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The Bucs will trim their roster to the NFL-mandated amount of 53 players for the start of the 2008 regular season on Sat., Aug. 30.
That means Tampa Bay must part ways with 22 players. Some decisions will be tougher to make than others.
So who will stay and who will go? No one knows for sure, but one thing is apparent. "May the best man win" is a notion that might not necessarily apply to the stiff competition Tampa Bay has seen in training camp and preseason.
"The big thing is we have to keep the right 53 guys, not necessarily the best 53 guys," Bucs head coach Jon Gruden said earlier this week. "We have to consider special teams and versatility because on Sunday you don't have 53 guys playing, you only have 47. We have to keep the right 53 players."
Special teams will definitely play a role in determining the makeup of Tampa Bay's 53-man roster. The Bucs will also take into consideration the fact that some of their younger players still are eligible for the eight-man practice squad.
However, attempting to sneak a player onto the practice squad is risky. The player must first clear waivers, and even if he makes it to the practice squad another team can come along and sign a taxi squad player to their active roster at any time.
Unfortunately, politics could also play into Tampa Bay's upcoming roster cuts.
This week was a good indication that the Buccaneers are at least attempting to keep their best players around, evidenced by the fact that Tampa Bay traded defensive lineman Marques Douglas to Baltimore.
Some thought Douglas would make Tampa Bay's roster given the production he's had in the NFL, but he did not perform well with the Buccaneers and likely would have been released on Aug. 30 had he not been traded to Baltimore.
That roster move could allow the Bucs to keep second-year defensive lineman Greg Peterson, a 2007 fifth-round pick, on their active roster, which is good since he's had a decent preseason and provides a pass rusher that the Bucs need in the rotation.
The Bucs will have some other tough calls, and one can only hope that Tampa Bay remains objective in its approach to the upcoming roster cuts.
For example, Bucs rookie linebacker Geno Hayes has opened some eyes on the coaching staff in training camp and preseason. The 6-foot-1, 226-pound Hayes has shown impressive instincts and held up quite well against blockers. Hayes has notched four tackles and one pass defensed in three preseason contests.
While he's still eligible for the practice squad, Hayes might be worth keeping on the active roster, especially over a veteran like Ryan Nece. Hayes clearly has more upside and is more athletically gifted than Nece and has, at times, outperformed 2007 draft picks, linebackers Quincy Black and Adam Hayward.
The Bucs invested a 2008 fourth-round draft pick in defensive tackle Dre' Moore in April, but he hasn't exactly impressed thus far. In fact, another rookie, undrafted DT Chris Bradwell, has outperformed Moore, but the fact that the Bucs have a fairly high draft pick invested in Moore (three tackles in preseason) likely means he'll stick and Bradwell, who has two tackles and one sack in preseason, will wind up being a practice squad candidate.
Rookie running back Clifton Smith has turned in a strong camp and preseason, but will it be enough to make the active roster?
Smith has averaged just 3.4 yards per carry, but he is tied for the team lead in receptions with seven for 56 yards heading into the preseason finale on Thursday night.
The 5-foot-8, 190-pound Smith has also proven to be a tough, high-motor player, evidenced by his team-leading four special teams tackles through three preseason games.
Smith has also been the one bright spot on a special teams return unit that has struggled. He's averaged 20.5 yards on two punt return attempts and 23.5 yards per kickoff return on two attempts.
Wide receivers Micheal Spurlock and rookie Dexter Jackson have averaged 12.3 yards per punt return, and 14.8 and 17.7 yards, respectively, per kickoff return.
Spurlock, Jackson and Smith are each eligible for the practice squad, but Jackson, who has caught one pass for 11 yards in preseason, likely will make the 53-man roster due to the fact that the Bucs have a 2008 second-round draft pick invested in him.
If that scenario unfolds, there's no guarantee that Spurlock or Smith would clear waivers and return to Tampa Bay's eight-man practice squad.
The Bucs could elect to keep four quarterbacks on their active roster since they used a fifth-round draft pick to select Josh Johnson in April. That might be the wise thing to do since Johnson might not make it to the practice squad, but will the extra roster spot taken by Johnson force the Bucs to part ways with a up-and-coming wide receiver like Brian Clark, who has been solid in training camp and preseason? It could.
Heading into the preseason finale vs. Houston, veteran cornerback Eugene Wilson appears to be a dogfight with rookie CB Elbert Mack. If Tampa Bay elects to keep five cornerbacks, this debate will become a moot point
Wilson, who is versatile enough to play cornerback and safety, has won Super Bowls with the New England Patriots. Mack is an undrafted free agent out of Troy.
But Mack has clearly been one of Tampa Bay's top preseason performers. He is tied with safety Will Allen for the team lead in tackles with nine. Mack also has one interception and two passes defensed. Wilson has five tackles and has yet to break up a pass or notch a pick.
At first glance, one could see how politics could potentially make this roster decision for the Buccaneers, who signed Wilson to a one-year contract that is scheduled to pay him $1 million in base salary and calls for him to have a $1.6 million cap value in 2008. The contract includes $500,000 in roster bonuses and $628,000 in incentives.
However, Wilson needs to actually make Tampa Bay's 53-man roster in order to receive the $500,000 in roster bonus money. The other $628,000 is a not-likely-to-be-earned incentive that can only be earned if Wilson makes the Pro Bowl this season.
That said, the Bucs, who are $30 million under the cap, are by no means married to Wilson. He could earn just $6,500 if he is released in the final round of roster cuts on Aug. 30. That could actually help Mack's chances of making the team, although the Bucs could have more of a comfort level in Wilson, who is a seasoned veteran.
The Bucs' decision to waive/injured CB Sammy Davis on Tuesday might allow the team to keep a total of five cornerbacks, Wilson and Mack included, on their active roster.
TROPICAL STORM GUSTAV COULD IMPACT BUCS-SAINTS GAME Everyone seems to have an eye on Tropical Storm Gustav, particularly the residents of New Orleans.
That's because most weather forecasters are projecting Gustav to become a category 3-5 hurricane and hit Louisiana sometime early next week.
That would not be good news for Louisiana residents, many of whom still are attempting to recover from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, which hit New Orleans three years ago and forced the Saints to conduct their practices and home games far away from the damaged Louisiana Superdome for nearly a full football season.
New Orleans is scheduled to open the 2008 regular season at home vs. Tampa Bay on Sept. 7. While Gustav will have made landfall well before that game is played, the NFL could consider changing the location of the Saints-Bucs contest due to the approaching storm and anticipated damage to the city and area.
One possible option for the NFL would be having Tampa Bay host New Orleans in Week 1 and having the second matchup between the NFC South rivals, which is scheduled for Nov. 30, take place in New Orleans instead of Tampa Bay.
While beginning the 2008 regular season with two straight home contests vs. New Orleans and Atlanta and having three of their first five games at home might sound appealing, this type of scenario would not bode well for Tampa Bay.
A closer look at Tampa Bay's schedule shows that if the Week 1 contest were to be moved to Raymond James Stadium and the Nov. 30 game changed to the Superdome, the Bucs would play four straight road games from Nov. 23 to Dec. 14.
To make matters even worse, three of those four road games would be played against Tampa Bay's NFC South division rivals — New Orleans, Carolina and Atlanta — in consecutive weeks.
The Bucs would also have a rough stretch where they would be on the road for six of the seven games they'd play during that period (at Dallas, at Kansas City, Minnesota, at Detroit, at New Orleans, at Carolina and at Atlanta).
While this scenario would force New Orleans to play three straight road games (Tampa Bay, Washington and Denver) to start the regular season, the later home contest vs. the Bucs would actually give the Saints three straight home games from Nov. 24 through Dec. 7.
That could come in handy for the Saints, who will essentially play four straight road games from Oct. 19 through Nov. 16 due to the fact that their home game vs. San Diego on Oct. 26 will be played in London.
Of course, a lot could change in the next few days as it pertains to the course of Gustav. There's no guarantee that the storm will actually hit Louisiana. In fact, there's still a chance the soon-to-be hurricane could take a turn towards Florida and possibly even the Tampa Bay area.
As of right now, this storm is one to keep an eye on.
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