A lot of things can happen over the course of training camp and the preseason.
Rookies and new players emerge. Some veterans decline. Others no longer fit the scheme.
So count on change as the Bucs begin training next week — rookies report to the team’s Advent Health Training Center on Sunday, the full 90-man squad takes the field on June 26 — especially with a new coaching staff under Bruce Arians.
Nonetheless, the Bucs have a pretty solid core of starters on offense led by quarterback Jameis Winston, Mike Evans and O.J. Howard.
There are players who need to make an impact early (Ronald Jones) and some the Bucs will keep in bubble wrap a little bit in the preseason as they heal up from injuries (Cameron Brate, Justin Evans). There are comeback players (Vernon Hargreaves, Noah Spence) and some who may not make it back at all (Jason Pierre-Paul).
Remember this: no position is set in stone. Arians and GM Jason Licht want to keep the best 53 players. So if the sixth receiver is better than the fourth tight end, well, you carry three tight ends.
Here then is a breakdown of the Bucs training camp roster with projected starters, players who need a big year and others to keep a close eye on. The number of players the team expects to keep for each unit is in parentheses.
The Quarterbacks (2)
|Nick Fitzgerald||QB||6-5/226||23||R||Mississippi State|
|Jameis Winston||QB||6-4/231||25||5||Florida State|
PROJECTED STARTER: Jameis Winston. Playing under his fifth-year club option at $20.9-million, Winston will have no competition for the starting spot after the team failed to re-sign Ryan Fitzpatrick, replacing him with perennial No. 2 QB Blaine Gabbert.
BIG YEAR FOR: Winston has his last best chance to prove he is the Bucs quarterback beyond 2019. Arians is a self-proclaimed quarterback whisperer who will try to cut down on Winston’s turnovers. If he stays healthy and makes good decisions with the football, an enormous extension or franchise tag may be warranted. If not, he’ll be looking for a new team and following the path of former Bucs Doug Williams, Steve Young, Vinny Testaverde and Trent Dilfer.
KEEP AN EYE ON: Ryan Griffin. After six seasons he still is looking for his first regular-season snap. Arians’ guy is Gabbert, who has gone 4-4 over his past eight starts with the Cardinals and Titans. Griffin has to light it up in practice and preseason games.
The Running Backs (4)
|Bruce Anderson||RB||5-11/210||22||R||North Dakota State|
PROJECTED STARTER: Peyton Barber. The third-year pro from Auburn led the Bucs in rushing last year and was 19th in the NFL with 871 yards and five touchdowns. He does a decent job as a receiving and had 20 catches for 92 yards. But Barber is mostly an inside runner with limited breakaway speed.
BIG YEAR FOR: Ronald Jones. The Bucs second-round pick in 2018 is trying to rebound from a miserable rookie year in which he rushed for only 44 yards. He’s up to 221 pounds from 208 and says he wants to lead the team in rushing. He’s improved as a receiver but another bad season and he could be considered one of the team’s biggest busts.
KEEP AN EYE ON: Bruce Anderson. The undrafted Newsome High and North Dakota State star could be the diamond in the rough Arians is looking for. He compiled nearly 1,400 yards as a junior and senior, has excellent hands and can help a kick returner or cover kicks. He likely will have to beat out veteran Andre Ellington.
The Receivers (5-6)
|K.J. Brent||WR||6-3/202||25||1||Wake Forest|
|Mike Evans||WR||6-5/231||25||6||Texas A&M|
|Chris Godwin||WR||6-1/209||23||3||Penn State|
|Scotty Miller||WR||5-11/174||21||R||Bowling Green|
|Bryant Mitchell||WR||6-2/198||26||R||Northwestern State|
|Spencer Schnell||WR||5-8/178||24||R||Illinois State|
PROJECTED STARTERS: Mike Evans and Chris Godwin should make a dynamic and versatile tandem. Evans is one of only three players to have five straight 1,000-yard receiving seasons to start a career. He will draw most of the attention from the defense, leaving Godwin to work outside and in the slot. Arians believes Godwin can produce 100 catches. He had a late-season slump with only three catches on 19 targets.
BIG YEAR FOR: Breshad Perriman. The oft-injured former Central Florida star has elite speed and will be needed to help stretch the field for Winston. He averaged 21.3 yards per catch in 10 games last season.
KEEP AN EYE ON: Scotty Miller wears No. 10, but the speedy sixth-round pick from Bowling Green is closer to DeSean Jackson than Adam Humphries. Arians’ offense requires a bigger body in the slot but Miller could make it on special teams.
The Tight Ends (3-4)
|Donnie Ernsberger||TE||6-2/237||22||1||Western Michigan|
|Tanner Hudson||TE||6-5/239||24||1||Southern Arkansas|
PROJECTED STARTER: O.J. Howard. Ankle injuries shortened each of his first two seasons but Howard is an enormous talent who can run, catch and block. Howard’s 11 TDs in 22 games and 16.6 average means he’s a Pro Bowl talent who could dominate his position.
BIG YEAR FOR: Cameron Brate. Played through a serious hip injury after signing a six-year, $40.8-million contract in 2019. Bucs can get out of the deal in 2020 by not paying a $4-million bonus. Saw his playing time reduced and saw only 49 targets, his fewest since 2015.
KEEP AN EYE ON: Antony Auclair. The Canadian native has improved each year but excels at blocking.
The Offensive Linemen (9-10)
|Zack Bailey||G||6-5/299||23||R||South Carolina|
|Alex Cappa||G||6-6/305||24||2||Humboldt State|
|Demar Dotson||T||6-9/315||33||11||Southern Mississippi|
|Ryan Jensen||C||6-4/319||28||6||Colorado State-Pueblo|
|Josh LeRibeus||C||6-2/315||30||7||Southern Methodist|
|Michael Liedtke||OL||6-3/305||27||2||Illinois State|
|Riley Mayfield||T||6-7/311||24||R||North Texas|
|Donovan Smith||T||6-6/338||26||5||Penn State|
|Evan Smith||OL||6-2/308||32||10||Idaho State|
|Earl Watford||OL||6-3/300||29||7||James Madison|
PROJECTED STARTERS: LT Donovan Smith, LG Ali Marpet, C Ryan Jensen, RG Alex Cappa, RT Demar Dotson.
BIG YEAR FOR: Donovan Smith. Much is expected from Smith after signing a three-year, $41.25-million contract. In Arians’ offense, he won’t get much help blocking from running backs or tight ends. Winston’s health depends on Smith.
KEEP AN EYE ON: Alex Cappa. A converted tackle, he’ll get the first bite of the apple to win the starting job at right guard.
The Defensive Linemen (6-7)
|Terry Beckner Jr.||DL||6-4/295||22||R||Missouri|
|William Gholston||DL||6-6/281||27||7||Michigan State|
|Rakeem Nunez-Roches||DL||6-2/307||26||5||Southern Mississippi|
PROJECTED STARTERS: Ndamukong Suh, Beau Allen, Vita Vea
BIG YEAR FOR: Vita Vea. Sure, Suh has a bigger name and better resume. But he may be here for one season. The release of Gerald McCoy confirmed the Bucs’ believe in Vea, who had a forgettable rookie season but rallied for 3.0 sacks in his final eight games.
KEEP AN EYE ON: Terry Beckner, Jr. Arguably the best high school player in the country in 2015, he battled knee injuries at Missouri. Huge upside and a space eater.
The Linebackers (7-8)
|Shaquil Barrett||OLB||6-2/250||26||6||Colorado State|
|Deone Bucannon||LB/S||6-1/211||26||6||Washington State|
|David Kenney||OLB||6-2/250||24||R||Illinois State|
|Carl Nassib||OLB||6-7/275||26||4||Penn State|
|Patrick O'Connor||OLB||6-4/270||25||1||Eastern Michigan|
|Noah Spence||OLB||6-2/251||25||4||Eastern Kentucky|
PROJECTED STARTERS: Carl Nassib, Shaq Barrett, Devin White, Lavonte David.
BIG YEAR FOR: Devin White. The No. 5 overall pick has drawn comparisons for Ray Lewis. That’s unfair but not unexpected given the expectations on the LSU star. Can he be the vocal leader of the defense? He has to be. He will be the emotional leader and leading tackler as well.
KEEP AN EYE ON: Lavonte David. He saw how the Bucs treated Gerald McCoy and David has no guaranteed money for 2020 and set to earn $10.75 million. Could set a career sack year in the blitzing scheme of Todd Bowles.
The Secondary (9-10)
|Jalen Allison||CB||6-0/184||23||R||North Dakota State|
|Kentrell Brice||S||5-11/200||22||R||La. Tech|
|Lukas Denis||S||5-11/190||22||R||Boston College|
|Justin Evans||S||6-0/199||23||3||Texas A&M|
|De'Vante Harris||CB||5-11/190||25||4||Texas A&M|
|Isaiah Johnson||S||6-0/209||26||2||South Carolina|
|Ryan Smith||CB||5-11/189||25||4||North Carolina Central|
|M.J. Stewart||DB||5-11/200||23||2||North Carolina|
PROJECTED STARTERS: CB Vernon Hargreaves, CB Carlton Davis, S Justin Evans, S Mike Edwards
BIG YEAR FOR: Vernon Hargreaves. Former first-round pick has missed most of two seasons with injuries and the team picked up his fifth-year option of nearly $9.6-million for 2020. But it’s guaranteed only for injury. Needs to add to one career INT.
KEEP AN EYE ON: Sean Murphy-Bunting. The second-round pick from Central Michigan could earn a starting job as the slot corner in nickel situations. Big, physical and versatile.
PROJECTED STARTERS: PK Matt Gay, P Bradley Pinnion, KOR Dare Ogunbowale, PR Scotty Miller.
BIG YEAR FOR: Matt Gay. When you use another draft pick on a place-kicker – this time a fifth-rounder – he needs to win the job. Not only that, he needs to have a good year to get Jason Licht off the hook. Gay wins it with a stronger leg.
KEEP AN EYE ON: Scotty Miller. Something tells me he might find his way on the field as a punt returner before the year is over.
Contact Rick Stroud at email@example.com. Follow @NFLStroud.