TAMPA — There are so many new faces for the Bucs that players from last year's team might feel like they've walked into the wrong locker room when they report to training camp Thursday.
Coach Lovie Smith and general manager Jason Licht made sweeping changes with the Bucs coming off a 4-12 season. Most of the additions came on offense, which ranked last in the NFL in 2013. A number of borderline prospects survived the initial purge, but there's still plenty of cutting to do to reach the 53-man roster.
Injuries, a lack of production, an inflated salary or a combination of all three can send any player packing. No job is safe this time of year, but some players are more vulnerable than others. Here are five Bucs who could use a good showing in August to ensure they still have a nameplate over their locker in September.
DE Da'Quan Bowers: A year ago, Bowers was all but handed a starting job at defensive end but he couldn't take it. He came to training camp a few pounds overweight and struggled with the heat. Entering his fourth pro season, Bowers faces an uphill climb to secure a roster spot. The Bucs have added defensive line help with free agents Michael Johnson and Clinton McDonald. Adrian Clayborn moves to Bowers' left side and second-year pro William Gholston finished '13 strong. Bowers has only 5½ career sacks and last season was his worst, with seven tackles and one sack in 13 games.
TE Luke Stocker: A fourth-round pick from Tennessee in 2011, Stocker has never been able to avoid the injury bug. He strained a calf muscle preparing for the conditioning run last year and played two games before a hip injury ended his season. He has 28 career receptions entering his fourth year and the team is no longer waiting for him to develop. It signed Giants free agent Brandon Myers in the offseason and drafted Washington tight end Austin Sefarian-Jenkins in the second round. Moreover, Tim Wright exploded onto the scene last season with 54 catches, five for touchdowns. But the lack of a pure blocking tight end makes Stoker valuable.
G Carl Nicks: The Pro Bowl guard has played nine games in two years. That's the most damning thing that can be said for Nicks, who is among the league's most dominant guards when healthy. But a foot injury, compounded by surgery as a result of MRSA, has led to nerve damage. Nicks insisted he will be ready for training camp, but there's reason for skepticism. Six million dollars of his '14 salary is guaranteed, so the team will give him every chance to get back, even if it means placing him on the physically unable to perform list.
RB Bobby Rainey: Three players rushed for more than 500 yards for the team last season, including Rainey, who was claimed off waivers from the Browns. Season-ending injuries to Doug Martin (shoulder) and Mike James (ankle) gave the 5-foot-8 Rainey a chance to shine. He rushed for 127 yards in a win over Buffalo. But with the addition of rookie Charles Sims, Rainey or James could get caught in a numbers game.
S Kelcie McCray: Last season, after being claimed off waivers from the Dolphins, the safety from Arkansas State was pressed into service after Dashon Goldson's suspension and injuries. McCray played 101 snaps on defense and had a huge game in a win over the Lions, recovering a fumble and dislodging the football from receiver Calvin Johnson near the goal line to seal the victory. But the Bucs have added former Bears safety Major Wright and cornerback D.J. Moore, who can also play on the back end in a crunch.
Contact Rick Stroud at [email protected]om and listen from 6 to 9 a.m. weekdays on WDAE-AM 620. Follow @NFLStroud.