Tampa Bay’s first official depth chart of 2016 is out and PewterReport.com’s Scott Reynolds offers up his analysis as the Bucs travel to Philadelphia this week to play the Eagles in the preseason opener. Here are 10 observations to note:
1. THIS DEPTH CHART IS A ROUGH DRAFT
This is Tampa Bay’s first depth chart of the year as the team heads into its first preseason game. There will be some changes from this one and the one that heads into the regular season. The Bucs’ depth chart is fluid and will change as players shine and disappoint in the preseason games, and injuries occur. In other words, take this initial depth chart with a grain of salt.
2. STOCKER, VITALE PLAYING FB AND TE ROLES
The Bucs no longer have a designated fullback. As PewterReport.com reported through Danny Vitale’s initial Bucs Training Camp Diary, there are no fullbacks on the roster. Vitale and Luke Stocker will be playing fullback and tight end for Tampa Bay this year, and running backs coach Tim Spencer is no longer coaching the fullbacks. Tight ends coach Jon Embree is taking on that responsibility. Stocker, who played some fullback over the last two years due to injuries to Jorvorskie Lane, is currently atop the depth chart at one of the Bucs’ tight end positions with Vitale running second string.
3. BRATE LEADS THE WAY OVER ASJ AT TIGHT END
As expected, Cameron Brate is atop the other – regular – tight end position ahead of Austin Seferian-Jenkins. This should come as no surprise as Koetter meant business when he told Seferian-Jenkins that he had to work harder in the playbook when he kicked him out of an OTA practice back in June. Brate is the Adam Humphries of the tight end unit. He runs the right routes, gets open and catches the ball when he has the chance. Brate’s consistent playmaking is what has him atop the depth chart, but Seferian-Jenkins is highly motivated to reclaim the starting role and had an excellent showing in the red zone on Saturday that matched Brate’s splendid outing. It should also be noted that Koetter’s decision to name Brate, an undrafted free agent, as the starter over Seferian-Jenkins, a former second-round pick, means that he will put the best 11 players on the field regardless of draft status or contract status.
4. BELL CURRENT LEADER AT NO. 4 RECEIVER
Kenny Bell is currently ahead of the pack at the No. 4 receiver position after starters Mike Evans, Vincent Jackson and Adam Humphries. Bell is listed as the backup split end behind Evans, while Humphries is listed as the No. 2 receiver at flanker behind Jackson – even though Humphries will be the starting slot receiver. Running third team is Donteea Dye, who has shown tremendous improvement over a year ago, at flanker and Evan Spencer at split end. Russell Shepard is in a logjam with Freddie Martino and Andre Davis at flanker, while Bernard Reedy and Jonathan Krause are battling it out at split end. Expect Krause to make a move in the preseason games if he continues to play well. He’s creating some buzz at One Buccaneer Place since his recent arrival.
5. BUCS’ LEFT GUARD JOB MAY BECOME PAMPHILE’S
Kevin Pamphile is the starting left guard, but he was absent on Friday and Saturday due to a personal reason. J.R. Sweezy, who was signed to be the starter to replace Logan Mankins, is still on the PUP list as he recovers from an offseason back injury that held him out of all of the team’s mini-camps and OTAs. Evan Smith, who is listed as a co-starter at center with Joe Hawley, is filling in at left guard during Pamphile’s absence with Josh Allen backing him up. Whatever personal issue is affecting Pamphile, it’s clear that it needs to be resolved quickly as he has a golden opportunity to start at left guard the more time he spends there and the longer Sweezy is out. The Bucs’ depth along the offensive line has been rocked with injuries as a foot injury to Caleb Benenoch, who was a late-round draft pick, has him sidelined indefinitely.
6. NO ROOKIE IS CURRENTLY STARTING ON DEFENSE
The Bucs had a defensive-oriented draft with the selection of cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III and defensive end Noah Spence in the team’s first two picks. Yet neither player is starting and will have to earn playing time with impressive performances in the preseason games. Newcomer Robert Ayers is the team’s starting right defensive end with Will Gholston earning the starting nod at left end over Jacquies Smith. Spence is currently Ayers’ backup, running ahead of Howard Jones, and figures to get playing time in pass rush situations when Ayers moves inside to play defensive tackle next to Gerald McCoy. Tampa Bay’s starting cornerbacks are Alterraun Verner and Brent Grimes with Hargreaves seeing time at right cornerback behind Verner and at nickel cornerback behind Jude Adjei-Barimah, who continues to play well.
7. BANKS COULD BE THE ODD MAN OUT AT CORNERBACK
Grimes and Verner appear entrenched as the starting cornerbacks barring an injury or a sudden, dramatic fall-off in their play. Adjei-Barimah and Hargreaves are listed as the No. 2 cornerbacks on the depth chart. Johnthan Banks, a former second-round pick and starter in Tampa Bay, is third on the depth chart at left cornerback behind Grimes and Adjei-Barimah, while newcomer Josh Robinson is the third cornerback on the right side behind Verner and Hargreaves. Banks has intriguing size at 6-foot-2, 185 pounds, but may not be a great fit for Mike Smith’s defense, which calls for backpedaling and quickness. Banks has the talent to play in the NFL, but his style of play may be best suited for a scheme like Seattle’s or Jacksonville’s, which favors longer cornerbacks that can play press coverage. If the Bucs keep five cornerbacks Banks could be the odd man out.
8. SAFETY SPOTS ARE INTERCHANGEABLE
Chris Conte is off to a great start in training camp with three interceptions, including two that came on Saturday. He’s been named a starter opposite Bradley McDougald, but the team makes no designation as to which player is playing free safety and which one is playing strong safety. That’s because the safeties are interchangeable in Smith’s defense. On one play, Conte could be playing in the box like a strong safety, and on the next play he’s playing free safety in a single high safety Cover 3 look. Keith Tandy and Major Wright have impressed and are running second team ahead of fourth-round pick Ryan Smith and Isaiah Johnson.
9. WIDE RECEIVERS FEATURED AS RETURN SPECIALISTS
Humphries, the Bucs’ slot receiver, is the favorite to win the punt return job, which should come as no surprise to PewterReport.com readers. He’s currently ahead of reserve receivers Reedy and Krause, who will also get a look in the preseason games. Bell, currently the fourth receiver on the depth chart leads the way as Tampa Bay’s kick returner with backup safety Ryan Smith listed as the second-stringer, followed by Reedy and Krause. With Humphries a lock to make the roster, how Bell, Reedy and Krause perform on special teams will go a long way in determining who makes the 53-man roster as a backup wide receiver.
10. TAMPA BAY’S PUNTING JOB IS UP FOR GRABS
The Bucs list Jake Schum and newcomer Bryan Anger as co-starters at punter and holder. Many assumed that a proven veteran like Anger would come in and win the starting punting job after a lackluster showing by Schum last year. But Schum was asked to do a lot of high hang-time punts that resulted in less than ideal net averages. In other words, we haven’t seen the best from Schum yet, who has a more powerful leg than it seems. Whoever punts better in the preseason games will get this job. As former Bucs head coach Lovie Smith used to say, “Simple as that.”