One of the more interesting battles developing at Buccaneers training camp is at the safety position.
While many assumed 2015 free agent addition Chris Conte would eventually win the job opposite Bradley McDougald, his recent hamstring injury has given way to Major Wright and D.J. Swearinger taking extra reps at practice.
With four sessions in the books, head coach Lovie Smith believes the competition is beginning to accelerate.
“Just heating up right now, starting out,” Smith said. “It’s hurting Chris Conte not being out there, but that will play out. You want to go to training camp and have a few guys at every position that you like. It’s like that with a couple guys. The safety competition is moving right along.”
Throughout OTAs, mini-camp and the first few training camp practices, Conte was often seen lining up in single-high during 7-on-7 play, essentially as the free safety. The other three have been rotating mainly in the box, a typical setup as Smith points out.
“The way we play our safeties in the box, I think just about every year I’ve been coaching, about our fourth safety has started a game,” Smith said. “You need good players at that position. We feel like we have two we’re comfortable with.”
In all likelihood, McDougald will be the Week 1 starter at strong safety, while Tampa 2 veteran Wright will presumably rotate in at both positions. As for Swearinger, who’s been criticized for his ability in deep coverage, this is a great time to prove he can be a center field-type player and challenge Conte for a starting role.”
“It was good to see D.J. get a pick,” Smith said about Swearinger in coverage. “I think it’s on record that he’ll hit you and we think we have an idea of what he’ll do once we get to that point. He’s done everything we’ve asked him to do and we’re taking notice.”
Nothing has been determined, and for all we know, Conte could still be the penciled-in starter. What is certain, however, is that training camp battles keep players honest and allow them to hit the ground running come preseason. Even McDougald recognizes the stiff competition and appreciates the push to improve.
“We have a great safety corps, with Major Wright, Chris Conte, Keith Tandy, etc…” McDougald said. “Guys are coming to work and showing up everyday. No safety can take a day off. No safety can feel comfortable and feel like he’s the man up.
“We’re going to go into these pre season games, guys are going to have to go off and we’re going to keep putting these plays in front of each other. It’s going to be a tough competition.”
Zach is entering his 3rd year covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as a writer for PewterReport.com. Since 2014, he's handled a large part of the beat reporting responsibilities at PR, attending all media gatherings and publishing and promoting content daily. Zach is a native of Sarasota, FL, and a graduate of the University of Tampa. He has also covered high school football for the Tampa Tribune and the NFL for Pro Player Insiders.
Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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