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The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have concluded the voluntary portion of their organized team activities and are scheduled to conduct a three-day mandatory mini-camp at One Buccaneer Place next week.
The mandatory mini-camp will be Tampa Bay's final offseason practices before the team reports to training camp, where they will hold their first practice at One Buc Place on the morning of Aug. 1 followed by a night practice at Raymond James Stadium. It's important to note that the Bucs plan to use their final practice on Thursday for a private team outing, but we will still be able to view two consecutive days of practice on Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively.
Tampa Bay has only made one of its OTAs open to the media each week, so while Pewter Report has given you some analysis and observations this offseason, the one thing we haven't been able to completely gauge is consistency in terms of week-to-week player performances.
Pewter Report is looking forward to next week's mandatory mini-camp, but not just because the Bucs should have 100 percent player attendance (with the exception of players nursing injuries). Next week will provide the media the opportunity to watch Tampa Bay's players on the field for two straight practices, which should allow us to get an even better feel for how the players are performing heading into training camp.
That said, Pewter Report uses this column to identify 10 players that will be worth keeping an extra eye on during Tampa Bay's mandatory mini-camp next week.
QB Luke McCown – The starting quarterback job is McCown's to lose, but he certainly hasn't won it yet. While he's been the most consistent quarterback the Bucs have, McCown still has plenty of room to improve and plenty left to learn in new offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski's system. McCown should improve as he thinks less and reacts more, but there's no telling how soon or long it will be before McCown becomes completely comfortable in the offense. McCown has been fairly sharp in the OTAs we've witnessed, but our sources tell us he has some consistency issues and needs to stretch the field more often. If McCown struggles during the three-day mandatory mini-camp, the Bucs may rethink the reps that are distributed at quarterback during training camp in an effort to prepare for the possibility of having to play Byron Leftwich and/or rookie Josh Freeman. TE Kellen Winslow – We know he'll be there, but will Winslow practice for each of next week's practices? We're looking forward to getting an answer to that question since there are people around the league that question general manager Mark Dominik's decision to sign Winslow to a new long-term contract that included $20 million in guaranteed money since those critics do not believe he has much more than a year or two at best to play on his previously injured and surgically repaired knee. Tampa Bay's new offense will feature the tight ends early and often, and Winslow is supposed to be a big part of it. You better believe the Bucs will have big problems if Winslow can't stay on the practice field due to health. Head coach Raheem Morris plans to run a very physical training camp. Will Winslow make it through it? This mini-camp could give us a preview of what to expect from Winslow.
LT Donald Penn – Penn has opted to skip most of Tampa Bay's OTAs, which isn't a good thing considering each offensive player is in the process of learning a new offensive scheme. This is particularly true when it comes to Tampa Bay's offensive linemen, who are learning a new scheme and style of blocking (zone). The Bucs aren't happy that Penn, who signed his one-year restricted free agent contract (worth just over $2 million), has opted to skip some voluntary workouts because he wants a long-term deal from the team. You can't blame them. Penn will, after all, be charged with the task of protecting the blindside of Tampa Bay's starting quarterback. The Bucs are hoping Penn comes to mandatory mini-camp and training camp in shape and mentally prepared. They cannot afford to have a breakdown from Penn result in a season-ending injury to McCown, whom they are trying to evaluate as a starting signal caller. Talk about a nightmare scenario – the Bucs want to avoid it at all costs. The good news is several sources, including some players, have offered unsolicited feedback on Jagodzinski's playbook, and many of them suggest the playbook is simple and small in nature. That could help accelerate the learning curve for Penn, or at least the Bucs are that theory will come to fruition.
G Jeremy Zuttah – The Bucs invested a third-round pick in Zuttah in 2008. The Bucs deemed that move an insurance policy, and although not everyone agreed with the pick at the time (even Pewter Report was critical of the Bucs for drafting Zuttah as high as the third round), Tampa Bay is looking pretty smart right now because of the uncertainty surrounding G Arron Sears and his mental stability. No one would ever wish a mental illness on Sears and we wish him a full and speedy recovery. However, Sears' absence could be a blessing in disguise to the Bucs since some believe Zuttah, who is an incredible athlete, is better suited for the zone-blocking scheme. Still, the Bucs could initially miss Sears, a former second-round pick, as he has 31 career starts vs. Zuttah's five career starts. Zuttah hit the weight room hard this offseason, and while the pads won't come on until July, it will be interesting to see how Zuttah fares in place of Sears. WR Sammie Stroughter – Tampa Bay's rookie wide receiver has caught Pewter Report's eye each time we've been afforded the opportunity to watch him practice. According to our sources, Stroughter is the real deal, which suggests he's been consistent and hasn't just flashed in front of the media. Other receivers have impressed as well, including Brian Clark and Kelly Campbell. However, a difference in philosophy could make it more difficult to get the receivers that don't earn the No. 3 job behind Antonio Bryant and Michael Clayton on the field. In former Bucs head coach Jon Gruden's version of the West Coast offense the wide receivers were crosstrained to play and learn more than one position, which made them more valuable and versatile. That isn't the case in Jeff Jagodzinski's system, which means the rookie will have to continue to impress to see significant playing time in 2009. "I don't think that is Coach Jags' philosophy," Mann said when asked about crosstraining the WRs. "What I try to do in the room, especially when we have concepts they know, we try to [mentally] crosstrain them as much as we can because at some point you will have an injury. We try to do it as much as we can, but it's in the classroom, not so much out on the field." LB Barrett Ruud – Like Penn, Ruud finds himself in a contract dispute with the Buccaneers. He has one year remaining on his deal and wants a long-term contract. The Bucs are in no hurry to extend Ruud's contract even though they have discussed it because they will own his rights through 2010 if no new Collective Bargaining Agreement is put in place, which appears to be a likely scenario at this point. The more immediate concern is how Ruud's decision to skip the majority of voluntary OTAs will impact his play in new defensive coordinator Jim Bates' scheme. Ruud is extremely intelligent and possesses good instincts, but his absence certainly can't be deemed positive in nature. Assuming he reports to the mandatory mini-camp, which we believe he will do, it will be interesting to see how Ruud, the defense's main leader, fares since football – and his playbook — clearly aren't the only things on his mind. LB Jermaine Phillips – We've heard some mixed reviews on how Phillips is making the transition from strong safety to weakside linebacker. However, it is fairly encouraging that Phillips has taken the first-team reps at linebacker for the majority of the offseason. It suggests he will stay there, but playing the position and playing it well are two completely different things. Although he thrives in pads, which won't come on until August, Phillips has had a significant amount of time to digest his responsibilities in Bates' scheme, so next week's three-day mini-camp will allow us to determine how Phillips might be doing from playbook standpoint. LB Quincy Black – Philips won't be the only linebacker to keep an extra eye on during the mandatory mini-camp. Black falls into that category as well, and for good reason. He's competing with Angelo Crowell for the starting strongside linebacker job. Crowell would have been the player listed here if it weren't for the fact that he isn't fully recovered from knee surgery, which has limited his participation this offseason. That means Crowell might not even be able to fully practice next week. Black is worth watching for several reasons, including his opportunity to crack the starting lineup and be used as a rush end in passing situations. DE Jimmy Wilkerson – We know Gaines Adams will start at right end for the Bucs, but the left end job is open for competition. As of right now Wilkerson has the edge over Stylez G. White and rookie Kyle Moore. White had a quiet offseason until he got in a motorcycle accident, and Moore is inexperienced. Wilkerson is hoping to carry the starting job into training camp, preseason and the 2009 season, which is scheduled to be Wilkerson's final year under contract with the Bucs. Needless to say, it's a big year for Wilkerson, who notched five sacks last year and is attempting to build on that success as the starting left end and a situational pass-rushing defensive tackle in '09.
CB Ronde Barber – Some have counted him out, and Barber has noted it. He has a chip on his shoulder and takes it to practice with him each day this offseason. Barber, 34, thrived in Monte Kiffin's Cover 2 system, and some have assumed he will not be a good fit for Jim Bates' scheme, which requires the cornerbacks to play a lot of bump-and-run man coverage. But Barber has experience playing man coverage from his playing days in Kiffin's scheme, which required the CBs to play a variety of different coverages, including man and zone. Barber would be the first to admit that the 2009 season was not his best, but it wasn't as bad it some believe, either. Don't forget that Tampa Bay's secondary, particularly the cornerbacks, was left vulnerable playing behind a defensive line that produced just 22 sacks in 16 regular season games. Barber has something to prove this year, and he's demonstrated that by turning in impressive play during OTAs. Barber has avoided the media all offseason, but something tells us he will have our attention on the practice field next week.