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Five new Tampa Bay Buccaneers expected to make an impact

TAMPA

You don't have to look at unemployment figures to know job security is fleeting in the NFL. The Bucs have added nearly three dozen players to their 80-man roster this offseason, and they figure to have at least seven new starters. Who will be this year's Antonio Bryant, a new veteran who bursts back onto the scene? Who will be Clifton Smith, a relative unknown who made history by returning two kicks for touchdowns last season and was named to the Pro Bowl? Part of the fun of Bucs training camp, which opens Friday, is trying to identify the new difference-makers. We've done the work for you.

KELLEN WINSLOW: The Bucs have invested heavily in the tight end. In addition to the second- and fifth-round draft picks they sent to Cleveland for the two-time Pro Bowl player, they also signed him to a six-year contract with $20 million in guarantees.

Three of Winslow's five NFL seasons have been interrupted by injury. So there's some risk. But there's also the possibility of a big reward. In 2006 and 2007, the only two years Winslow, 26, has played all 16 regular-season games, he averaged 85.5 receptions for 990.5 yards.

New offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski has always made good use of tight ends. Winslow will be a devastating play-action target, particularly in the red zone, where the Bucs scored only 22 touchdowns in 56 trips last season.

JOSH FREEMAN: Raheem Morris' coaching future is tethered to the success of Freeman, this year's 17th overall draft pick and anointed as the team's next franchise quarterback. Ergo, the sooner Freeman gets tossed in the fire, the faster he can develop and start winning games.

Freeman, 21, has all the physical tools: He is 6 feet 6, 248 pounds, and has a rocket arm. But junior quarterbacks who enter the draft don't historically fare well when they're forced to start as rookies.

That said, unless Luke McCown or Byron Leftwich lights it up, why would Morris walk on eggshells with Freeman? Answer: He won't.

Don't be surprised if you see Freeman make his first start before Thanksgiving. Or will it be Halloween?

DERRICK WARD: This may be one of the league's most underrated offseason moves. The running back has averaged 5.29 yards per carry over the past two seasons. He had a breakout year for the Giants in 2008, rushing for 1,025 yards and two touchdowns platooning with Brandon Jacobs.

Ward, 28, will complement Earnest Graham, giving the Bucs another downhill runner for offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski's zone-blocking scheme.

"We're going to be a one-cut, downhill, physical football team," Jagodzinski said. "I feel very, very fortunate about the type of line that we have here. I think that's one of the strengths. If you have a strong running game, you're going to have eight up in the box, and you're going to have your opportunities to take some shots."

ROY MILLER: The defensive tackle, the Bucs' third-round draft pick from Texas, is the son of a retired Army sergeant. Discipline and work ethic, particularly in the weight room, are what Miller, 22, is known for.

At 6 feet 1, 315 pounds, Miller lacks ideal size at his position for defensive coordinator Jim Bates' system, but he makes up for it in strength. He has added 25 pounds since his last game for the Longhorns.

Miller will be a valuable run-stuffer to put in the rotation with Chris Hovan and Ryan Sims. He's going to play a lot this year. And Miller has a chance to develop into a pass rusher. He had 5½ sacks and 30 quarterback hits last season.

SAMMIE STROUGHTER: It's not often a seventh-round draft pick makes a splash as a rookie, but the wide receiver is this year's sleeper.

At 5 feet 9, 189 pounds, he is the perfect slot receiver. Behind Antonio Bryant and Michael Clayton, the third receiver spot is wide open, and Stroughter can return kicks, which gives him an advantage.

Stroughter, 23, created a buzz in the offseason with his playmaking ability. He was highly productive with Oregon State in the Pac-10, with two 1,000-yard receiving seasons. For a small guy, he is a natural pass catcher and snatches the football away from his body.

Five new Tampa Bay Buccaneers expected to make an impact 07/27/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 28, 2009 3:31pm]
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