The Buccaneers players are off until they have to report back to Tampa on July 23 to begin what many are hoping and expecting to be a rebound season from the 4-12 disaster of 2013. Excitement abounds with Lovie Smith now in place as the team’s head coach and an influx of new players that the organization hopes fills holes in the roster have fans excited about the possibilities in 2014. While the mood surrounding the franchise is as positive as it has been in a number of years, there are still some areas of concern on the roster.
This week, PewterReport.com counts down the five biggest questions heading into training camp. While there are certainly more than five, these are the ones that we have the most questions about and will intently be watching once camp opens.
NO. 1: WHO WILL BE TAMPA BAY’S THIRD RECEIVER?Players In The Mix: Robert Herron, Solomon Patton, Louis Murphy, Tommy Streeter, Lavelle Hawkins, Quintin Payton, David Gettis, Chris Owusu, Eric Page, Russell Shepard, Skye DawsonWith much of the attention going to the big money free agent acquisitions, the Bucs also signed Murphy, who has performed like a top-dollar player rather than someone who is making just $795,000 on a one-year deal. Murphy performed at a very high level during OTAs and mini-camp practices this spring, and spent of lot of time with the first-team offense with Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans sidelined with injuries. The Florida native spent four years with the Oakland Raiders and one year each with the Carolina Panthers and New York Giants before becoming a Buccaneer. Murphy has recorded 121 career catches for 1,744 yards and 8 touchdowns over the course of his six-year NFL career and has the speed the Bucs are looking for to stretch the defense.
Owusu, who was the darling of training camp last year, was impressive during OTAs and mini-camp practice, earning praise from head coach Lovie Smith on multiple occasions. The former Stanford Cardinal struggled mightily in preseason action in 2013 and recorded just 13 catches for 114 yards during the regular season, but has 4.36 speed and could be poised for a breakout year.
The Buccaneers used their sixth-round draft pick on Herron, a speedy receiver with good route-running skills and playmaking ability. The 5-foot-9, 193-pound receiver has made several standout players during OTAs and mini-camps, including multiple leaping catches where he displayed tremendous body control and concentration. Wide receiver coach Andrew Hayes-Stoker has spent a lot of time with Herron in regards to releasing from the line of scrimmage, making him re-run drills multiple times until he got them right. Herron will need development, but he has a ton of talent and could be an impact player for Tampa Bay.
Hawkins spent a lot of time on the sidelines with an injury during spring practices, but the 27 year-old veteran has been a vocal leader amongst the wide receiver group. Hawkins played for offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford at Cal and is in the thick of the competition for a roster spot.
Dawson, who dressed up in seven games for the Buccaneers last season, has flashed as a speed receiver during spring practices. The former TCU Horned Frog stands just 5-foot-9, 183 pounds, but possesses great quickness and speed. He still needs to develop more as a receiver but Dawson’s speed makes him an ideal candidate to compete for special teams duties in 2014.
Undrafted free agents Patton and Payton are two very different receivers that flashed during spring practices. At 5-foot-9, 177 pounds, Patton is an undersized receiver that makes his impact with his legs and quickness. On the other hand, Payton (6-4, 212) is a tall receiver with surprisingly good movement skills to go along with his big frame. Both receivers will be competing for a roster spot when training camp begins.
Continuing the trend of tall receivers, Streeter, a second-year receiver, is an eye-catching player from a physical standpoint. Standing 6-foot-5, 215 pounds, Streeter fits Tampa Bay’s recent infatuation with tall pass-catchers. After spending his rookie season on injured reserve, he was released by the Baltimore Ravens before signing with the Buccaneers.
Page enters his second season in Tampa Bay with aspirations of being an impact receiver, but he’ll likely have to make an impact on special teams to make the Buccaneers roster in 2014. Page simply doesn’t stand out in the Buccaneers receiving group that has much faster and taller players than the former Toledo Rocket.
Gettis is the team’s most recent acquisition at the wide receiver position, but the former Carolina Panther hasn’t caught a regular season pass since 2010. He’ll fight to stay alive in the battle to make the Buccaneers roster, but has a nice mix of size and speed.
PewterReport.com’s Early Bet For Third Receiver: MurphyMurphy has made plays throughout the team’s offseason program and brings six years of NFL experience to the Buccaneers offense. The former Florida Gator is being cross-trained all of the wide receiver positions and spent a lot of time with the Buccaneers’ first-team offense when Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson sat out with hamstring injuries. Quietly, Murphy has made his presence felt at One Buc Place, leading PewterReport.com to believe that he is currently third on the team’s depth chart heading into training camp just ahead of Herron, who will also get some playing time in the slot.
TRAINING CAMP QUESTIONS SERIES SCHEDULETraining Camp Question No. 5 – Nickel Cornerbacks (Monday)Training Camp Question No. 4 – Left Defensive End (Tuesday)Training Camp Question No. 3 – Guards (Wednesday) Training Camp Question No. 2 – Running Backs (Thursday)Training Camp Question No. 1 – Third Wide Receiver (Friday)
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