TAMPA — It’s been a busy offseason for the Bucs, with the retirement of quarterback Tom Brady (again) and the recruitment of Baker Mayfield.
A lot of players were released (offensive lineman Donovan Smith, running back Leonard Fournette and kicker Ryan Succop among them), key coaches (offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich) were fired and others hired (Leftwich’s replacement, Dave Canales).
After 10 voluntary workouts and an offseason that began in mid-April, the Bucs will hold a three-day mandatory minicamp Tuesday-Thursday.
To the trained or untrained eye, the format won’t be much different than it has been over the past few months.
But here are five things we will be watching closely.
Devin White’s return
The linebacker asked to be traded in April, his apparent reaction to negotiations on a long-term contract breaking down.
White is set to play under the club’s fifth-year option of $11.7 million in 2023. But he is believed to be seeking a deal closer to the five-year, $100 million contract signed with the Ravens by linebacker Roquan Smith in January.
Co-defensive coordinator Larry Foote called it “champagne problems” in early May.
The Bucs have expected White to show up for the final minicamp, largely because he could compile nearly $100,000 in fines if he doesn’t.
But the frosty relationship may be thawing. White participated in a photo shoot over the weekend for the Bucs.
Two things will be important regarding White this week: What kind of physical condition has he maintained and is he willing to practice with his teammates.
White hasn’t been available to speak about his trade demands or whether they still exist. But we should get a pretty good indication of where his head is at.
New offensive coordinator Canales is intent on running the quarterback competition between Baker Mayfield and Kyle Trask all the way through the final preseason game if necessary.
It’s something the Seahawks did last year with Geno Smith and Drew Lock.
So far this offseason, Mayfield and Trask have alternated reps with the first-team offense. That trend is likely to continue. But with all the veterans in for a mandatory camp, we should get a better look at which quarterback is building chemistry with receivers and teammates, at least on the field.
Neither quarterback has had to face a defense with White and Lavonte David, for example.
It’s the last, first impression both quarterbacks can leave before the start of training camp late next month. Politics, perception and other factors are always a big part of choosing a starting quarterback. Here’s another: which guy is playing better.
Stay updated on Tampa Bay’s sports scene
Subscribe to our free Sports Today newsletter
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.Explore all your options
Catch fire during this three-day minicamp and you may not win the starting job, but it could go a long way toward winning over teammates.
Offensive line retooling
We know there are changes on the offensive line and there certainly needed to be this season.
A year ago, the Bucs were last in the NFL in rushing attempts, yards and average. With nowhere to go but up, the line dance that is happening for the Bucs can’t really hurt the production.
But the minicamp will be a chance to probe what the coaching staff is thinking. There’s still no word on whether center Ryan Jensen will practice. He tore three knee ligaments in training camp a year ago but played in the wild-card loss to Dallas. No one has seen him practice since.
Tristan Wirfs has moved from right tackle to left tackle and Luke Goedeke switched from left guard to right tackle. The Bucs seem to have already settled on Chargers free agent Matt Feiler at left guard. That leaves second-round pick Cody Mauch, Robert Hainsey, Nick Leverett and maybe Aaron Stinnie battling at right guard.
No one is in pads, but we should get into the coaches’ heads.
Nickel cornerback position
The Bucs have decided to move Antoine Winfield Jr. back to a more traditional free safety position where he can play centerfield and make more plays on the football.
A year ago, Winfield had a huge impact on the defense as a nickel cornerback. He could affect the run game with tackles for loss, he was a good pass rusher on the blitz, and he could cover tight ends and running backs.
The only problem is that at 5-foot-9, 203 pounds, Winfield took physical punishment. He missed four games with an assortment of injuries. The Bucs lost defensive back Sean Murphy-Bunting to the Chiefs in free agency.
There is competition for that nickel cornerback spot. The Bucs signed safety Ryan Neal in the offseason and he’s expected to play strong safety as a starter. Zyon McCollum, a second-year defensive back, is the odds-on favorite to win the job. But there will be competition from rookie Josh Hayes and others. It’s an important position in coach Todd Bowles’ defense.
Running back Rachaad White
This is an important year for White, who has been given the starting job at running back after the team released Fournette.
White had a good, but not great, rookie season. He had only one 100-yard rushing game, against Seattle in Germany.
But unlike at quarterback, he has no real competition. The Bucs like Ke’Shawn Vaughn but haven’t really utilized him at running back in three seasons. Chase Edmonds signed as a free agent from Miami and essentially takes over the role left by Giovani Bernard, who retired.
White will be the biggest part of the Bucs offense, especially under Canales.
But White will also have to do it as a pass receiver and pass protector. There’s still room for another veteran running back if the team feels it needs to add one. Again, this will be the final test against veterans on the other side of the ball.
• • •
Sign up for the Sports Today newsletter to get daily updates on the Bucs, Rays, Lightning and college football across Florida.