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FAB 2. Battle Of The Bucs’ Backups: Offense

One of the things I learned from former Bucs assistant coach and head coach Raheem Morris is that the players at the bottom of the depth chart really drive the bus, as he called it. If a team had good, competitive players at the bottom of the depth chart it kept the players at the top of the depth chart on their toes and at the top of their game.

Morris was talking about Bucs cornerbacks over the years like Corey Ivy, Torrie Cox and E.J. Biggers – bit players on defense and contributors on special teams that developed enough in practice to really push the veterans. Ryan Smith is such a player in today’s Tampa Bay cornerbacks room. Smith is a standout special teamer, and someone who has consistently developed behind the scenes on defense.

Bucs CB Ryan Smith

Bucs CB Ryan Smith – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

Smith isn’t as talented as the Bucs’ top three cornerbacks Carlton Davis, Sean Murphy-Bunting and Jamel Dean, but if those three don’t keep improving their game, the gap between them and Smith will narrow as Smith improves his. That’s what Morris meant when referring to the guys at the bottom of the depth chart.

Tampa Bay is coming off a 7-9 season and the team doesn’t have a lot of starting jobs up for grabs this year, which is a good thing. That’s a sign of a team that is maturing into a playoff contender.

Where the Bucs have competition now is at the bottom of the roster, such was the case in the Tony Dungy and Jon Gruden years when Tampa Bay was a perennial playoff contender.

With the threat of a Bucs starter testing posting for COVID-19 and being quarantined for two weeks this season, depth in the 2020 season will be more important than ever. So over the next two sections of this SR’s Fab 5 I’m going to break down the ever-important backup positions, starting with the offense in Fab 2 and breaking down the defense in Fab 3. I won’t analyze the quarterback position because Tampa Bay will keep all three veterans – Tom Brady, Blaine Gabbert and Ryan Griffin – with rookie Reid Sinnett trying to prove his worth for a practice squad spot.

Fourth Running Back

T.J. Logan
Raymond Calias
Aca’Cedric Ware

Bucs RB Raymond Calais

Bucs RB Raymond Calais – Photo courtesy of Louisiana-Lafayette

Analysis: The Bucs will start Ronald Jones II after his breakout season in 2019 where he led the team in rushing with 724 yards, six touchdowns and a 4.2-yard average. Ke’Shawn Vaughn, the team’s third-round pick, will likely fill the No. 2 rushing role that Peyton Barber occupied last year. Dare Ogunbowale is the man to beat out for the third-down back role, and the fourth running back spot, which was occupied by T.J. Logan last year, is wide open. Logan will have to fend off Ware and Calais, the team’s seventh-round pick, for that fourth spot, which will largely be determined by special teams value. Logan emerged as Tampa Bay’s kick and punt returner, and Calais, who has 4.42 speed and kick return experience, will be given a chance to compete for those roles, too.
Inside Track: Logan

Fifth Wide Receiver

Scotty Miller
Justin Watson
John Franklin
Bryant Mitchell
Josh Pearson
Travis Jonsen
Spencer Schnell
Cyril Grayson
John Hurst

Bucs WR Justin Watson – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

Bucs WR Justin Watson – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

Analysis: Tampa Bay will keep five receivers on its roster, and the top three – Pro Bowlers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, and fifth-round draft pick Tyler Johnson, are already settled. The team is high on Miller, a speedster, who was last year’s sixth-round pick, and Watson, a fifth-round pick in 2018, will compete for a spot on the depth chart, too. Both came on late in the season and showed potential. Because Johnson is a rookie, either Miller or Watson – or both – will surely make the team due to their experience in Arians’ system. Training camp will determine the order on the depth chart between Johnson, Miller and Watson, but whoever is fifth will receive some stiff competition from a few holdovers and some newcomers. Bryant Mitchell is a big possession receiver that loves to block and was having a good camp before a preseason Achilles injury landed him on injured reserve. Schnell, a short possession receiver, had a hot start to training camp, but cooled and didn’t make the team. He was re-signed out of desperation in late December. Grayson and Franklin were also in the lineup late last year, coming up from the practice squad due to injuries. Franklin, who also has experience at cornerback, created some buzz in practice with his athleticism and could be a real camp sleeper. Of the three newcomers – Pearson, Jonsen and Hurst – Pearson has the size-speed-production traits that make him the most intriguing. Both he and Jonsen had draftable grades by the Bucs. Expect Watson, Franklin and Pearson to be the most viable contenders for the fifth receiver spot in August.
Inside Track: Watson

Fourth Offensive Tackle

Josh Wells
Brad Seaton

Bucs LT Josh Wells

Bucs LT Josh Wells – Photo by: Getty Images

Analysis: Wells was the backup left tackle last year and will have some competition from Brad Seaton, a 6-foot-8, 325-pound, first-year player from Villanova despite entering the league in 2017 as Tennessee’s seventh-round pick. Seaton was on the Bucs’ practice squad towards the end of 2017 and again in 2019. He’s going to need a very impressive camp and preseason to unseat Wells, who is more proven and also started a couple of games at right tackle for the injured Demar Dotson in 2019. Tristan Wirfs, the team’s first-round pick, will likely emerge as the starter at right tackle with veteran Joe Haeg serving as Wirfs’ backup, replacing Demar Dotson.
Inside Track: Wells

Backup Center

Anthony Fabiano
Zach Shackleford

Analysis: Last year, versatile reserve Earl Watford was the team’s backup center. The Bucs wanted to get younger and moved on from Watford this offseason, and the only player on the roster that has taken a snap at center in an NFL game is right guard Ali Marpet. The Bucs would like to get someone else groomed to potentially replace 29-year old Ryan Jensen, and Fabiano and Shackleford are the only other centers listed on the roster. Guards Alex Cappa and Zack Bailey have been cross-trained at center in practice.
Inside Track: Fabiano

Backup Guard

Zack Bailey
Aaron Stinnie
John Molchon
Nick Leverett

Not only was Watford the reserve center last year, he was also the reserve guard and started a few games when Cappa broke his forearm. He’s gone and the Bucs don’t have a veteran that could fill in for Cappa or Marpet this year. The team is high on Bailey, who was an undrafted free agent from a year ago, and Stinnie, who was picked up after spending some time with Tennessee. Molchon and Leverett are undrafted free agents that will challenge for a roster spot, but the early nod goes to Bailey, who really made strides last year behind the scenes in practice. It is worth noting that Haeg would likely step into the starting lineup at either guard spot if Marpet or Cappa were forced to miss time.
Inside Track: Bailey

Fourth Tight End

Antony Auclair
Tanner Hudson
Codey McElroy
Jordan Leggett

Bucs TE Antony Auclair - Photo courtesy of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bucs TE Antony Auclair – Photo courtesy of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Analysis: We all know that the top three tight ends are set with Rob Gronkowski, O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate, and that Bruce Arians has said he wants to run more 12 personnel this year, which is a two-tight end set, in an effort to help improve the running game and make the offense more balanced. Auclair has the inside track for the fourth tight end spot due to his 6-foot-6, 260-pound size and blocking prowess, and is coming off a toe injury that caused him to land on I.R. in November. If he’s healthy, Auclair would be the player to beat. Hudson made the practice squad as a receiving tight end following a great preseason and was later signed to the active roster to replace Auclair. But he struggled catching the ball in games and proved to be a poor blocker. Hudson seems to be the biggest threat to Auclair, but only if he hit the weight room this offseason and improves as a blocker. McElroy is a big, 6-foot-6, 255-pound athlete that had a 30-yard catch against Houston late in the season. He’s a raw talent that could enter the mix if he proves that he’s learned Arians’ offense after being a late-season addition from a year ago. Leggett spent the year on the practice squad, and despite having more NFL experience than both Hudson and McElroy, he got passed over by both late in the season on the depth chart and wasn’t signed to the active roster.
Inside Track: Auclair

Now let’s take a look at the Bucs defense and see what battles will take place at the bottom of the depth chart.

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About the Author: Scott Reynolds

Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: sr@pewterreport.com
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1 year ago

Scott, I can certainly see how this is a different situation than you and the others at PR have faced before. There has to be a lot of guess work for you and your staff regarding the players on the Bucs team due to the lack of contact with the coach’s and players. Could these bad things happen? Yes, of course, but it is only right that you advise the Bucs fans that bad things could still happen. I think that if there should be an announcement one day that a new medication had been discovered, that may be the… Read more »

1 year ago

I still have no idea why you guys are so high on Tyler \Johnson that you are already dusting off a space for his name on the Bucs Ring of Honor. He’s not considered especially speedy and he didn’t even run a 40 at the Combine to hide the fact. The jump to the NFL from college is extreme and their have been certified No. 1 picks who had trouble making the adjustment. In fact, we had one here last year by the name of Breshard Perriman. Until Jojnson goes through a training camp, I wouldn’t be so fast to… Read more »

Reply to  drdneast
1 year ago

Trust me, as a former slot/possession WR, you don’t need to be incredibly fast if you understand and can perform precise route running. That is precisely what Tyler Johnson does. It’s not like they are touting him as a Pro Bowerl, we’re talking about the 3rd WR spot lol.

1 year ago

After reading the first page of this article I quit. I don’t understand the overwhelming negativity. I’m not looking for fluff articles and I’m not trying to be overly harsh, but this Fab 5 was awful.

Reply to  Wausa
1 year ago

I make it a habit to not complain about stuff I get for free. Considering the lack of sports and available material to write about I am amazed at the quality of the content that Pewter Reports puts out on a regular basis.

Last edited 1 year ago by gcolerick
1 year ago

Why do I get the feeling that now that Scott’s daughter is going to Kan St, all the Bucs best bets in the draft will be from there! lol

1 year ago

“Resurgence?” Doesn’t it have to go down before it can resurge? Florida is over 60K infections. The challenge for the NFL is immense. How do you manage training camp and locker rooms with 90 players and a couple dozen trainers in camps? With players from all over the country in the most “contact” sport ever known? Empty Stadiums are a probability. The smart move would be to have empty stadiums through the pre-season, and see where the infection levels are among NFL Teams in the last week. I will miss up to date reporting during camp. I know this has… Read more »

1 year ago

Scott, can someone please tweet or text Brady to start wearing some Buccaneer shirts?

The Freeman
The Freeman(@the-freeman)
1 year ago

“Hudson made the practice squad as a receiving tight end following a great preseason and was later signed to the active roster to replace Auclair.”
Hudson was on the 53-roster all season!
inactive list until the bye week, then on the active list…
only inactive again for week 16 (Concussion).

1 year ago

There are some players in this article I hope make a big leap, in their 2nd year. Nelson is one and Bailey is another.
Nelson was injured alot last year, so I hope he is in great shape this year. Bailey was also injured. Cincey I like but seems to be injured alot. Go Bucs: And Covid 19 go the Hell AWAY!!

The Wall
The Wall(@the-wall)
1 year ago

Scott, I look forward to your Fab 5 every week. Couldn’t get past #1 this time. Are there any worst case scenarios you can think of ?

1 year ago

Scott, sounds like you need some anxiety meds for all the worrying you’re doing lol. Anyways, loved reading the article and thinking about the battles for the last few spots on the roster. For the 3rd WR job, I think it’s Scotty Miller’s to lose. If you think about what BA is looking for at that position, it’s speed. He wants to stretch the field in that package and neither Watson or Johnson have what Miller has in that department. If Watson can catch the ball in preseason games like he does in practice, maybe he can beat out Miller?… Read more »

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