Sunday, May 20, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Tampa Bay Buccaneers should have more competitive training camp

TAMPA

If you don't remember reading about many position battles during the Bucs' 2011 training camp, it's not because your memory is failing.

There's a simple explanation: There just weren't enough of them.

As a result, too few players had to earn the right to be starters, meaning they were probably at little risk of losing those starting jobs.

But as the complexion of the roster has changed during the offseason of massive overhauling, the team finally has serious competition in certain units.

Not every example of a competitive situation involves one where a starter is watching his back. Some involve competition among backups fighting for playing time. But either way, it's a good thing, and something the Bucs haven't had enough of in recent seasons.

Take the running back position. We're about to find out just how much veteran LeGarrette Blount and rookie Doug Martin want the football. Both figure to have extensive roles this season, but one will be the actual starter and probably get a bigger share of the carries based mostly on training camp and preseason performances.

This is good news, regardless of the winner.

The last time the team had true competition at running back — in 2010, between Blount and Cadillac Williams — it got the best out of both players. Williams, who was struggling before the emergence of Blount, averaged 6.4 yards per carry in his final eight games that season, after Blount had surpassed him on the depth chart.

You can find an instance of the increased competition in the secondary, too. Cody Grimm, entering his third season, has started 12 of the 14 games in which he has played (he has had two season-ending injuries). But if the season started today, he'd be coming off the bench behind SS Mark Barron and FS Ronde Barber.

Another defensive back who should be motivated is corner E.J. Biggers. If Barber, as expected, plays slot cornerback on passing downs, he will become the third cornerback, which was Biggers' role the past two seasons. It's going to take a serious effort for Biggers to earn his way onto the field.

Overall, the secondary is actually pretty crowded, which is the way coach Greg Schiano likes it.

"We're probably going to have to end up letting go a defensive back who can play in this league," Schiano said, previewing the difficult decisions that loom at final cuts. "That's always tough, but it's a good problem to have, I guess."

The receiver position is similarly competitive, with free agent pickup and No. 1 WR Vincent Jackson knocking everyone down a notch on the depth chart. There's a bit of a logjam after No. 2 Mike Williams between Dezmon Briscoe, Preston Parker, Arrelious Benn, Sammie Stroughter and even newcomer Tiquan Underwood, but that can't hurt.

Linebacker and defensive tackle are positions that have added depth this year, too.

So, while most of the league has spent the offseason talking about the Bucs' big splashes in free agency — the signings of Jackson and G Carl Nicks — Tampa Bay's substantially improved depth shouldn't be overlooked.

That, among other things, should at least make this training camp more memorable for you.

TIME TO WORRY? You might have noticed the Bucs easily signed each of their draft picks in the past two months, except for one, Barron, the seventh overall choice.

With nearly 90 percent of rookies having already signed, should you be concerned? Not yet.

None of the top eight picks from the draft have signed, mostly because of a dispute between agents and teams about the wording in their contracts. Because the top 16 picks receive fully guaranteed rookie deals according to last year's new collective bargaining agreement, teams are trying to mitigate that by paying a reduced amount if a player is eventually released but picked up by another team.

In the end, it could be a substantial amount of money in extreme cases but still far less than what was at stake under the old salary structure that saw Rams QB Sam Bradford get $50 million in guarantees.

In other words, it's probably not enough to result in training camp holdouts, which is all that matters.

Stephen F. Holder can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @HolderStephen.

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