The final training camp practice of the 2019 preseason for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was scheduled for Sunday, but, as it was a post-game practice, it was pretty light in terms of workload — it was also not open to the public, and was only viewable to friends, family and media.
Since practice was a low-contact glorified walkthrough, instead of trying to give you a daily recap of what went on, I figured it would be much better served to you, the readers, to give you my Top 5 training camp takeaways from what I’ve seen over the last three and a half weeks.
With 90 players on the field since before the month of August even began, there have been plenty of good camp battles. Players have moved both up and down the depth chart, and the picture of what the Buccaneers team might look like come Week 1 of the regular season is more clear than it was back then.
Obviously topics like how quarterback Jameis Winston is doing and who is shaping up to start in the secondary are important points, but those are aspects of the team that won’t really get sorted out until the regular season. I’m talking about the real camp battles, the x-factors, the guys who might just make the team/solidify a spot who could also end up making a big difference.
Here are my Top 5 player standouts/takeaways from camp.
RB Dare Ogunbowale Is RB3
After going undrafted in 2017, Ogunbowale was first signed by the Houston Texans. He stuck around on their practice squad for a bit but was eventually cut in the middle of the season. Following his short stint there, he was signed for the first time by Tampa Bay, cut again, signed by the Redskins, cut again, and then finally found a stable home back with the Bucs — though still as a practice squad player — in August of 2018.
Since then Ogunbowale has been working hard to make his place on this team, and a year later I think he has finally achieved it.
Ogunbowale has been very effective this preseason. He’s been given most of the carries thus far through two preseason games, and the reason for that is because, flat out, he has looked like one of the best running backs they have. Ogunbowale is also the lead blocker on kick return duties, so he’s securing himself a roster spot on special teams, too.
Earlier in camp head coach Bruce Arians said that Ogunbowale is turning into an every-down back, and he looks like a player they can trust on third down duties. That sounds like a final 53-man guy to me.
OG Alex Cappa Has Become Starting Caliber
You know what I have in my notes for Alex Cappa after three weeks of running with the first team offense at right guard?
Nothing; absolutely nothing — and that’s a great thing.
Unless you’re really focusing in on offensive line play for a certain day or drill, it’s hard to really pick up when players are doing their job well. You usually only notice them when they’re performing poorly. As I’ve been watching practice as a whole, not focusing on just the line, I can’t remember one time where I went, “wow, Cappa really struggled there.” And that’s because he hasn’t.
The Bucs have had a revolving door at right guard for almost two years now. It seems like that door may have finally found its stopping point with Cappa. We’ll get our best look at him this Friday night, as the starters are slated to play about the entire first half. That will tell us how solid Cappa really is — and they need him to be.
RB Ronald Jones Can Be RB1
We’ve seen it all before. “Player X” put on more weight this year and looks bigger, and stronger. That means he’s suppose to automatically be better, right? We’ve learned, from many situations, that isn’t always the case. So when it was reported that second-year running back Ronald Jones had bulked up from about 207 pounds to nearly 220 pounds this offseason, the fan speculation went wild. But it appears this time it really may have held some weight — sorry for the pun.
I’ll just come out and say it: Jones ran scared last year. He didn’t look confident behind his offensive line or when taking contact. He didn’t even look like a serviceable running back during his rookie campaign, but this year is different. This year he looks eager to break tackles, he looks ready to burst down the field and he looks hungry to make plays. He still needs work seeing the line and finding open space, but at least the attitude is there.
Jones has been splitting time on the first team with fellow running back Peyton Barber, but if I’m being honest, Jones’ best runs look a lot better than Barber’s. I’m not saying that Barber can’t help this team, but what I am saying is that the coaching staff hopes Ronald Jones can continue to improve his vision. Because, from what we’ve seen this preseason, giving RoJo the ball more gives their offense the highest ceiling for production when it comes to the ground game.
TE Tanner Hudson *Should* Make This Team
What started off as a “Bruce Arians has never used tight ends much before” is really turning into “how many tight ends can Arians keep on the 53-man roster?”
Hudson was an undrafted free agent from Southern Arkansas in 2018. He made his way to Bucs camp last year, and he’s stuck around since, mostly on the practice squad. Now, a year later, he is showing he has out-grown his previous practice squad label.
Over the first two preseason games in 2019, Hudson has 13 catches for 177 yards and two touchdowns, including the two biggest catches of the game that put the Bucs in field goal range to capture their last-second win over the Dolphins.
On receiving ability, Hudson looks like a lock to make this team. But there are two parts to being a backup tight end in the NFL. Receiving ability is how you make the first-team offense, but blocking is what allows you to stick around on the team long enough to prove it.
Right now, Hudson doesn’t block well enough to do that.
If you’re a backup tight end, you have to be able to block because you have to be able to play special teams. If you can’t play special teams, the team can’t keep you. Hudson has not shown consistent ability or even a willingness to be a trusted blocker.
Hudson should be a lock to make this team, but if he doesn’t improve his blocking over the last two weeks, he might be the biggest surprise cut when the roster trims down to 53.
DL Rakeem Nunez-Roches Is Their Best Backup DT (Shoutout To Jeremiah Ledbetter, Too)
Even with the addition of Ndamukong Suh, when Gerald McCoy left there were questions about the depth of defensive tackle on this team. We all know defensive coordinator Todd Bowles loves to get creative in his pressures and his fronts, but it only works if you can hold the point of attack and still win in the middle. There was Beau Allen as a known contributor after Vita Vea (who is now hurt), but after that it was pretty up-in-the-air at defensive tackle.
Since camp broke, there are two defensive linemen who have really stood out: Rakeem Nunez-Roches and Jeremiah Ledbetter. Both of those men have been having stand-out performances in camp, and with Vea’s injury timeline unknown, there is a good chance both of them can make the final 53-man roster.
Nunez-Roches was drafted by the Chiefs in the sixth round in 2015. But in his three seasons there, he only recorded 1.5 sacks. He was released by the Chiefs in the summer of 2018. He signed with the Colts shortly after, but was not there for long. After being released for a second time, he was signed by the Buccaneers in October of 2018. Nunez-Roches played in just three games for the Bucs in 2018, but 2019 is shaping up to be his time to shine. He has been a monster in camp and in the two preseason games. He’s been one of the strongest run defenders on the team, and is even showing some pass rush flashes here and there, too.
Ledbetter is also a former sixth round pick, this time in the 2017 NFL Draft. He was selected by the Lions, but after one year there he was cut. He was signed by the Buccaneers early into the 2018 season, but was mainly a practice squad guy. As it is for Nunez-Roches, 2019 seems to be the year for Ledbetter to become a solid rotational player. He, too, has become a force in the middle who has been making life very hard for the Bucs second- and third-team offensive lines.
With limited depth on the defensive line right now, both of these players have stood out enough for final roster consideration.