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The Tampa Bay Buccaneers still have organized team activities, mandatory mini-camp, training camp and preseason to determine which players will make up their active roster to start the 2009 regular season in September. There are plenty of roster spots up for grabs, which will make the rest of the offseason entertaining to watch to say the least.
In the meantime, Pewter Report has used its observations and information gathered from different league and team sources, and OTA practices, to project Tampa Bay's 53-man roster, which is listed below.
QUARTERBACK (3) Luke McCown Byron Leftwich Josh Freeman Commentary: McCown and Freeman are practically guaranteed roster spots because of McCown's new, two-year deal and the lucrative contract Freeman will sign this summer. The Bucs are unlikely to carry four quarterbacks on their 53-man roster again in 2009. That said, Brian Griese likely will be released or traded, which will leave the third and final quarterback to either Leftwich or second-year QB Josh Johnson. Although Johnson is younger and more athletic, Leftwich appears to have the edge based on experience.
RUNNING BACK (4) Derrick Ward Earnest Graham Cadillac Williams Clifton Smith
Commentary: Ward and Graham will carry the load for Tampa Bay's running game in 2009. The Bucs are hoping Williams can work his way back from his second devastating knee injury in as many seasons. Another long-term injury or setback could cost him a roster spot. Smith will serve as Tampa Bay's primary return specialist, but there's also a chance new offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski will use Smith as a receiver out of the backfield. Jagodzinski's offense features quite a few screen passes for the running backs, which is where Smith could come in handy. Newcomers Kareem Huggins and Josh Vaughan likely will compete for a spot on Tampa Bay's eight-man practice squad, where they can receive the time they need to develop as pros.
FULLBACK (2) B.J. Askew Jameel Cook
Commentary: The Bucs like Askew as a blocking and pass-catching fullback, but they need him to stay healthy. Storer is a player that really started to emerge as a capable fullback in place of Askew before he suffered a season-ending knee injury. While he improved as a fullback, Strorer was missed most on special teams, where he is a standout cover man. Unfortunately, Storer has suffered a setback in his rehab, which could cost him a roster spot this year. That means Cook, who is one of three remaining players from the Bucs' Super Bowl XXXVII team, should reap the benefits of Storer's misfortune.
WIDE RECEIVER (6) Antonio Bryant Michael Clayton Maurice Stovall Sammie Stroughter Kelly Campbell Brian Clark
Commentary: Talk about a wide open competition. After Bryant and Clayton, that's exactly how one could describe Tampa Bay's battle for roster spots at wide receiver. Head coach Raheem Morris is pushing Stovall to live up to his potential and carry his offseason success into the regular season. He is also a special teams ace and possesses the big body Jagodzinski is looking for on the perimeter to aid the running game. This is a make or break year for the former third-round pick. Stroughter was impressive in rookie mini-camp, and the Bucs feel they got a steal by drafting him in the seventh round. He is more sudden than fast, but his clutch hands and special teams return ability should earn him a roster spot and even some playing time on offense. Clark isn't a flashy player, but he's intelligent and capable of being cross trained to give him more value as a versatile receiver. If the Bucs keep six receivers the last spot could come down to Campbell and second-year WR Dexter Jackson. Unless he lights it up as a receiver, Jackson could be the odd man out since he failed as a return specialist last year and does not have the skill set to cover kicks and punts, which is what a backup receiver must do to justify an active roster spot in the NFL.
TIGHT END (3) Kellen Winslow Jerramy Stevens John Gilmore
Commentary: No surprises here. With Alex Smith being traded to New England for a 2010 fifth-round draft pick, the Bucs are likely to keep three tight ends, the biggest name of course being Winslow, whom the team acquired via trade with Cleveland during the offseason. While Winslow likely will start at tight end, Stevens and Gilmore will see playing time as Jagodzinski plans to use tight ends in his offense quite a bit.
OFFENSIVE LINE (8) T Donald Penn G Arron Sears C Jeff Faine G Davin Joseph T Jeremy Trueblood C/G Jeremy Zuttah T James Lee T Xavier Fulton
Commentary: Tampa Bay's starting five along the O-line is set, but things get a bit interesting after that. Zuttah will attempt to challenge Joseph and Sears for starting jobs, but he likely will wind up a valuable backup at the center and guard spots. Zuttah's versatility could make Sean Mahan and his $3 million base salary expendable. Lee and Fulton, a 2009 fifth-round pick, could be battling for one roster spot if the Bucs decide to keep just seven offensive men, but the team could keep both players since they are high on Lee and might not feel comfortable sneaking Fulton onto the practice squad, where he could be picked up by another team.
DEFENSIVE LINE (8) DE Gaines Adams DT Chris Hovan DT Ryan Sims DE Jimmy Wilkerson DE Stylez G. White DT Roy Miller DE Kyle Moore DT Greg Peterson
Commentary: Tampa Bay recorded just 29 sacks in 2008, and it could be counting on the group above to improve that perceived weakness this season. The only roster spot that appears to be up in the air is the one given to Peterson, who will be battling Dre Moore for a job. One of the reasons why Peterson could beat out Moore is because of his versatility and due to the fact that Moore still is eligible for the practice squad. Don't be surprised if Wilkerson wins the starting left end job. He's had an impressive offseason.
LINEBACKER (6) Barrett Ruud Angelo Crowell Quincy Black Geno Hayes Adam Hayward Niko Koutouvides
Commentary: Ruud is the only linebacker on Tampa Bay's roster guaranteed a starting job. Newcomer Crowell will battle Quincy Black for a starting outside linebacker job while Geno Hayes and Jermaine Philips compete for the other spot alongside Ruud. While Bucs defensive coordinator Jim Bates feels Jermaine Phillips is off to a good start in his transition from safety to linebacker, our early guess is Phillips might wind up back at safety, but Hayes' performance will help dictate that decision. Third-year LB Rod Wilson was running ahead of Niko Koutouvides as a backup middle linebacker in the first team mini-camp and this week's OTAs, but the thought here is that Koutouvides will emerge as Ruud's backup as well as a special teams contributor.
Commentary: Tampa Bay is lacking depth and competition at the cornerback position, which is not a good thing seeing as how much Bates relies on his corners to help set the tone of the defense with press coverage. Talib and Mack are considered upcoming playmakers that should benefit from more playing time, but the players playing behind these three are question marks. The Bucs are high on Biggers, who they feel could be a seventh-round steal and immediate special teams contributor. Head coach Raheem Morris has talked highly of Arrington as well, which should mean something since the former DBs coach has an eye for talent at this particular position. Although he's coming off a serious knee injury, Cox is a player that manages to stick around despite whatever competition might be brought in. Given his experience, Cox should stand a pretty good chance of making this year's team, especially if he can continue to excel as a special teams ace.
SAFETY (4) Sabby Piscitelli Tanard Jackson Will Allen Jermaine Phillips
Commentary: If Phillips doesn't pan out at linebacker, which is a possibility, the Bucs would still see value in him as a defensive back. One of the reasons why the Bucs moved Phillips to linebacker was to get Piscitelli, a 2007 second-round draft pick, on the field. Even if Phillips were to be moved back to safety, Piscitelli likely would remain the starter, but Phillips could be worked into the rotation, or worst case scenario serve as a valuable backup to Piscitelli and Jackson. If Phillips sticks at linebacker the Bucs likely would keep one less cornerback and retain S Donte Nicholson on their roster. Will Allen will continue to serve as a special teams captain while providing depth at safety.
KICKER (1) Mike Nugent
Commentary: This battle should be one of the most interesting competitions of training camp and preseason. Matt Bryant, 33, is a reliable kicker inside the 40-yard line, but his leg strength is considered an issue, which is why the Bucs signed Nugent, a former second-round draft pick with the Jets. Nugent is coming off a knee injury that hindered his efforts in 2008, but he is just 27 and has a stronger leg than Bryant. The Bucs are going to let this battle play out, but they thought enough of Nugent to sign him to a contract that will pay him $2 million in base salary should he make the team, whereas Bryant is scheduled to make $1.1 million in 2009.
PUNTER (1) Josh Bidwell
Commentary: The Bucs don't have competition for Bidwell, who will be Tampa Bay's punter in 2009. He is under contract through 2011, but Bidwell, 33, will have to perform better than he did towards the end of the season if he wants to see the end of that contract.
LONG SNAPPER (1) Andrew Economos
Commentary: Bucs special teams coach Richard Bisaccia is very comfortable with Economos, so unless another player from another position emerges as a better long snapper Economos likely will serve in that capacity again in 2009.