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Training camp and preseason will allow us to get a much better feel for Tampa Bay’s 10 draft picks and how they fit into the 53-man roster.
Which players stand a good chance of making the Bucs’ active roster as rookies? Which ones don’t? Here’s an early look how Tampa Bay’s 2006 draft picks likely fit into roster and depth chart.
G Davin Joseph – First Round
By using their first-round draft pick on Joseph, the Buccaneers feel comfortable moving last year’s starting right guard, Sean Mahan, to center, where he will compete with John Wade for the starting job. That leaves a job opening at the right guard spot, where Joseph, Jeb Terry and Toniu Fonoti will compete. Although he’s a rookie, Joseph is considered a quick learner and could serve as an immediate upgrade at the right guard spot, so don’t be surprised if he starts there as early as training camp.
T Jeremy Trueblood – Second Round
The Bucs would love nothing more than for Trueblood to unseat Kenyatta Walker as the team’s starting right tackle, but don’t expect that to happen this season. Trueblood must first concentrate on making the transition from left to right tackle, which is one that hasn’t gone smoothly for Chris Colmer, the team’s 2005 third-round draft pick. Trueblood will have to prove that playing right tackle has become second nature before the Bucs thrust him into starting lineup. If both Joseph and Trueblood work their way into the starting lineup this year, Bucs quarterback Chris Simms, a left-handed signal caller, will be counting on two rookie offensive linemen to protect his blind side. That’s not what you’d call an ideal situation, so unless Walker gets hurt, look for Trueblood to serve as the backup right tackle during his rookie campaign before making a serious push for a starting job in 2007.
WR Maurice Stovall – Third Round
While he won’t be competing for a starting job, Stovall could receive some playing time on offense as a rookie. With a 6-foot-4, 227-pound frame and impressive playmaking ability, Stovall serves as an immediate upgrade over Tampa Bay’s three 2005 draft picks – Larry Brackins, Paris Warren and J.R. Russell. Michael Clayton, Joey Galloway and Ike Hilliard essentially guaranteed active roster spots, which means Stovall’s biggest competitor for the No. 4 WR job appears to be Edell Shepherd, who is considered one of the best route runners on the team. If no one beats him out for the punt return job, Bucs WR Mark Jones also could secure a spot on the active roster. That said, if the Bucs decide to keep six receivers on their 53-man roster, the first five likely would be Clayton, Galloway, Hilliard, Stovall and Shepherd, and either Brackins or Jones would be the odd man out.
CB Alan Zemaitis – Fourth Round
Tampa Bay’s top three cornerbacks – Ronde Barber, Brian Kelly and Juran Bolden – are back for another season. That means Zemaitis will have to make an immediate impact on special teams while serving as the No. 4 cornerback on Tampa Bay’s defense, which ranked No. 1 overall last year. However, Zemaitis is considered a quick study, and his playing experience in the Tampa 2-style defense at Penn State could serve him well in his quest for playing time on defense as a rookie. He won’t beat out Barber or Kelly for a starting job this year, but some believe Zemaitis could push Bolden for the nickel corner job as a rookie and might enter the starting lineup as early as 2007, which is when Barber is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent.
DE Julian Jenkins – Fifth Round
The 6-foot-3, 273-pound Jenkins will have the opportunity to secure an active roster spot by showcasing his ability at both the defensive end and defensive tackle positions. Last year’s starting four – defensive ends Simeon Rice and Greg Spires, and defensive tackles Anthony McFarland and Chris Hovan – are back for the 2006 season, so Jenkins won’t be competing for a starting job. Instead, he’ll be attempting to unseat Ellis Wyms and/or Dewayne White, both of whom have the ability to play defensive end and defensive tackle. With White scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent after the 2006 season and Wyms’ salary cap value scheduled to be $3.250 million and $4.150 million, respectively, over the next two seasons, the Bucs would like to see Jenkins earn an active roster spot as a rookie, but that might be a difficult task seeing as he’s competing against the likes of White, Wyms, Andrew Williams, Charles Bennett, Keith Wright, Lynn McGruder, Jon Bradley and Anthony Bryant.
QB Bruce Gradkowski – Sixth Round
The competition at Tampa Bay’s quarterback position definitely will be one to watch during training camp and preseason. Chris Simms is the undisputed starter, but things get really interesting behind him, where Luke McCown, Tim Rattay, Jared Allen and the team’s newest addition, sixth-round pick Bruce Gradkowski, will be competing for two available roster spots. The Bucs are quite high on McCown, who was able to hold off Rattay for the No. 2 job behind Simms for the last half of the 2005 regular season. With a $1.25 million base salary in 2006, Rattay could be in danger of losing his roster spot, especially if Gradkowski lives up to Tampa Bay’s expectations. Sure, he’s a sixth-round draft pick, but Bucs head coach Jon Gruden is enamored with Gradkowski’s attributes, including his accuracy on short-to-intermediate passes, and his mobility. It’s still very early, but don’t be surprised if Gradkowski finds a way to earn Tampa Bay’s No. 3 quarterback job as a rookie.
TE T.J. Williams – Sixth Round
The Bucs were super thin at the tight end position heading into the draft, but they addressed a need in the sixth round by selecting Williams. Tampa Bay has two established starters in Alex Smith and Anthony Becht, but roster spots are up for grabs after those two players. Dave Moore still is listed as a tight end, but his primary role is at the long snapper position. Williams, who has decent hands, needs to work on his run-blocking skills, but he should make Tampa Bay’s 53-man roster as long as he catches on on offense and makes an impact on special teams during his rookie season.
CB Justin Phinisee – Seventh Round
At first glance, Phinisee, who was one of Tampa Bay’s three seventh-round draft picks, wouldn’t appear to stand much of a chance of making Tampa Bay’s active roster as a rookie. After all, the Bucs already have four cornerbacks – Barber, Kelly, Bolden and Zemaitis – that will account for roster spots, and the team likely will only keep four or five corners this year. While the Bucs are high on Blue Adams and James Patrick, Phinisee could beat out those two players for the fifth corner job by making a splash on special teams, which is where he helped to make a name for himself at Oregon. Not only can he return punts, Phinisee can cover them, too. It won’t be easy, but one could definitely make the case for Phinisee finding his way onto Tampa Bay’s active roster as a special teams ace.
DE Charles Bennett – Seventh Round
Bennett is a talented player, but he faces an uphill battle to make Tampa Bay’s 53-man roster this season. He’s facing some stiff competition at the defensive end position. Bennett might be auditioning for the practice squad unless he can find a way to standout in a crowd that already includes Simeon Rice, Greg Spires, Dewayne White, Ellis Wyms, Andrew Williams and Julian Jenkins.
TE Tim Massaquoi – Seventh Round
With Alex Smith, Anthony Becht and T.J. Williams in front of him on the depth chart, Massaquoi might be hard pressed to earn a spot on the active roster. However, what bodes well for Massaquoi is the fact that head coach Jon Gruden loves to feature two-tight end sets on offense. That said, the Bucs might be tempted to keep four tight ends on their active roster. If that’s the case, the seventh-round draft pick could find a way to secure a 53-man roster spot as a rookie. If the Bucs only elect to keep Smith, Becht and Williams on their roster along with Dave Moore as their tight end/long snapper, Massaquoi probably is looking at the practice squad.
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