SR’s Fab 5 is a collection of inside scoop, analysis and insight from yours truly, Pewter Report publisher and Bucs beat writer Scott Reynolds. Here are a few things that caught my attention this week at One Buc Place:
FAB 1. BUCCANEERS TRAINING CAMP SLEEPERS
The 2014 Tampa Bay Buccaneers training camp is underway and out of the 90 Bucs on the team’s roster there are only 42 players that remain from either the team’s roster or practice squad from a year ago. Coming off a 4-12 season there are bound to be changes to Tampa Bay’s roster.
And with a new head coach and new general manager there aren’t allegiances to many Buccaneers outside of the team’s 2014 rookie class and free agent class, and star players like linebacker Lavonte David and defensive tackle Gerald McCoy. The team’s 2014 draft picks, including sixth-round wide receiver Robert Herron, are probably going to make the 53-man active roster, but they won’t be the only newcomers that have a legitimate shot of staying in Tampa Bay past training camp.
Aside from the team’s draft choices, there are a handful of buzz-worthy newcomers that have a chance to remain a Buccaneer this September with a great training camp and preseason. Here is a look at some of Tampa Bay’s training camp sleepers.
BUCS SLEEPERS – OFFENSE
RB Jeff Demps
Lovie Smith and new offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford love speed and Demps is not only the fastest Buccaneer, the former Olympic sprinter is also the fastest player in the NFL. Demps can make the roster by starring on special teams or as a kick returner, and by being a versatile utility player on offense. However, Demps is vulnerable because his lack of size (5-foot-7, 191 pounds) limits his potential to be an every down back. Bobby Rainey and Mike James are every-down type backs, and if both impress in the preseason it might be difficult for Tampa Bay to keep five running backs, including Demps. Both Rainey and James have more playing experience than Demps, which gives them a slight advantage.
C-G Jace Daniels
The Bucs parted ways with swingman Ted Larsen, who has underperformed the last two years, but his versatility will be missed. With the team’s other versatile lineman Jamon Meredith likely to nail down a starting guard spot this year, there is a need for another multi-purpose reserve on the offensive line. Daniels, who is currently serving as Tampa Bay’s backup to center Evan Dietrich-Smith, can fill that void. Daniels played left tackle in college and has the footwork to be an effective guard or center. With a solid preseason, Daniels could beat out Josh Allen, who struggled at times with some botched snaps during the mini-camp.
OT Matt Patchan
The Boston College product has some experience at left tackle, but will play right tackle in Tampa Bay. However, his versatility to play either side makes him a candidate to be a swing tackle for the Buccaneers. At 6-foot-7, 300 pounds, Patchan has an NFL frame and he’s tough. If he can stay healthy – a possible stretch considering his college career was ravaged by injuries – he’ll have a chance to unseat fifth-round draft pick Kevin Pamphile for the swing tackle spot on the roster, or push the Bucs to consider keeping four offensive tackles this year.
WR David Gettis
Gettis is entering his fourth year in the league, but has really only been healthy for one, which was in Carolina in 2010 when he caught 37 passes for 508 yards (13.7 avg.) and three touchdowns. The Bucs have wanted to bring him in for some time now, but he has spent the last couple of seasons recovering from a knee injury that cost him the 2011 and 2012 seasons. At 6-foot-3, 220 pounds and blessed with 4.39 speed, Gettis is a big, fast target that made a great impression on the Bucs coaching staff and scouts during an offseason try-out. He’s healthy and hungry and one to watch this August.
DE Chaz Sutton
Sutton played opposite Jadeveon Clowney and next to Kelsey Quarles on South Carolina’s defensive line and notched 75 tackles, 20 tackles for loss and nine sacks in his Gamecocks career. He was named as a captain during his senior season and is one of the strongest players in South Carolina history. Sutton has great size at 6-foot-5, 263 pounds and the versatility to play either defensive end position as well as defensive tackle in nickel rush situations. In training camp this undrafted free agent will challenge Da’Quan Bowers, Steven Means, Scott Solomon and Ronald Talley for the fourth defensive end spot behind Michael Johnson, Adrian Clayborn and Will Gholston.
DT Euclid Cummings
At 6-foot-4, 274 pounds, Cummings is undersized, but very quick and fast, as evidenced by his 4.79 time in the 40-yard dash. Only a one-year starter at Georgia Tech, Cummings lacks experience heading into the NFL, but he has the suddenness, enthusiasm and motivation to make an impact in training camp. Cummings is fighting for a roster spot with Matthew Masifilo as a three-technique tackle behind Pro Bowler Gerald McCoy. With the Bucs desperate for pass rushers, this undrafted free agent has a chance to use his speed, which is tailor made for the Tampa 2, to make an impression in August.
LB Nate Askew
Askew is talented and athletic and has a great mix of size (6-foot-3, 241 pounds) and speed (4.5), but he’s got an uphill battle because Danny Lansanah and Ka’lil Glaud have also had a very good offseason and have more experience playing linebacker than Askew does. After spending his first three years at Texas A&M as a wide receiver, Askew recorded 38 tackles, 1.5 sacks and three interceptions, including a pick-six, as a senior. Askew, who is playing weakside linebacker behind Lavonte David, will have to make a lot of splash plays to make the roster and beat out the likes of Lansanah, Glaud and newly acquired Brandon Magee, but he has the athleticism and potential to do so.
NCB Quinton Pointer
Pointer made a great first impression during the Bucs OTAs on his first day in Tampa Bay by recording two interceptions. At 5-foot-9, 194 pounds, Pointer has ideal size and quickness to play against slot receivers in the nickel cornerback role. Pointer finished his UNLV career with 226 tackles, 21 pass deflections, six interceptions, five forced fumbles and two sacks, and has the confidence and playmaking ability to make an impact during training camp. With the departure of veteran D.J. Moore, Pointer’s chances of making the roster greatly improved.
FAB 2. IF PATTON CAN CATCH, HE CAN CATCH ON
One more training camp sleeper that didn’t make the initial list is Florida’s undrafted free agent Solomon Patton. He was an under-used weapon with the Gators, who have struggled at the quarterback position the last couple of years.
At 5-foot-9, 177 pounds, he’s undersized and will have to vie for a slot receiver role in Tampa Bay along with Robert Herron, the team’s speedy sixth-round pick, who figures to make the team. But in order for him to make the team with Herron, Patton will need to win a role on special teams as the Bucs’ kick and/or punt returner.
Patton returned both a punt and a kick for a touchdown for the Gators and has 4.3 speed and supreme quickness. He returned three punts for 84 yards and a touchdown and returned 39 kicks for 1,079 yards and a touchdown, which was a 100-yard jaunt. Patton has struggled with catching punts in practice during the offseason, and will really have to be more consistent during training camp and the preseason.
He’ll also have to show enough potential as a receiver in the preseason to stick around, even if he’s good enough in the return game. Patton caught 44 passes for 556 yards (12.6 avg.) and six touchdowns as a senior, which is when he got the most playing time. He caught 52 passes for 635 yards and six scores in the three years he saw action on the field in Gainesville.
Patton’s speed and agility have turned some heads at One Buccaneer Place this offseason, but one player that isn’t surprised with his ability is former Florida teammate and current Bucs running back Jeff Demps.
“I’ve known Solomon Patton for a few years,” Demps said. “We played together at Florida. He’s crazy fast, and his quickness is what separates him from other people. His senior year in college he was able to make a big impact. I’ve practiced with him and I’ve seen the things he can do. For him to do the things he did over the last year and to make the impact he made – not a lot of people know what he can do. I think he can come in and catch people’s attention. He’s a training camp sleeper.”
The Bucs’ wide receiver position is stocked with several fast, unheralded players this year. With veterans Vincent Jackson and Louis Murphy locks to make the roster, in addition to draft picks Mike Evans and Herron, there might be only one or at the most two roster spots available. Patton will have to fend off the likes of David Gettis, Skye Dawson, Chris Owusu, Eric Page, Lavelle Hawkins, Quintin Payton, Russell Shepard and Tommy Streeter to make the team – and that’s a tall order.
FAB 3. DEMPS READY FOR HIS FIRST NFL TRAINING CAMP
Although Buccaneers running back Jeff Demps is entering his third year in the league, he is going to experience his first NFL training camp this summer. That’s because Demps spent the offseasons in 2012 and 2013 running track and field for the U.S. Olympic team and didn’t leave to play football until late August.
After winning a silver medal during the 2012 Summer Olympics, Demps actually made his NFL debut in Tampa Bay as a member of the New England Patriots and played in a preseason game at Raymond James Stadium in 2012. The next week, he suffered a leg injury that prompted the Patriots to place him on injured reserve and he was traded to the Buccaneers during the 2013 NFL Draft.
Demps ran track again last spring and summer and joined the Bucs at the start of the 2013 campaign. The 5-foot-7, 191-pound offensive weapon only saw action in two games last year (Arizona and Philadelphia) and had one run for 14 yards, three catches for 21 yards and returned four kicks for 93 yards before tearing his groin and being placed on injured reserve.
“It’s my first training camp in the NFL,” Demps said. “I’ve done track the last two years in the summer, so I really don’t know what to expect. Now I want to go in and work hard and do what I have to do. I feel caught up now since I’ve been in the offseason program from the beginning.
“My first two years in the NFL were really tough on me with the injuries and coming off a really long track season and not having my body up to par for football. It really took a toll on me. I think it helped me a lot this year to go through OTAs and mini-camps and to get to know the playbook and get a feel for all my teammates. Now I’ve gotten my body used to being in football shape and I’m back in that football mentality. It’s a lot better than the last two years.”
Demps has struggled with catching up with both the Patriots’ and Buccaneers’ playbooks over the past two years and always feeling behind his teammates. By committing to football and skipping track this offseason, Demps finally feels on par with his teammates and has a very good understanding of Jeff Tedford’s new playbook. Having a seasoned position coach in Tim Spencer has helped tremendously.
“Tim is a great coach,” Demps said. “He’s a hard worker. He’s old school. He’s not a rah-rah guy. He just tells you to do something and he expects you to do it. He’s going to point out your flaws and tell you what you’re doing well, too. He’s not going to beat around the bush with you. He’s straightforward and I think that’s what you need to be successful.”
Demps is not an absolute lock to make to the team, but his speed and versatility gives him a chance to remain a Buccaneer after training camp. You can follow Demps’ exploits at One Buccaneer Place through the month of August in Demps’ Training Camp Diary on PewterReport.com.
FAB 4. THE ABSOLUTELY WRIGHT STORY
Buccaneers tight end Tim Wright was the featured guest at the PewterReport.com Pre-Training Camp Party last Saturday at the Keel & Curley Winery in Plant City and participated in a question-and-answer session with the 60 Bucs fans in attendance. Fresh off his honeymoon after marrying his wife, Jodi, in New Jersey on July 5, Wright shared an incredible story about his son, who is just over a year old.
His son’s name is Major Wright.
Ironically enough, Wright also has a Buccaneers teammate named Major Wright, who is a safety.
Believe it or not, Wright named his son Major after watching Major Wright, the safety, on TV when Florida played Oklahoma in the national championship in 2008. Tim Wright had never heard of Major Wright prior to that day and made a mental note about the name.
“When I heard the name I liked it, and I told myself that if I ever had a boy I would name him Major,” Wright said at the PewterReport.com Pre-Training Camp Party at the Keel & Curley Winery last Saturday.
To add another piece of irony to the story, when the Buccaneers signed Major Wright in March, the locker he was assigned to was right next to Tim Wright. So now the Wrights are neighbors at One Buccaneer Place.
“When I told him that I named my son after him he thought that was cool,” Wright said. “To have his locker next door to mine is kind of wild.”
When asked if Tim Wright was going to call his Bucs teammate, Major Wright, “son” he chuckled and said, “Maybe I should!”
Now that’s the Wright stuff, and one heck of a story.
FAB 5. Here are a few things to hold you over until the next edition of SR’s Fab 5:
• I’ve been singing the praises of Bucs quarterback Josh McCown the entire offseason since his debut in pewter and red at the team’s first mini-camp. While there has been very little local or national hype about him, there has been a great deal of praise about McCown from the players.
“I don’t know how much people really know how good Josh McCown is,” Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy said. “I think a lot of people are about to see how good he really is. He’s (35), but with the amount of time he’s played, he’s 28. His mental capacity is as old as it gets. He’s been around for a while. His leadership ability is incredible, and he’s going to lead this team.”
Here’s a prediction about McCown: I think he leads the Bucs to nine victories this year and within this new offense I could see him throw 25 touchdowns, under 10 interceptions and have a chance at throwing for 4,000 yards this year.
• Bucs running back Charles Sims, the team’s third-round pick in 2014, has made a very favorable impression at One Buccaneer Place. Running back Jeff Demps has been impressed with the work ethic of the 6-foot, 211-pound rookie from West Virginia.
“Charles came straight in and didn’t say much – he just worked,” Demps said. “He just got in his playbook. He does what he’s asked to do. He has really good hands and really good vision. There aren’t many negative aspects to his game from what I’ve seen. He’s fast and catches the ball well. He’ll have a pretty good role as a rookie I would think.”
Sources tell PewterReport.com that Sims is in line to be Doug Martin’s backup this year and has a chance to play a significant role on offense this year, especially on third down, due to his ability to run and catch the ball.
• The release of veteran nickel cornerback D.J. Moore came as a bit of a surprise this week. Moore signed with the Bucs this offseason after missing most of the 2013 campaign in Carolina due to a knee injury.
Moore played for Lovie Smith in Chicago prior to his injury and was looking forward to reuniting with Smith in Tampa Bay for what he believed was his last chance to stay on an NFL roster. But Moore was injured again during the offseason and missed some time during OTAs and the mandatory mini-camp.
Sensing that his injury problems were not behind him, the team decided to move on and give others a chance to win Tampa Bay’s nickel cornerback position, according to sources. Holdover Leonard Johnson, who was the starter in 2013, is the favorite to win the nickel corner job, with Danny Gorrer and newcomer Quinton Pointer also in the mix.
• Don’t be surprised if weather creates havoc for the Buccaneers training camp schedule this year. New head coach Lovie Smith’s decision to hold a plethora of training camp practices from 2:00-4:30 and from 4:30-7:00 during the prime time for the daily afternoon thunderstorms each summer in the Tampa Bay area could cause a set back for the team if there are multiple rainouts.
Lo and behold, Friday’s initial training camp was delayed due to lightning and thunderstorms in the area. Just after taking the field at 4:30 p.m., the Bucs were cleared from the field due to inclement weather that delayed practice nearly two hours.
What’s puzzling is that Smith was on Tony Dungy’s staff from 1996-2000. Doesn’t he remember the weather delays and cancelled practices during the late afternoons at the University of Tampa? I think Smith and the Bucs organization are making a mistake with the multiple late-afternoon and evening practices, but we’ll see.
Former Bucs head coach Greg Schiano was knocked for a lot of things during his tenure in Tampa Bay, but his decision to hold training camp practices prior to nine o’clock proved to be a wise decision. I can’t remember a training camp practice being cancelled due to weather over the past two years.
• I’m not surprised at all with oft-injured Carl Nicks deciding to walk away from football. Nicks and the Buccaneers mutually agreed to part ways on Friday right at the start of training camp. Nicks was absent from reporting day and the first day of Bucs training camp, and now we know why.
There was initial optimism when Lovie Smith was hired in January that Nicks was on the road to recovery from two surgeries on a MRSA-infected big toe, but I didn’t believe it. That skepticism was validated when Nicks couldn’t participate in any of the team’s mini-camps or OTAs during the offseason.
Then a report surfaced in the Tampa Tribune this week claiming Nicks was cleared to participate; renewing optimism that he would finally be able to take part in on-field activities after nearly a year’s absence. Again, I was very skeptical about Nicks’ return, and shared that sentiment on 98.7 The Fan on my Thursday morning appearance with Kirk McEwen.
I maintained that even if Nicks showed up and took the field, would he be a Pro Bowl-caliber player or will he be a shell of his former self like guard Davin Joseph was last year? I’ve had multiple team and league sources tell me over the past year that Nicks wouldn’t play another down in red and pewter, and perhaps wouldn’t play again in the NFL. It would be a shame if a toe injury sidelined a great, giant of a player, but it’s happened before in the NFL. It looks like it’s happening again.
Scott Reynolds is in his 22nd year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds enjoys giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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