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.

Bucs RG Alex Cappa
Bucs RG Alex Cappa – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

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.

Bucs Tanner Hudson - Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Bucs Tanner Hudson – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

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.

Bucs DT Rakeem Nunez-Roches
Bucs DT Rakeem Nunez-Roches – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

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.

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Trevor Sikkema is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat reporter and NFL Draft analyst for PewterReport.com. Sikkema, an alumnus of the University of Florida, has covered both college and professional football for much of his career. As a native of the Sunshine State, when he's not buried in social media, Sikkema can be found out and active, attempting to be the best athlete he never was. Sikkema can be reached at: [email protected]

13 COMMENTS

  1. Trevor, agree.

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  2. There’s a lot of P.T. Barnum in Bruce Arians, so you sometimes have to decipher what he is saying. I agree with everything Trevor has said but he did not mention the 4th or 5th WR. We all expect for Justin Watson to be that 4th WR, but BA would not say that today. Training camp is essentially over and BA is firing a shot over the bow of Watson and Scotty Miller who has been injured most of camp.

    In his presser today he went out of his way to heap praise on BoBo Wilson, but when Arians was asked if Watson is the No. 4 receiver, Arians, as is his style, was blunt – “No, I would not say that”. That sounded like a direct message to Watson to use the remaining time to secure that 4th WR position.

    Personally, I think Watson and Miller make the team. But TE Tanner Hudson as a 4th TE complicates the decision. I am not going to venture to say what happens. I will only say I want the best players on the field. Go Bucs!

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  3. I think Watson has the better chance of coming through as a solid 4th Receiver but Wilson does have return ability. Problem is Wilson had even more drops than Watson. It seemed st the start of Camp they were gonna have a tough decision deciding which Receivers to keep because the competition was so good but it’s come down to which one can even be a solid number 4. Let’s hope someone shines in these last two games to kick it down.

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  4. Wilson is the default #4 WR and return specialist until proven otherwise.

    To me I want to see one of the young pass rushers step up in the final two pre season games. Right now the veterans are leading the way at the top five spots (Spence, Nassib, Barrett, Huguenin, and Bond).

    And most importantly I want to see Murphy-Bunting ball because right now his confidence seems shot. I don’t doubt Edwards, White, Miller, Gay, Dean, or even Nelson playing ball when they can. But Murphy-Bunting needs to pick up his game.

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    • Good point about SMB picking up his game.
      I would say that A Nelson has been non-existent and has a chance to be a Kenny Bell, being placed on IR before the season starts.

      How about possibly Buc’s trading a TE to Jacksonville for OL depth? Foles always liked throwing to TE’s and our 4 are better than any of their guys.

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  5. Great Article. I totally agree about Rojo and Cappa. I think Spence has looked very good too. As well as Hargraves. I am encouraged and this is what good coaching does. I think we would have cut several of these players with last year’s coaching. I am, however concerned about how little of White and Bunting we have seen. I am sticking with Gay as the best pick in this draft. I think realistically BA adds 3 wins this year assuming there are no more injuries before the regular season and our starters sidelined come back.

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  6. 1. Cappa-RG may have solidified interior OL, he has been truly been outstanding thru camp and 2 preseason games, gotta see if he can be consistent in Reg. season? Our OT’s will clearly be our weakest link on O-Line, (disastrous if any injury’s to starters), until can draft 2 next year, yes with our 2020 1st and 2nd rd. picks!
    2. Gay may be able to Play?! (see Winston below), Gay TBD after wk 16! playoffs or bust.
    3. Secondary clearly improving, looks like starters could be nickel-Hargreaves, outside CBs, J. Dean and C. Davis, with safeties-M.Edwards and J. Whitehead, (wildcard-J. Evans)
    4. DL pressure might be OK, OLB’s are pleasant surprise, shout out to T. Bowles scheme, then to Nassib, Spence, Shaq, and Bond. (Nelson tbd? and healthy JPP!)
    5a. Yes, lastly BA is right on RB room, (low cost and serviceable). Jones looking like threat to Barber, and Ogg might replace both if keeps improving, (would love to see Ogg get some time with starting OL in next 2 wks).
    5b. J. Winston, well…way too early to tell! Success TBD after wk16, playoffs or bust? or damn near playoffs as worst case, 9-7 or better or why you going to pay>20mil/yr, really?!

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  7. Predicting the final 53 man roster is always a fun exercise. Plus it makes much more sense than making Draft choices at Halloween. To be most accurate, one must know how many players at each position will be kept. That can be an ever evolving number due to assorted bumps and bruises.

    Back in the “It’s Sports” (Great Grandfather of Pewter Report) magazine days they had a contest in which I won a cruise and a weekend on St. Pete Beach for getting the most correct choices at the earliest date. In those days, at the original One Buc Place, practices weren’t open to the public. That silly rule didn’t stop Scubog and a few others who would stand in the bed of my Chevy Luv truck peering over the fence through the bushes to get a glimpse of the action. Gave us a bit of an advantage over folks who just saw the games.

    I suspect this year will be similar to most others. B.A. has already alluded to the potential of a player or two currently on another team supplanting those who have toiled in the Florida sun the past month or so.

    Something that didn’t exist in the early days is the Practice Squad. I’m pretty sure there is a clandestine plan to hide those players. Notice how WR Spencer Schnell, a player that caught my eye early on, became invisible this past game? Notice how, even after healed, we haven’t seen much of WR DeMarkus Lodge? QB/Utility Nick Fitzgerald must really be hurt to miss the entire Training Camp. Perhaps he’s destined for the Practice Squad. Anyone but me happen to notice how fast David Kenney comes off the edge?

    One shocker is that our PK depth may be so great that we can trade Cairo Santos. Wouldn’t that be a hoot?

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  8. We must find a way to keep Hudson. Best hands I’ve seen in a long time. If it costs us 1 less receiver so be it, Hudson could lineup as a receiver if need be. Jameel Dean needs alot of time on jugs machine but looks like he could become one hell of a cover corner. I say we cut Gabbert and bring in some O’Line help soon, its time to find out if Griff can truly be our backup qb.

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  9. NFL sporting news final predictions has Tampa Bay in a close tie for the first pick in NFL draft 2020. With both teams At 3-13 it will comedown to the Draft Bowl of of game between Bucs and BA former team AZ cardinals.
    I personally have Tampa winning that game as no team could lose to AZ.
    Do not blame me I am only reporting what I read, and favor Bucs against Az.

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    • It’s not that you “report” it Bob. It’s that you, as a supposed fan, seem to relish in swimming, or should I say, bobbing, in the cesspool.

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  10. There have been many surprises this year. More players have been playing well that were labeled “busts” than I can ever remember in a single year. This confirms to me coaching was the main issue not the talent Licht put out there. Not to say he’s the best GM and hasn’t been learning curve for him. There has for sure.

    I think there is enough talent here to be a playoff team. The coaches are good enough and some of the best around imo. BAB and other idiots can doubt Bowles all they want but the guy is a great defensive mind. Will he ever be great head coach? Don’t know or care at this point.

    I think it’s really going to come down to if Bucs can come out early and win some games and build confidence. They will be hot down the stretch of stay healthy imo. They have so many young players and everything is new. If there aren’t learning/growing pains I’d be shocked. It sounds cliche but also they have to stay healthy especially in certain areas like O line.

    Playoffs or not should be fun to watch and a team that competes week in week out.

    If Hudson doesn’t make the team he will be scooped up quick. He likely won’t as I think he needs year to add size and strength and become a legit TE than can block.

    Go Bucs!

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  11. IT sounds like Bucs are going with 5 wide receivers and 4 Tight ends. I wonder if they will keep more than two QBs?

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