Camp Roster Taking Shape

As expected, the Buccaneers made a couple changes to their 90-man offseason roster on Monday, sifting through the videotape from the weekend’s rookie mini-camp to find five prospects who were better fits than five players previously on the list.  The roster as it stands on Monday, May 6, is surely not exactly the one that will head into training camp in late July, but it’s probably pretty close.  With a few tweaks here and there, this is the group from which the Bucs will eventually carve out a 53-man roster for the regular season.

What tweaks might still take place?  Well, there’s always the specter of a potential spring injury, a la Da’Quan Bowers last year (/knocking on wooden desk next to keyboard).  The Bucs might not be completely done adding tryout players from the rookie camp; that process was spread out over a couple days last year?  And, perhaps most likely, the team might look to massage the numbers it has at each specific position. Continue reading

Reinforcements from I.R.

The Buccaneers have added 10 men to the roster since the start of free agency (S Dashon Goldson, WR Kevin Ogletree, LB Jonathan Casillas, TE Tom Crabtree, DT Derek Landri, K Nate Kaeding, DE George Selvie, FB Brian Leonard, WR Steve Smith and WR Eric Page).  Next week, they’ll bring in another handful of players through the 2013 NFL Draft, just before the offseason workout program kicks into higher gear with the arrival of OTAs.

The Crabtrees-and-Draftees won’t be the only significant additions to the depth chart since the end of the 2012 season, however.  There’s another group of players from whom the Bucs hope to get a lot more in 2013 than they did last fall, including a pair of proven Pro Bowlers.  For these players, the start of the offseason program on Monday was a long time coming.

The Bucs finished the 2012 season with 13 players on injured reserve.  Of that baker’s dozen, nine are still with the team, and most are eager to get started immediately on their comeback campaigns.  Those nine men coming back from I.R. are: Continue reading

Bucs Nail Down O-Line

Members of an offensive line often talk about getting an opportunity to “jell” as a complete unit.  When the lineup remains the same for an extended period of time, blockers become familiar with the way the men next to them will respond to certain situations, and they are more confident in focusing on their own specific assignments.

The Buccaneers’ offensive line should have an excellent opportunity to jell in the years ahead.

Tampa Bay’s presumptive starting five heading into 2013 would be left tackle Donald Penn, left guard Carl Nicks, center Jeremy Zuttah, right guard Davin Joseph and right tackle Demar Dotson.  Every position is open to competition, of course, and versatile blockers Ted Larsen and Jamon Meredith started roughly a dozen games each last year in the wake of several injuries, but those first five should be expected to lead the way.

On Thursday, the Buccaneers signed Dotson to a new four-year deal that covers the 2013-16 seasons.  With that, the team has every member of that presumptive starting five under contract through at least the end of 2015, and not one of those players has had his 30th birthday yet.  Dotson is 27. Continue reading

Ogletree Among New 2013 Return Options

The player who returned the most kickoffs for the Buccaneers in 2013, Arrelious Benn, is now a Philadelphia Eagle.  The man behind him on that list, LeQuan Lewis, is a Chicago Bear.  Roscoe Parrish, who was responsible for 30 of the team’s 36 punt returns in 2012, as well as a handful of kickoff returns, is currently an unrestricted free agent.

In fact, of all 67 punt and kickoff returns the Buccaneers had during the 2012 regular season, only nine were accounted for by players who are on the team’s 2013 roster at the moment.

Obviously, the team will be auditioning new return men this spring and summer.  That’s a pair of jobs (PR and KR) that have passed through quite a few hands since 2008, when Clifton Smith made the Pro Bowl as a rookie return man.  The Bucs have had a different leader in both punt returns and kick returns in each of the last four seasons, and only Micheal Spurlock in 2010 was a real full-season option for both return gigs.

The Bucs are a long way from determining who their primary return man (or men) will be this fall.  It’s possible some new options will arrive via the draft, or further activity in free agency.  The team may want to take another look at 2012 seventh-round pick Michael Smith, who got an early cameo as a kick returner last season before spending most Sundays in the inactive list due to greater game-day needs at other positions.

One potential option just joined the team last Thursday.  Former Cowboys wide receiver Kevin Ogletree, who will likely get a solid crack at the #3 receiver job, has a kick return background.  He got occasional return opportunities during his first three seasons in Dallas after running back kickoffs during his 2008 final year at Virginia.  Most of his work has come on kickoff returns, but he also ran back two punts for the Cowboys in 2011, one for 25 yards and one for 10 yards.

Ogletree’s return averages aren’t overwhelming – he’s averaged 19.5 yards on 20 kickoff returns as a pro – but the adjustment of the kickoff line to the 35 in 2011 has reduced return opportunities across the league and made it a little harder to judge a return man’s big-play possibilities.  The 6-0, 200-pound Ogletree is very solidly built, almost like a running back, and that plus good speed makes him an intriguing candidate for the return job.

Other apparent options on the current roster include Smith, wide receiver Tiquan Underwood and running back D.J. Ware.  All three got a handful of kickoff return chances last year, and Ware held the job for the Giants for a good part of 2010.  None have ever returned punts, however.  Obviously, Parrish or fellow free agent wide receiver Sammie Stroughter would be in the mix if either re-signed with the team.

There are also a couple young players the Buccaneers added to their roster during the season last fall but haven’t really tested out yet.  David Douglas, the 2012 rookie receiver the team swiped off the Giants’ practice squad in November, had a few return opportunities at the University of Arizona and is considered both sure-handed and quick.  Chris Owusu, similarly signed off San Diego’s practice squad in September, was a very good return man at Stanford and has speed to burn.  He averaged 27.3 yards per kickoff return in college, scoring three touchdowns.  Owusu is obviously an interesting candidate but his chances may hinge on finding other reasons to make the roster and be kept active on game days.

The punt return job is much more difficult to predict.  Fielding punts is more difficult than fielding kickoffs, and the potential for turnovers is higher, so coaches generally want a very sure-handed player who has experience with the job.  While the team cycled through a bunch of in-house options at kickoff return last year, they pointedly went outside the roster to sign Parrish when Stroughter got hurt and Jordan Shipley fumbled his chance.

Perhaps Ogletree will be able to prove he can handle that job, too.  At the very least, he would appear to be a new candidate to return kickoffs in 2013.

Goldson and Barron Complement Each Other Well

Before last April, the Buccaneers had never spent a first-round draft pick – let alone a top-10 selection – on a safety.  It’s also safe to say that the team has never made such a significant free agency investment in a safety, with very minor apologies to Sean Jones and Charles Mincy, as it did on Tuesday.

Then along came Alabama’s Mark Barron with the seventh overall pick in the 2012 draft, followed by veteran All-Pro Dashon Goldson on a five-year free agency deal that was inked on Wednesday.  Suddenly, the team has significant resources allotted to the back end of their defense, and a safety tandem that could quickly develop into one of the NFL’s best. Continue reading

O-Line Options After Loss of Nicks

As devastating as the loss of Pro Bowl guard Carl Nicks would seem to be, especially on the heels of Pro Bowl G Davin Joseph’s own trip to I.R. in August, the Buccaneers won’t stop to dwell on it.  The team plays its next game on Sunday in Oakland, and the “next-man-up” motto will be applied once again.  Someone will be asked to step up into the starting lineup, and the Bucs’ chase of a playoff berth will continue.

So, who might that next man be?  Or could the solution actually involve several changes up front? Continue reading

Miller Impressed by Trueblood’s Transition

Can Jeremy Trueblood, who hasn’t played on the interior offensive line since his high school days, make a smooth transition from right guard to right tackle, should the Buccaneers opt to try him there this Sunday?  Count one of his practice-field competitors among those who believe he can.

“He looks good,” said defensive tackle Roy Miller after getting some one-on-one work against Trueblood on the practice field Wednesday.  “He really made the transition very quickly.  We were surprised watching him in pass-rush and pass-block [drills] and things like that.”

Trueblood has started 84 games for the Buccaneers since 2006, all at right tackle.  Scouting reports on the former Boston College standout generally grade him higher in terms of run-blocking than pass protection, though he has obviously been strong enough at both to be a starter in the NFL for most of six seasons.  While some wonder if a 6-8 linemen can successfully play inside, Miller thinks the more germane consideration is Trueblood’s style of play.

“In the run, he’s always had an aggressive type of mentality, so I think that will translate well inside,” said Miller.  “Being a guard, I think he’ll be able to use his force more and be able to move guys and drive into them like I think he would like to at tackle.”

Trueblood Experiment Put on Hold for One Day

Head Coach Greg Schiano has acknowledged that his team is considering a number of options at right guard going forward – including the incumbent Ted Larsen – and that former starting right tackle Jeremy Trueblood is at least a consideration.  The Bucs gave Trueblood a brief look at that unfamiliar spot last week during bye-week practices, and intended to do so again on Monday.

That plan had to be altered, however, when Trueblood came down with a stomach virus Monday and was unable to practice.  It’s clear that Schiano did intend to check out the Trueblood option because he said, had he known earlier in the morning that his veteran lineman would be unavailable he might have rearranged the schedule and not used one of his allotted practices in pads to start the week. Continue reading