Cover 3 is a weekly feature column written by PewterReport.com’s Tampa Bay Bucs 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
Welcome Pewter Report readers and listeners to… wait, wrong intro.
Welcome back to another edition of the Cover 3 column by Trevor Sikkema. I’ll be your host … Trevor Sikkema.
This week the Cover 3 is taking on a new form this week as the Buccaneers wrap up their preseason schedule. With only one game in Jerry World separating us from meaningful football, I figured it was time to give you my final 53-man roster prediction for head coach Bruce Arians and his Bucs, as final cut downs are due this Saturday, August 31 at 4:00 p.m.
Sometimes you have a good idea about which players will make the roster when camp begins, but I’ll tell you what, this past month has really changed my opinion on some of the guys; it’s both made careers and – on the other hand – handicapped some, too.
With all kinds of roster movement in motion throughout training camp and the preseason, here is what I believe the final 53-man roster will look like for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers a week from now*.
*I can’t exactly predict who they’re going to pick up off waivers, which, there will probably be a few. But you get the point.
QUARTERBACKS – 3
QB Jameis Winston
QB Ryan Griffin
QB Blaine Gabbert
Analysis: I believe the Buccaneers are going to roll with three quarterbacks to start the season. Initially I would have told you it was just going to be Winston and Gabbert, but Gabbert’s shoulder injury in the third preseason game opens the door for Griffin to assume the QB2 role.
Griffin was having a good camp, and some wanted him to make the team regardless. I just don’t think it was going to happen. Gabbert’s injury is to his non-throwing shoulder, and Arians said that it “wasn’t as bad as it looked.” Gabbert was seen walking around the halls at One Buc without a sling this week, so that makes me think they’ll keep three quarterbacks on the roster while Gabbert heals up.
RUNNING BACKS – 4
RB Peyton Barber
RB Ronald Jones
RB Dare Ogunbowale
RB Andre Ellington
Analysis: I told y’all Ogunbowale was going to make this team.
The Bucs don’t seem to be as bullish on Peyton Barber as they were going into training camp. Not due to anything Barber hasn’t done, but rather, for how good Ronald Jones and Ogunbowale have looked behind him.
I think Barber is the starter for Week 1, but it will be close to an even split with Jones for carries and touches. Jones has been the better back in terms of running the ball this preseason, but the problem is he’s still unreliable in pass blocking situations. That will continue to limit how much they can play him until he gets it down.
As for the other two, I expect Ogunbowale to be the initial third down back. Ellington was penciled in as that guy to start camp due to his experience, but whether it’s been running with the ball, catching it out of the backfield or pass blocking for the quarterback, Ogunbowale has, at times, looked like the best back they have – not even just the best third down back. It wouldn’t surprise me if he starts some games for this team at some point this season.
WIDE RECEIVERS – 5
WR Mike Evans
WR Chris Godwin
WR Breshad Perriman
WR Justin Watson
WR Bobo Wilson
Analysis: About a week ago we asked Arians how the wide receiver position was shaping up. We were mainly asking to try to gauge how the team was viewing rookie wide receiver Scotty Miller, who had just returned to practice from a lingering hamstring injury. Instead we learned that, beyond Evans, Godwin and Perriman – who are WR1-WR3, in that order – no one was a lock to make this roster.
That makes me think that the Bucs are likely only going to keep just five wide receivers, especially since they will have to carry extra bodies on the roster to cope with Lavonte David and Vita Vea’s recovering injury situations.
I ultimately believe they’ll land on Wilson and Watson as their fourth and fifth receivers. Wilson has been with this team for a while now, albeit not with this coaching staff. He brings a dynamic element to the receiver room and on special teams. Watson’s value as a receiver did not ascend to the levels we thought it would this camp, but he is a solid special teams player, so I think he’ll stick due to those reasons. Scotty Miller probably starts on the practice squad.
TIGHT ENDS – 4
TE O.J. Howard
TE Cameron Brate
TE Tanner Hudson
TE Antony Auclair
Analysis: Do you want the truth or do you want the truth?
The truth is, despite now becoming the Buccaneers all-time leading receiver for a single preseason campaign, Hudson probably would not have made this team had Auclair gotten hurt in the team’s third preseason game.
Hudson brings some high-end ability as a receiving tight end, but when you’re TE3 or TE4, even on a team that uses two tight ends like the Bucs, you have to be able to block and play special teams. Hudson is not the blocker he needs to be right now on offense or special teams. He’ll have his chance to prove he’s more valuable while Auclair is sidelined. But, if he can’t, when Auclair comes back, don’t be surprised if Hudson is off the active roster and onto the practice squad – where he is in danger of getting signed elsewhere.
OFFENSIVE LINE – 8
LT Donovan Smith
LG Ali Marpet
C Ryan Jensen
RG Alex Cappa
RT Demar Dotson
OL Earl Watford
OL Zack Bailey
OT Caleb Benenoch
Analysis: What was touted as an experienced, cohesive offensive line unit with limited weak spots was really exposed in the Bucs’ third preseason game. I’m not ready to smash the panic button yet – as it is still the preseason – but the dress rehearsal for the first-team unit was spoiled by the Browns pass rush for most of the first half.
The Bucs cannot afford to be that poor when blocking once the regular season hits. They have to go up against two of the best defensive lines in there NFL to start the season, and if they can’t figure it out in two weeks, they’ll be in for a rough five days.
There is a good chance the Bucs look for an interior offensive linemen as well as an offensive tackle that they like who could be cut from other teams later this week. The Bucs have the fifth spot in the waiver wire, so if they like one they have a good chance of getting them. As for who they have as depth pieces now, Earl Watford will likely be the primary utility backup who is the “next man up” at all five positions. They’ll likely hold onto Benenoch, too. I’ve also heard they really like what they’ve seen from Bailey as a developmental player to hang onto.
DEFENSIVE LINE – 6
DT Ndamukong Suh
DT Vita Vea
DT Beau Allen
DE Will Gholston
DE Rakeem Nunez-Roches
DE Jeremiah Ledbetter
Analysis: Not that they didn’t have guys to like, but top-to-bottom I was worried about what I was going to see from the Bucs defensive line group. But, since camp began, Suh has looked pretty good in the snaps and opportunities they’ve let him go full speed in, Gholston looked much more effective as an interior player, and Vea, when he was healthy, looked like he was about to have a breakout year. They’ve been solid.
Though I was pleasantly surprised with how the first-team defensive line was playing, what i was even more impressed with was how two of their second-team defensive linemen have been difference makers every time they’ve taken the field. Nunez-Roches and Ledbetter have been fantastic throughout the preseason. Not only have they done enough to make the team, I think they’ve done enough to be in consideration for the regular season rotation.
INSIDE LINEBACKERS – 6
MO Lavonte David
MIKE Devin White
MO Deone Bucannon
MIKE Kevin Minter
MIKE Jack Cichy
MIKE Devante Bond
Analysis: White and David are going to be the two starting middle linebackers on this team, but expect Bucannon to play plenty of snaps, too. In fact, Bucannon will be the starter next to White if David can’t go Week 1. This coaching staff also won’t be afraid to throw Minter into the mix a little, too, but not over those top three guys, if healthy. Finally, Bond looks so much more comfortable this year than he ever has. He’s thriving as an interior linebacker.
When it comes to execution, linebacker might be one of the deepest positions they have.
OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS – 5
SLB Carl Nassib
WLB Noah Spence
WLB Shaquil Barrett
SLB Anthony Nelson
WLB Jason Pierre-Paul*
Analysis: I have a feeling that this group will hold the Bucs fate in their hands.
With no Pierre-Paul for likely half the season – at best – the Bucs will have to find a consistent source of pass rush on the edges. Nassib was a pleasant surprise last season, but even a repeat of last year’s production from him will need help, as he still finished third on the team in sacks.
One of these players – Spence, Barrett and Nelson – will have to step up. Ultimately I think Barrett will start the year as that extra pass rusher on double edge rush situations. But Spence will have to stay ready; the Bucs need the best year they’ve ever been able to get out of him.
The pass rush from the starting unit looked pedestrian against the Browns in the team’s third preseason game. They, like the starting offensive line, have to be better.
CORNERBACKS – 5
CB Vernon Hargreaves III
CB Carlton Davis
NCB Sean Murphy-Bunting
CB Jamel Dean
CB Mazzi Wilkins
Analysis: Did I say that the outside linebacker position holds the fate of the season in their hands? What I meant to say was the cornerback group holds the fate of the season in their hands.
(Okay, so they’re both important.)
The cornerback group has been an Achilles heel for the team for a while now. Here in 2019, they’re hoping that Hargreaves plays the best ball he’s ever played as an outside cornerback, and so far in camp he has. Carlton Davis will likely start opposite Hargreaves on the outside with Jamel Dean as their primary backup, or at least that’s how I see it. That will leave Murphy-Bunting to command nickel duties with Wilkins making the roster as the last corner.
SAFETIES – 4
SS Jordan Whitehead
FS Mike Edwards
SS-NCB M.J. Stewart
FS Justin Evans
Analysis: As of the date this column publishes, we have yet to see whether or not Evans will assume his starting role again with this new coaching staff. I am going to assume he does, and when all parties are healthy, I think he and Edwards will be the starters. I have liked what I have seen from Whitehead this preseason, too, so he could play pretty heavy into a safety rotation if either Evans or Edwards can’t pull their weight. Whitehead has shown he can be trusted to get a chance to start.
Stewart is the big wild card here, mainly what they do with him. He’s been playing a lot of slot corner this preseason, but he really struggled to keep up with receivers from the slot last year. Not sure how well he’ll fare once first-team offenses stay in the game.
SPECIAL TEAMS – 3
P Bradley Pinion
K Matt Gay
LS Zach Triner
Analysis: The big name here is Gay, who I believe will win the job over Cairo Santos. It’s as decision that I believe is the best one to make. Gay has the leg and he has the mental makeup to be their kicker for the foreseeable future.