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FAB 1. Bucs’ 20 Critical Camp General Questions
Despite this country – and the world – battling the effects of COVID-19, Buccaneers training camp is finally here somehow someway. I’ve got 20 Critical Camp Questions for the Bucs – and the answers – to help you get ready for Tampa Bay’s 2020 training camp, which will be held at the AdventHealth Training Center without any fans this August.
Let’s start with six general questions about the Buccaneers before we delve into six on offense and six on defense before concluding with a pair of special teams questions to round out this training camp preview in SR’s Fab 5.
1. Will The Bucs – And The NFL – Play A Full Season This Year?
Yes. There is too much money at stake for the NFL owners, NFL players and the broadcasting companies with the TV contracts and the advertising revenues that the NFL generates for those broadcasting stations and platforms for there not to be a 2020 season. The rest of America has learned how to adjust to the COVID-19 pandemic to reopen the economy with precautions, and the NFL is no different with the testing and safety protocols the league and the NFL Players Association has put into place over the last month.
There will be players that miss some games this season due to positive COVID-19 tests. That’s a given, especially as some players, including Bucs rookie running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn, have already tested positive prior to the start of training camp. But head coach Bruce Arians is confident that the NFL – which will have reduced stadium attendance this year or no attendance at all in some stadiums – will be able to start and finish the 2020 season.
“I’m very confident,” Arians said. “Like I said, the protocols that are in place are extremely safe. It’s going to [take] coaches, players and staff being smart outside the building. Nobody is going to get sick over here because everybody’s got a negative test that’s in the building, so you’re going to get sick somewhere else. We’ve just got to have a lot of discipline this year and I have a lot of confidence we’ll get it done.”
The league can push the postseason back a week or two if necessary to have a makeup week should an NFL team have a severe COVID-19 outbreak that forces the postponement of a game or games during the season.
2. Will Arians Be Safe From COVID-19 This Season?
Yes. At age 68 and recovering from previous bouts with skin and prostate cancer, Arians is definitely a high-risk candidate for COVID-19 complications, should he acquire the coronavirus, but he feels very comfortable with the NFL-mandated safety precautions that the Bucs have enacted at the AdventHealth Training Center.
“I’m very comfortable with our protocols now that I’ve gotten used to the protocols,” Arians said. “I’m very, very comfortable with it. As far as on the field, I’ll maintain a mask and probably a shield just for personal use, and coach like I’ve always coached.”
On a Zoom conference call with reporters on Tuesday, Arians shared that he will continue to coach from the sideline and will not be coaching from the press box this year.
“No, there’s no chance of me coaching from a box,” Arians said. “Once we get a [face] shield that I like, I’ll have my mask and shield on. I won’t be able to spit on [the players when communicating with them] anyway.”
The offensive-minded Arians, who will work closely with new quarterback Tom Brady this year, also said that he never considered opting out for the 2020 season over COVID-19 concerns.
“There was never a doubt that I was going to coach, especially once I had seen the protocols and everything that’s taken place. Whether it was Tom or whoever the quarterback would be, I’m going to get excited. I really like our ball club. Knock on wood we can stay healthy this year and do the things we want to do. We want to get in the playoffs. Having Tom adds to the excitement, obviously, but I would have been all in either way.
“I’ve got my [contact tracing device] on right now. It tells me how close I am to anybody and is tracking. We’ve all got them. I think you’ve got to be smart. You’re not going to find me out at any of my favorite restaurants or bars, so you’re welcome to come over to the house. That’s about the only place I’ll be – in the office and in the house. You’ve got to be as safe as possible. It’s going to take a lot of discipline.”
3. Will Any Buccaneers Opt Out For 2020?
No. As of this writing, the Buccaneers have not heard from any of their players that are considering opting out over COVID-19 fears. This includes left tackle Donovan Smith, who just became a father to a newborn, as he hinted weeks ago on social media that he was weighing his decision. Smith has spoken with the team and told the Bucs that he will suit up as Brady’s blindside protector.
Smith and all other NFL players have until Tuesday, August 4 to decide whether they are going to opt out of the 2020 season over COVID-19. If Smith changes his mind, the Bucs have a contingency plan at left tackle.
“Well yeah, we’d work out a bunch of guys,” Arians said. “Joe Haeg has played over there. Tristan [Wirfs] could play over there. Brad Seaton [too] – we’ve got some guys that if he (Smith) decided not to play, we’d be ready to go.”
4. Will Any Undrafted Free Agents Make The Team This Year?
Yes, but there will be one player who makes it. Last year only one undrafted free agent – guard Zack Bailey – made the Bucs’ 53-man roster. With a largely veteran team returning intact with very few starting jobs up for grabs in Tampa Bay, don’t expect more than one undrafted free agent to make the initial 53-man roster to start the season – especially without the benefit of any preseason games.
“I think it’s definitely hurting the younger players – especially undrafted free agents, also,” Arians said. “In the past we’ve always had one or two make our club, especially on special teams. All the rookies missed over 400 snaps in the spring. We’ll try to catch back up and do two fields of practice when we’re in limited, 90-minute to 125-minute practices – we’ll probably do a lot of two-field stuff like we did in OTAs. It’s going to be very hard for them and I don’t have anybody penciled in as starters until I see them play and not make mistakes.”
So what will an undrafted free agent have to do in practice to impress enough to make the 2020 Bucs this year?
“Say it’s a wide receiver – ‘Could he be a core special teams player and get into the top five or six on game day?’ Those kids aren’t going to have those options this year because we probably won’t do special teams full speed other than once [in training camp]. I think it’s a shame for all of them. It’s a nice thing that the practice squad went so high to 16, so you might be able to keep them around longer and continue to evaluate them.”
So which undrafted free agent will make the team out of the 13 that the team signed back in April? Offensive linemen John Molchon or Zach Shackleford have the best chance, as do wide receivers Travis Jonsen or Josh Pearson and outside linebacker Cam Gill. But the early guess here is that former LSU linebacker Michael Divinity sticks as the 53th player on the roster due to his ability to play both inside linebacker and outside linebacker as an edge rusher.
5. Which Buccaneers Will Be Hurt The Most By Not Having The Preseason?
Aside from the from the undrafted free agents, who are long shots to make the team this year without preseason games to impress the coaches and scouts, it’s unquestionably Tampa Bay’s draft class.
The Bucs were hoping that Wirfs, the team’s first-round pick, would start right away at right tackle in place of Demar Dotson. But will he be ready to protect Tom Brady against five-time Pro Bowl defensive end Cameron Jordan in New Orleans in Week 1 after just 14 padded practices? Or will the Bucs have to start the more experienced Haeg? Don’t be surprised if it’s Haeg early with Wirfs rotating in for a series or two each half against the Saints on September
Antonie Winfield, Jr., Tampa Bay’s second-round pick, was supposed to be in the running to start at free safety, but will he be ready to face off against future Hall of Famer Drew Brees and Pro Bowl wide receiver Michael Thomas without any preseason games? I would be shocked if Winfield starts over Andrew Adams or Mike Edwards, who have far more experience, in Week 1.
Running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn, Tampa Bay’s third-round pick, could miss the first couple of weeks of training camp as he’s tested positive COVID-19. That will stunt his growth and it may be a month into the season until he sees a meaningful number of snaps on offense. As a result, Dare Ogunbowale is a lock to make the team and will likely be the No. 2 back behind Ronald Jones II at the start of the season, in addition to his role as the team’s third-down back.
Rookie receiver Tyler Johnson, the Bucs’ fifth-rounder, could have been in the mix to compete for the No. 3 wide receiver role in camp, but without the benefit of any offseason work or the preseason, Scotty Miller and Justin Watson, who have a year’s worth of experience in Arians’ offense, have a big leg up. Johnson should make the team, but likely as the fifth or sixth receiver because he’s behind the learning curve.
6. Will Tampa Bay Be Ready For New Orleans Without A Preseason?
No. The Bucs’ 2020 season opener at New Orleans just got more difficult due to the league’s cancellation of the preseason on the heels of all offseason workouts being canceled in the spring due to COVID-19 concerns.
As PewterReport.com’s Jon Ledyard pointed out in his latest Bucs Briefing column on Wednesday, Wirfs, the team’s first-round pick, will be squaring off against five-time Pro Bowl defensive end Cameron Jordan in his first NFL game, assuming he is named the starting right tackle. It would certainly benefit Wirfs and the rest of the rookies, in addition to new additions like Brady and tight end Rob Gronkowski, to have played in at least one or two preseason games before battling the two-time defending NFC South champion Saints in the season opener.
Without the benefits of the preseason, Arians said that the quality of play across the league would suffer this year.
“I think it’s definitely going to take a hit,” Arians said. “You’re not going to be in the same football shape you [would have been in if] you had all the learning that takes place in the spring and a true training camp with four preseason games to look at a lot of young players. So yeah, it’s going to take a hit.”
The area that will be hurt the most at the start of the season will be the quality of tackling – or the lack thereof. The Bucs and all NFL team will only have the benefit of 14 padded practices in training camp before the season starts, and Tampa Bay won’t be doing live tackling in all of those sessions.
“Yes – as far as tackling to the ground, we did it a couple days last year,” Arians said. “We had some live stuff with Miami and then preseason games. You have to be very careful tackling yourselves, but you’ve still got to tackle somebody. We’ll probably have more than we’ve had in the past – maybe one or two days where we’re actually scrimmaging each other just to get the contact, facing cut blocks and all those things you’re going to see in the first ball game.”
With the Saints returning more starters on offense and defense than any other team in the NFC South and perhaps the entire NFC Conference, they are certainly favored to beat the Buccaneers due to their continuity, talent level and the fact that the game is played at home in New Orleans.
Now that some of the general Critical Camp Questions are out of the way, we’ll examine six Critical Camp Questions on offense and defense and then conclude with two that pertain to special teams. The most memorable moments of my 24 years covering the Buccaneers that are usually featured in the Fab 4 section will return in two weeks with a brand new SR’s Fab 5.