Cover 3 is a weekly feature column written by PewterReport.com’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat writer Trevor Sikkema published every Tuesday. The column, as its name suggests, comes in three phases: a statistical observation, an in-depth film breakdown, and a “this or that” segment where the writer asks the reader to chose between two options.
Sikkema’s Stat of the Week
Football fans, we have finally made it.
At the end of this week, it’s no longer about the “what if?”
At the end of this week, it’s no longer about looking back; it’s about looking forward.
At the end of this week, it’s no longer about speculation pieces, but rather, recaps, visuals, quotes and proof.
I’m talking about real football, folks. At the end of this week, the Buccaneers’ 2017 training camp begins, and so does a long road to January and the postseason.
But, I’m sure one more speculation pieces won’t hurt.
Instead of publishing couple smaller articles about rookies and veterans as they report throughout the week, I thought I’d give Bucs fans a one-stop-shop to find the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ entire 90-man training camp roster, break down each position, talk about each player and what they bring, then give my own (early) final 53-man roster prediction going into the season.
I’m just going to be honest (it’s my column, I can do that sort of thing), I haven’t seen this much excitement heading into a Bucs season in, well – ever. Remember, I’m only 26, so I don’t have as vivid of memories during the team’s Super Bowl contention era.
When I think about all of the football I’ve watched and written about over the last 10 years, it’s crazy to look at the players on this Tampa Bay roster and think they’re all Buccaneers. I remember watching DeSean Jackson live in Philly, man, years ago. I remember watching Mike Evans be part of the most dynamic duo in college football. I remember watching Jameis Winston have one of the most improbable redshirt freshman seasons of all time. I remember watching the draft the night Gerald McCoy got drafted. I remember following O.J. Howard’s high school recruitment, and how prolific of a player he’s been his entire career – despite the lack of touches at Alabama.
Now all of them are here under one roof in Tampa Bay, and most importantly, with a coach in Dirk Koetter that has an attitude to win like we haven’t seen in a while, either. But, it’s not just about the guys at the top of the depth chart. A good team goes deep as it does high – in the game of football, injuries are coming, you just have to make sure your roster can handle them the best it can in every area.
So who are “the rest?” If Winston goes down for a game or two, can the team survive? If Lavonte David or Kwon Alexander have to miss time, which linebackers in camp could hear their name called to step up? Is there any chance some rookies get action on an already stacked roster?
Let’s take a look.
On the next page we’re going to go over who I think the starters of each unit are going to be, so I’ll spend less time on the big name players on this page.
Winston is coming off back-to-back 4,000 yard seasons in his first two years – the only NFL player to ever do so. The narrative around Winston through his entire career has been his issues with turnovers and accuracy. In 2017, he’ll have the best crop of weapons he’s ever had, including during his time at Florida State. A third 4,000-yard season is well within the realm of possibility.
The next man up is likely 34-year old veteran, Ryan Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick has been in the NFL for 12 years. Though he’s been though of as a backup for most of it, as he’s bounced around the NFL, injuries or situations ahead of him have thrust him into starting roles for many years. He has thrown for over 25,000 yards in his career. If Fitzpatrick is the immediate backup, the Bucs are getting a real gunslinger. Fitzpatrick isn’t going to be the guy who just dumps off easy passes and tries to squeak by with barely enough. He’s going to make risky throws, which can both help and hurt, but he does know what it takes to win – even if he fails at that more times than you’d like.
Ryan Griffin is the opposite. Griffin, a fourth-year player has never started an NFL game at quarterback or even played a down in a regular season game. He’s much more of the Alex Smith-type, or has been to this point in his career. I’ll be honest and say I was surprised at some of the nice throws he made during the team’s OTAs – throws that got him plenty of second-team reps at the end of the week. But, I”m not sure he has the arm strength to really win games if Winston were to go down.
Sefo Liufau is an undrafted free agent rookie out of Colorado. He was a four-year starter for the Buffs who threw for nearly 10,000 yards, with 60 touchdowns and 35 interceptions during his career. You always need at least three or four arms in camp because of all the receivers and tight ends who need reps, and if Fitzpatrick and Griffin are battling for the backup role, that leaves Sefo to do some of the practice dirty work. It’ll be good for him to be in a camp in his first offseason, but he’s likely a practice squad player, if that, in 2017.
Jacquizz Rodgers is the most likely candidate to get that starting running back spot for Weeks 1-3. As a fill-in starter last year, he amassed 560 yards on the ground with a 4.3 yards-per-carry average. That average is why I think he gets the nod. He’s not a blazing back or even a bruising back, but he’s a solid player who always fights for extra yards and falls forward with momentum. Nothing fancy with Rodgers, he just gets it done.Doug Martin has been talked about plenty this offseason, but the fact of the matter is, he’s going to miss the first three games due to suspension. That means the depth chart behind him will be very important.
After Rodgers, Charles Sims is the guy with the flash who could be the wild card. I don’t expect Sims to start in Martin’s absence, but I do think there will be a committee rotation with him and Rodgers that will then continue when Martin comes back, expect it will be Rodgers who gets less touches. If Sims, who is entering a contract year, can be more decisive with his moves, he’s shifty enough to be a big threat as a receiver out of the backfield. Less dancing and ore doing will mean he should get back to his 2015 self that was such a successful compliment player.
The rookie out of Boise State, Jeremy McNichols, is an even bigger wild card of the group. He finished his career as a Bronco with 3,205 rushing yards and 44 touchdowns. He’s a player who knows what it’s like to score, and that’s important. We haven’t seen him suit up at all since he’s recovering from shoulder surgery this offseason, but should be a participant in camp. It’s hard to think that he’ll be able to climb such a well-established depth chart right off the bat, but we shall see.
As for the rest of the guys, they’re most likely practice squad players or just not going to make the ream. Peyton Barber is the most appealing of the rest, and the team actually really seems to like him. I don’t expect him to be cut, but rather, take up that practice squad spot. Russell Hansbrough spent time on and off with the Bucs last year, but didn’t get any real shot of playing in the regular season. Former Alabama quarterback, Blake Sims, is in the same situation, though lower on the chart.
Johnson is a former All-SEC guy who spent his first two seasons in the NFL in New Orleans after going undrafted in 2012. The problem for him is, with the team wanting to be as versatile they can with tight ends (likely keeping four or five), I think they’d rather keep an extra tight end and run power than a full back to do that.Rookie Quayvon Hicks is a toss up. At 6-foot-1, 256 pounds, he’s much bigger and much different than any other Buccaneers running back. But, if you’re lower on the depth chart, different can be good. He’s on the team to be that potential big running back/full back kind of player. We’ll see how much power they run as camp begins.
Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson, Adam Humphries and Chris Godwin are pretty much solidified as the top four players among the wide receiver group. Evans will still be the primary No. 1, Jackson will play opposite him, though won’t play as many snaps, which is where Godwin comes in. Humphries will man the slot (something Godwin likely will not do, even as the “No. 4” receiver).
After that, things start to get interesting, and it will really all depend on the preference of which type of wide receiver the team wants to keep.
If Tampa Bay is looking for quick-hit depth players who can also play some special teams, Donteea Dye, Jesus “Bobo” Wilson and Thomas Sperbeck top that list. Dye has been with the Buccaneers on and off as a practice quad and depth guy since 2015. Dye brings the most experience and familiarity. However, if the Bucs believe they’ve seen enough of Dye and don’t trust his ceiling, they could opt for either rookie, Wilson or Sperbeck. Wilson is the fast of the two, but Sperbeck is more Humphries-like (no, not just because he’s white). So, again, it depends on preference.
As outside backups, the team has the option of Freddie Martino, Josh Huff and Derel Walker. Martino and Huff both played for the Buccaneers in 2016, but didn’t get much playing time outside of special teams, although Martino had a touchdown against Chicago. Walker played at Texas A&M with Evans. After going undrafted in 2014, Walker has been playing in the Canadian Football League. In 2016, he finished second in the league in both receptions (109) and yards (1,589). I would actually give him the nod over both Huff and Martino for an outside receiver spot. He has the body type and the body of work, even if it was from up north.
Cam Brate returns as the team’s No. 1 tight end after leading the NFL in touchdowns from his position in 2016. O.J. Howard joins him as the team’s prized draft pick from the first round. Both of those players are expected to see plenty of regular season action together.
After that we get into a bit of a log jam, but an important one. The team likes to run two tight ends because it creates the most mismatch potential and keeps teams in base personnel. Luke Stocker returns for his seventh season with the team, and with Brandon Myers no longer on the roster, Stocker can solely assume that “big” tight end role as a blocker. Alan Cross gives the team the fullback/tight end hybrid-combo, if they choose to go with it again, and Tevin Westbrook will likely teeter that last-man-in or practice squad role, if he makes it.
Antony Auclair is the wild card of the group. He was projected to be a fifth- or sixth-round pick, but ended up going undrafted and was one of the first players the Bucs called to sign. At 6-foot-5, 256 pounds, he looks the part and can run block, and as long as the Florida heat doesn’t get to him too much after playing college ball in Canada, he should be one of the better receivers of the group, which could help his chances.
Offensive tackles Demar Dotson and Donovan Smith aren’t going anywhere. That is, unless, their play plays them out of a spot. If that’s to happen, there are a few option the team could go with.
Versatility is huge for the Buccaneers offensive line. I know I have these positions broken up into guards and tackles, but the fact of the matter is, if you’re not versatile, this team isn’t signing you as a depth play. Guard Kevin Pamphile is the next likely option for a tackle spot. After him, it’s likely Leonard Wester, who is in his second year with the team. Out of college, Wester was a three-year starter at left tackle, stayed healthy with 24 straight starts, and ran the 40 at his pro day in 5.04 seconds.
Korren Kirven and Cole Gardner are just there to get a shot. At Alabama, Kirven played in 26 career games, including all 15 during the 2016 season, and slid into a starting role at right guard when Alabama played Mississippi State on November 12. Gardner actually spent three years as a tight end for Eastern Michigan. After his coach thought he would be much better suited to play full time on the line, Gardner went from 250 pounds to 300 pounds by his senior year. He played left tackle for an offense that gave up very few sacks while in a heavy passing attack.
Building off what we said in the previous paragraphs, if you’ll take into account the fact that there are three interior starting sports and only four players in the guards section, we now better understand how versatile these listings really are.
We all know about Pamphile and J.R. Sweezy, who have been starters in the NFL. Jarvis Harrison is just trying to stick as one of the main backup interior players. he was drafted in the fifth round by the New York Jets in 2015, but was cut after one year and spent 2016 without a team.
Former right guard Ali Marpet is going to start at center, which, in turn, actually makes center one of the deepest positions on the team. Joe Hawley and Evan Smith both have starting experience at center, so chances are they’re going to be the first two who see backup reps.
Josh Allen has been on and off the Buccaneers roster since 2014. Last year he was a part of the team’s final roster cuts, barely missing the 53-man roster. Stone was on the Falcons from 2014 to 2015 after going undrafted. This season is his first with the Buccaneers.
Utility Offensive Linemen
Benenoch will be the “do everything” offensive lineman for the Buccaneers who could see time at either tackle or guard. he actually started one game at guard last year (his rookie season) when Pamphile went down with an injury.
In the span of two years, Liedtke played for the Dolphins, the Chiefs, the Jets, the Browns, and now the Buccaneers. He’ll try to stick as an interior offensive lineman, but has a long way to climb to get a spot.
Check out the defense on the next page.