn't had nearly the kind of consistent impact nor splash plays the team was counting on when it re-signed him to a $29 million deal last year. In this camp, Black has been active in pass coverage, knocking down passes across the middle. And defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan seems willing to let Black do what he's best at: pursue. The sixth-year veteran out of New Mexico said he's being asked to do less reading in this scheme, and it's no coincidence he seems to be making more plays.

Myron Lewis, CB

The lack of production out of Lewis, the team's 2010 third-round draft choice, has been alarming so far. The cornerback blames injuries as the main reason he has been unable to contribute — he has battled hamstring pulls and other problems — but Lewis has been disappointing, even when healthy. Often, he has been left inactive on game days. But he is taking advantage of prime opportunities in this camp. With key backup E.J. Biggers out with a broken foot and starter Eric Wright working through a stiff back, Lewis has taken numerous snaps with the first-team defense. The 6-2, 203-pound Vanderbilt product is doing a better job using his size, clearly his best asset. He has even had success against WR Vincent Jackson in one-on-one coverage, although Jackson has more than evened the score. "It's always frustrating when you're out there watching everyone play and you can't play," Lewis said. "It's kind of depressing." Maybe that's about to change.

Demar Dotson, OT

Can you imagine the reaction of coach Greg Schiano and GM Mark Dominik when LT Donald Penn called the other week to say he had sustained an offseason calf injury? Hearts probably sunk throughout One Buc Place. But there's good news on two fronts: Penn will be back soon, it appears. And in the meantime, his replacement, Dotson, is showing promise. The fourth-year player, undrafted out of Southern Miss, has almost no experience at left tackle (he has been a backup right tackle). His basketball background is evident watching him play the position. That's not to say the team would happily enter the season with Dotson protecting QB Josh Freeman's blind side, but it might have discovered some depth at tackle.

Dan Orlovsky, QB

The Bucs, mercifully, don't have a quarterback controversy. But if Josh Freeman has to miss time, maybe the offense won't totally collapse with backup Dan Orlovsky under center. He's still just 2-8 as a starter, but the 28-year-old entering his eighth season has a reliably strong arm that gives him a chance to be effective. Relegated to the 2-14 Colts last season, Orlovsky actually completed a slightly higher percentage of his passes than Freeman (63.2 to 62.8) in 2011. In training camp, he has shown an ability to deliver the ball on time and with accuracy. "I knew I wasn't going to make it anywhere in this league with my legs," he joked, "so I take care of my arm and it gets me where it needs to go. I throw it to the open guy."

Early training camp surprises for Tampa Bay Buccaneers 08/05/12 [Last modified: Monday, August 6, 2012 11:37am]

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