Sunday, February 25, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Tampa Bay Buccaneers have several difficult roster decisions remaining

TAMPA

The Bucs made a number of preliminary roster decisions Monday, when they trimmed their roster to the required 75-man limit.

But there are difficult choices remaining. Do the Bucs keep an extra cornerback at the expense of a receiver? Will they have to part with a young safety they like to keep someone who excels at special teams?

These are the conversations taking place this week on the second floor of One Buc Place. By Friday, when the roster is slashed to the regular-season limit of 53, we'll have the answers.

For now, here's a rundown of some of the roster's key hotspots.

Wide receiver

This is where some of the trickier decisions will be. The first decision is how many to keep. Vincent Jackson, Mike Williams and, in all likelihood, Arrelious Benn, left, will be on the roster. Typically, teams keep five to six wideouts.

But Benn is still being treated for a sprained knee that has kept him out since the first day of training camp. Can he play in the opener? If he does, will he be rusty? His injury further complicates things.

Preston Parker seems likely to make the cut despite inexplicable challenges in fielding punts. Don't forget 63 percent of his 40 receptions in 2011 resulted in first downs, mostly coming as a slot receiver.

That still leaves choices on Tiquan Underwood, Sammie Stroughter and newcomer Jordan Shipley. Underwood has had a superb training camp but has faded, going without a catch in the past two preseason games. Underwood is a deep threat, perhaps the fastest receiver. But is that enough?

Stroughter's skill set mirrors Parker's, plus he's a candidate to handle punt returns. But can he finally stay healthy?

Shipley has been a Buc for just a week and hasn't shown any signs that his injured knee is a major issue. But it might be too early to tell. Shipley's strengths also are working from the slot and returning punts.

Defensive back

Cornerback is a position where a team can never have enough talent. The Bucs have deployed a dime package a few times this preseason, with as many as four corners. The Bucs could keep as many as six.

Aqib Talib and Eric Wright are the untouchables. E.J. Biggers complicates things because his broken foot has kept him out all preseason. He's not due to return for a while, but he's more proven than anyone behind him. Anthony Gaitor has a lot of upside and likely sticks around. That means Myron Lewis and undrafted rookie Leonard Johnson are probably fighting for the fifth spot.

At safety, Ronde Barber and Mark Barron are starters, and Ahmad Black has begun to separate from the other backups. If the Bucs go with four safeties, does Larry Asante beat out Cody Grimm, who has been struggling? And what about sixth-round pick Keith Tandy?

Running back

This position is taking shape at the top, with Doug Martin apparently designated the starting tailback over LeGarrette Blount.

But there's more to be sorted out. A decision on the third tailback hasn't been revealed, though seventh-round pick Michael Smith has made a compelling case. Smith's 31.7-yard average on kick returns helps.

Does that mean Mossis Madu gets cut? That depends on whether the Bucs keep four tailbacks — a bit unlikely.

Another factor is the fullback position. Do the Bucs settle for just incumbent Erik Lorig, or are they considering keeping a second?

Linebacker

The starters appear to be Mason Foster (middle), Lavonte David (weak side) and Quincy Black (strong side), but the decisions beyond that will affect the depth.

Adam Hayward is a special-teams cog and — as he showed against the Patriots on Friday with seven tackles — a very capable backup in the middle and on the strong side. Dekoda Watson is part of the top pass-rush unit, presumably ensuring him a spot.

Don't expect the team to keep more than six, if that. That puts Jacob Cutrera and fifth-round pick Najee Goode on the bubble.

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