The Buccaneers will have some big decisions to make with all NFL teams being required to cut their training camp rosters down to 53 players by Saturday, September 5 at 4:00 p.m. ET. The addition of running back Leonard Fournette, who is expected to sign his contract on Sunday once he goes through the COVID-19 protocol and passes a team physical, has muddied the waters a bit in a suddenly crowded Bucs backfield.
Former Jaguars RB Leonard Fournette – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Ronald Jones II has had a good camp and will enter the season as the starter. PewterReport.com has learned that veteran LeSean McCoy, who was added this summer for experienced depth and his ability to help Tampa Bay on third downs, will not be cut due to Fournette’s arrival. That fact was also reported by Pro Football Talk on Thursday morning.
The Bucs also have Dare Ogunbowale, who served as the team’s third down back last year, in addition to his role as special teams captain, in the backfield as well. With the likelihood that Jones, McCoy and Fournette won’t be special teams contributors, it will be imperative that Tampa Bay keep Ogunbowale to help on fourth downs.
The team just spent a third-round draft pick on running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn out of Vanderbilt, and although he didn’t impress early in camp while learning the playbook, PewterReport.com has learned that he has showed improvement over the past week. Vaughn, like all NFL rookies this year, did not have the benefit of a rookie mini-camp, OTAs, a mandatory mini-camp or preseason games to accelerate his learning curve this offseason, and the Bucs don’t want to give up on him.
Tampa Bay spent a seventh-round pick on Raymond Calais, a small, speedy back with return ability. But given the number of quality backs in the backfield with Fournette’s arrival, it’s likely that Calais will be destined for the practice squad during his rookie season.
Does that mean that the Bucs will keep all five of their other running backs – Jones, McCoy, Fournette, Ogunbowale and Vaughn? It’s not out of the question, especially with the value that Ogunbowale and Vaughn could bring on special teams.
The Bucs could go with five running backs and five wide receivers rather than four running backs and six receivers. Pro Bowlers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin are entrenched as the starters, while Scotty Miller and Justin Watson have emerged as the clear-cut third and fourth receivers.
The Bucs may have to cut Tyler Johnson, this year’s fifth-round pick, and try to sign him to the practice squad after missing almost all of training camp due to a soft tissue injury. Jaydon Mickens is currently in the driver’s seat for the fifth receiver spot due to his ability to return punts and kicks, and his improvement in the month of August.
It’s safe bet given the quality of the tight end room and the multiple sets of using multiple tight ends that Tampa Bay will keep four at that position: Rob Gronkowski, O.J. Howard, Cameron Brate and Antony Auclair, who is a core special teams player.
The Bucs coaching staff will studying all the practice film and there could be a few impassioned pleas from the assistant coaches made before the final 53-man roster is determined, but many teams would much rather have the problems Tampa Bay has on offense where the talent level exceeds the number of available roster spots.
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: email@example.com