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Like all other 31 NFL teams, The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are required to trim their roster down to 75 players on Sept. 1, and then to 53 players on Sept. 5.
Which players will go and which ones will stick around for Tampa Bay's Week 1 contest vs. the Dallas Cowboys?
With three preseason games in the books, PewterReport.com uses its own training camp and preseason observations, as well as info from team sources, to unveil its first 53-man roster prediction in this installment of Flynn's Focus.
PEWTERREPORT.COM'S FIRST 53-MAN ROSTER PREDICTION
QUARTERBACKS (4) Byron Leftwich Luke McCown Josh Freeman Josh Johnson
Commentary: While we don't know who Tampa Bay's starting quarterback will be just yet, we do know the three quarterbacks that will be on the 53-man roster are Leftwich, McCown and Freeman unless there is a trade, of course. The loser of the battle between Leftwich and McCown could be designated the third-team quarterback since the Bucs want to get their first-round pick and future starter some reps during the season. The toughest decision, next to anointing a starter, is whether to keep Johnson as a fourth quarterback. Safety Tanard Jackson's four-game suspension to start the season, along with Johnson's impressive play on a limited number of reps, could help the Bucs justify keeping all four quarterbacks.
RUNNING BACKS (4) Derrick Ward Earnest Graham Cadillac Williams Clifton Smith
Commentary: There are really no surprises here. Ward established himself as the best running back on the team in training camp and preseason, although he and Graham will share the load when it comes to the running game this season. Williams, who had an impressive showing vs. Miami, and Smith will also be worked into the rotation. Don't be surprised if Graham is asked to cover kickoffs and punts on special teams since that is not a role Williams has played before. Tampa Bay might have had a difficult decision to make had rookie RB Kareem Huggins stayed healthy. Head coach Raheem Morris, a fellow Hofstra alum, loves Huggins' style of play and his work ethic. Huggins, who is sidelined several weeks with a knee injury, likely is headed for the practice squad.
FULLBACKS (2) B.J. Askew Jameel Cook
Commentary: Askew is clearly Tampa Bay's starting fullback, and he opened some eyes in the preseason game vs. Jacksonville by carrying the load via the running game. Askew's athleticism could prompt offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski to get Askew on the field a little more than he initially planned. If the Bucs want to keep an extra player at another position, Cook could be deemed expendable. However, the team appears to have room for him, and Cook's special teams ability (52 career tackles) and experience at fullback could make him a valuable 53-man roster member.
WIDE RECEIVERS (6) Antonio Bryant Michael Clayton Brian Clark Sammie Stroughter Maurice Stovall Mario Urrutia
Commentary: The competition behind starters Bryant and Clayton is wide open, which will make Tampa Bay's decision a difficult one to make. Clark, Stroughter and Stovall are battling for the No. 3 receiver job, and there's a decent chance Jagodzinski will simply use all three players in that role during games. The decision-making process becomes even more difficult after those five receivers. Even though he has missed a significant amount of playing time in training camp and preseason, second-year WR Dexter Jackson could still make the team, believe it or not, because he brings something different to the table – speed, which is what this group lacks overall. Former CFL standout Kelly Campbell could also sneak his way onto the 53-man roster with a strong finish to preseason, but he must stay healthy. The Bucs are enamored by Urrutia's 6-foot-6, 235-pound frame and feel he has a lot of upside, which is why Pewter Report has him making the active roster.
TIGHT ENDS (3) Kellen Winslow Jerramy Stevens John Gilmore
Commentary: This prediction should come as no surprise. Winslow will be featured early and often in Jagodzinski's offense, although the preseason games wouldn't necessarily support that notion. Gilmore's role as a receiver has diminished greatly, so he will be the team's primary blocking tight end while Stevens serves as a reliable pass-catcher. Rookie TE Ryan Purvis might have shown enough towards the end of training camp and preseason to earn a spot on Tampa Bay's eight-man practice squad.
OFFENSIVE LINE (8) LT Donald Penn LG Jerramy Zuttah C Jeff Faine RG Davin Joseph RT Jeremy Trueblood C Sean Mahan LT Xavier Fulton OL Demar Dotson
Commentary: The Bucs are void of depth along their offensive line behind the five starters. Mahan is capable of playing guard, but is the team's primary backup at center. Tampa Bay has been impressed with Fulton, who is Penn's backup at left tackle. In fact, Fulton's quick transition from college to the pros has assured him a roster spot. Dotson's ability to play guard and tackle, and his athleticism and upside, will allow him to beat out OL James Lee for the final roster spot here.
DEFENSIVE LINE (8) RE Gaines Adams DT Chris Hovan DT Ryan Sims LE Jimmy Wilkerson DT Roy Miller DE Kyle Moore DE Stylez G. White DT Dre Moore
Commentary: Tampa Bay's defensive line, particularly the defensive tackles, have been solid against the run. That, along with the fact that the Bucs have third- and fourth-round picks invested in Miller and Dre Moore, is why the team likely will keep two backup defensive tackles to play behind – and work into the rotation with – Hovan and Sims. Tampa Bay's 2009 fourth-round pick, Kyle Moore, has turned in an impressive preseason, so he will make the team as well. White was inconsistent in training camp and might have been in danger of not making the team, but that was before his monster outing in Tampa Bay's preseason opener vs. Tennessee. Bucs DL Louis Holmes had a similar effort vs. the Jacksonville Jaguars, but the team might not have room to keep him on the 53-man roster, too. If that is the case and Holmes clears waivers, he likely will land on Tampa Bay's practice squad.
LINEBACKERS (6) Barrett Ruud Quincy Black Geno Hayes Rod Wilson Adam Hayward Niko Koutouvides
Commentary: The Bucs have good depth at linebacker. Some believe this might be the strongest unit on the team. Hayes challenged for a starting job in camp, and that hard work has paid off as Jermaine Phillips has returned to his former position – safety – for at least the first four games of the year. Tampa Bay's toughest call relates to the backup middle linebacker job, which is between Wilson and Koutouvides. The battle has been tight, but Wilson appears to have the edge. While he's not as sharp and assignment sound on defense, Hayward is a more versatile linebacker. He's even taken some reps at middle linebacker in practice, and still excels on special teams. If the Bucs keep six linebackers, Hayward and Koutouvides, who is another special teams ace, will fill those spots.
Commentary: The Bucs never intended to keep five or six cornerbacks on their 53-man roster, and they still may not. However, Talib is facing a possible suspension due to his recent arrest and altercation with a cab driver. If his fate isn't decided by the Bucs and NFL before the start of the regular season, the team might be forced to keep an extra cornerback. The Bucs may attempt to sneak Biggers onto the practice squad and call him up to the active roster if Talib gets suspended, but that may be too risky. If Talib were suspended, depth and experience would be serious concerns at cornerback, where Mack, Arrington and Biggers have combined for no starts. Torrie Cox, who has three career starts and has excelled on special teams, was in the mix up until his poor performance vs. the Dolphins on Thursday night.
SAFETIES (4) Sabby Piscitelli *Tanard Jackson Jermaine Phillips Will Allen Donte Nicholson
Commentary: Speaking of suspensions, Jackson's fate has already been decided. He will miss the first four games of the regular season for violation of the league's substance abuse policy. That leaves a huge void in Tampa Bay's secondary, where Jackson was scheduled to start alongside Piscitelli. The Bucs feel Allen, who has 24 career starts, is more than capable of filling in for Jackson, but the team recently decided to move Phillips, who played safety for his first seven years in the NFL, from linebacker back to safety. Head coach Raheem Morris' familiarity with Nicholson, and the safety's ability to contribute on special teams, could give him the edge over newcomer Steve Cargile, whom the team likes quite a bit but may not have room for.
KICKER (1) Mike Nugent
Commentary: One of the most anticipated competitions of training camp and preseason turned out to be no competition at all. The Bucs look quite wise to have signed Nugent during the offseason since Matt Bryant couldn't hold up from a health standpoint. He missed most of training camp and preseason with a hamstring injury. Nugent also displayed a younger and stronger leg on a 51-yard field goal in the preseason opener and kickoffs.
PUNTER (1) Dirk Johnson
Commentary: Johnson replaces Josh Bidwell, who is on injured reserve with a hip ailment. Johnson has fared well in preseason, showing the ability to directional kick and pin opponents inside their own 20-yard line. Just as important, Johnson has also done a nice job holding on field goal attempts for Nugent.
LONG SNAPPER (1) Andrew Economos
Commentary: One would be hard pressed to find any press clippings on Economos from training camp or preseason. That's a good thing. When people outside the organization talk about the long snapper it usually means bad things have happened. Economos is a solid long snapper and will serve in that capacity again in 2009.
* = suspended first four games of 2009 regular season