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With two weeks of training camp in the books, Pewter Report Bucs beat writers Scott Reynolds, Charlie Campbell and I have compiled our first Who's Hot, Who's Not list, which includes a top 10 list in each category.
Read below to find out who's playing well and who's struggling heading into Tampa Bay's first preseason game of the year, which is in Tennessee on Saturday night.
1. CB ELBERT MACK Mack entered training camp as a player fighting for the nickel cornerback job. Instead, he's legitimately challenging starters Aqib Talib and Ronde Barber for playing time. Mack has been a ballhawk, leading the team with five interceptions through the first two weeks of camp. The second-year player has also been quite consistent with the exception of one day of practice where he turned in shaky outing.
2. LB-DE QUINCY BLACK The Bucs' decision to play Black at defensive end in some situations appears to be more than just an experiment. Black gives the Bucs some serious speed as a pass rusher coming off the edge. He's given Tampa Bay's talented starting offensive tackles some fits on passing downs and recorded several sacks during training camp. Not only has he shown the ability to help improve Tampa Bay's pass rush, Black is the leading candidate to win the starting strongside linebacker job as well. Pewter Report has been touting Black all offseason, and he's been living up to the hype.
3. TE KELLEN WINSLOW While he missed a few days of practice with a minor injury, Winslow has flashed his athletic and playmaking ability all over the practice fields at One Buc Place. There is no doubt Winslow will play a big role in Jeff Jagodzinski's offense, especially in the passing game, where he's been a reliable target for quarterbacks Luke McCown and Byron Leftwich. Winslow, is a better blocker than he's given credit for, but he's known for his hands. In fact, Winslow had "the catch of training camp" a few days ago when he lost his balance running a route but still managed to haul in a pass flying over his head by palming it for a one-handed grab. He also turned in an amazing one-handed catch during Thursday's night practice at Raymond James Stadium.
4. WR SAMMIE STROUGHTER At 5-foot-9, 189 pounds, Stroughter isn't the biggest target on the field, but the seventh-round pick has proven to be a reliable one. Stroughter hasn't looked like a seventh-round pick, running some crisp routes, catching most of the balls thrown his way and establishing himself as a touchdown machine, finding the end zone on several occasions. With the injuries to starting receivers Antonio Bryant and Michael Clayton, Strougther will have the opportunity to showcase his skills and solidify his spot on Tampa Bay's 53-man roster in Tennessee on Saturday night. Although he's impressing at receiver, Stroughter must make his mark on special teams as well.
5. RB CADILLAC WILLIAMS Some, including Pewter Report, questioned whether Williams would even be available for the start of training camp due to the fact that he was coming off his second torn patellar tendon injury in as many years. Well, not only is he practicing, Williams is playing quite well, showing impressive cutting ability and burst. Perhaps the most impressive part of Williams' game right now is his improved pass-catching ability, which has been a problem for him in the past, but appears to be something he worked on quite a bit over the past two years. Williams has also shown fairly reliable hands as a return specialist. He's listed as Tampa Bay's third running back on the team's depth chart, but Williams is earning more playing time and building more confidence with each day of camp he gets under his belt.
6. LB GENO HAYES Up until he suffered a hamstring injury earlier this week, Hayes was easily one of the most impressive performers in Bucs training camp. Hayes has incredible speed, but also possesses good instincts, which has allowed him to be a real force on defense while seeing reps at both strongside and weakside linebacker. There doesn't appear to be an open competition at weakside linebacker, where Jermaine Phillips is the projected starter. However, one could make the argument that Hayes, who has already returned from his hamstring injury, has stood out more than Phillips throughout the first two weeks of camp.
7. DE JIMMY WILKERSON Wilkerson is in a contract year, and he's been playing like it through the first two weeks of camp. The versatile defensive lineman has been used as a left end, where he likely will start this year, as well as a defensive tackle in some obvious pass-rushing situations. Wilkerson has used a variety of moves to establish himself as one of the best pass rushers on the team, and he appears to be poised to turn in a big year if his play on the field through the first week of camp is any indication.
8. WR ANTONIO BRYANT While he's missed a significant amount of practice time due to a knee injury that required surgery and will sideline him for the entire preseason, Bryant was still one of Tampa Bay's best training camp performers through the first week. Bryant caught nearly every ball thrown his way, and his route running was sharp as well. He might not catch 80-plus passes in this offense since the ball will be spread around a lot, but Bryant will be a force in the passing game. Bryant made some unbelievable catches while his knee was ailing, so the Bucs must be excited about getting him back healthy for the start of the 2009 regular season. If you feel Bryant doesn't belong here since he will miss the entire preseason due to injury, one could make a strong case for replacing him with fellow receiver and newcomer Mario Urrutia, who has impressed in his short time with the Bucs.
9. QB BYRON LEFTWICH After a slow start to camp, Leftwich caught fire for several days, completely outplaying his competition, including QB Luke McCown. Leftwich has displayed a strong and accurate arm. After taking too many sacks, Leftwich has also shown the ability to go through his progressions and get rid of the ball quicker, which has helped him as well. While Leftwich has cooled off a bit, he still appears to have a slight lead in the quarterback competition. While that competition is ongoing, it is clear Leftwich has improved quite a bit since his shaky outing in the mandatory mini-camp in June.
10. LG JEREMY ZUTTAH The Bucs miss Arron Sears and would love to have him back whenever he's ready to return, but Zuttah has helped keep the offensive line going in Sears' absence. Some thought the second-year guard might actually be a better fit than Sears in Tampa Bay's zone blocking scheme, and the athleticism Zuttah has displayed on the practice field doesn't dispute that notion. The Bucs have been successful running the ball behind Zuttah, but the hard work he put in the weight room during the offseason has allowed Zuttah to hold his own on passing downs, too.
WHO'S NOT 1. LB ANGELO CROWELL Bucs head coach Raheem Morris recently told Pewter Report that "you can't make the club in the tub," and Crowell has spent entirely too much time in the "tub," or in this case, away from the practice field during training camp. Crowell's hamstring injury has kept him sidelined for most of camp and is cause for concern since he's coming off a major knee injury he sustained that caused him to miss the 2008 season. Crowell's absence has allowed Quincy Black to establish himself as the frontrunner to win the strongside linebacker job. It has also allowed Geno Hayes to show some playmaking ability at that position, which means Crowell is in danger of not even making Tampa Bay's 53-man roster unless he can return to the practice field soon.
2. TE JASON POCIASK The Bucs are set at tight end with veterans Kellen Winslow, Jerramy Stevens and John Gilmore, but unlike those players, Pociask has stood out for the wrong reasons in camp. He's dropped way too many passes and been inconsistent as a blocker. That's not exactly a good combo of attributes for a tight end. At this point, Pociask looks like he could be one of the first roster cuts, which will take place a few days after Tampa Bay's third preseason game.
3. RT ANTHONY ALABI The Bucs are in desperate need of depth along the offensive line, including the tackle position. That's not something Alabi appears to be able to help the Bucs with. Alabi has been inconsistent in both the running and passing games, and at times he's simply been a liability in terms of protecting the quarterback. Veteran right tackle Jeremy Trueblood missed some practices with an injury, but the extra playing time wasn't something Alabi was able to take advantage of. Instead, Alabi has allowed rookie Demar Dotson, who has never played offensive line before, to move in on some of his second-team reps. Unless he somehow shines in preseason action, Alabi could be one of the first players released in roster cut downs in a few weeks.
4. K MATT BRYANT Things are not looking particularly good for Bryant, who has been limited for most of training camp due to a nagging hamstring injury. Bryant attempted to return to action on Tuesday, but re-injured the hamstring after going 3-of-3 on field goal attempts. Bryant's competition, Mike Nugent, also went 3-of-3 on field goal tries, but more importantly, the younger Nugent has remained healthy. That does not bode well for Bryant's chances of holding off Nugent for a 53-man roster spot in Tampa Bay this year.
5. S C.J. BYRD Byrd has struggled mightily in camp, especially in pass coverage. He hasn't shown much range and his ballhawking skills are lacking. Byrd has been involved in too many big passing plays surrendered to the offense so far, and he also hasn't stood out on special teams, which is something he'll need to do in order to stick around in Tampa Bay, which has talented safeties in Sabby Piscitelli, Tanard Jackson, Will Allen and Donte Nicholson.
6. CB TORRIE COX Cox missed some significant playing time during organized team activities while coming off a major knee injury from 2008 and suffering a head injury after being accidently hit by fellow cornerback Aqib Talib in a well-publicized incident. That layoff appears to have had a negative impact on Cox, who usually performs well in camp, but has struggled quite a bit so far. Cox has simply allowed way too many big plays downfield and been a liability in coverage. He will have the chance to shine on special teams as a cover man in preseason games, and but even a strong performance there won't be enough for Cox to make the active roster if he can't improve his play in Jim Bates' bump-and-run scheme.
7. TE RYAN PURVIS See the analysis and commetary for tight end Jason Pociask. Pewter Report originally listed Bucs defensive lineman Greg Peterson here, but he was waived/injured by the Bucs on Thursday. Purvis isn't any better than Pociask.
8. CB DeANGELO WILLINGHAM The Bucs lack depth at the cornerback position, which is serious cause for concern even though Tampa Bay's first three cornerbacks have been playing well for the most part. Willingham flashed some playmaking ability at times during OTAs, but he's been hard to notice on the practice field. Willingham hasn't shown strong enough bump-and-run, man-to-man cover skills, and his ballhawking ability is lacking as well. Willingham will have to make some plays in the preseason games in order to receive some consideration for the team's eight-man practice squad.
9. CB KYLE ARRINGTON Arrington is a great example of why too much stock should not be put into how players perform during offseason workouts. The second-year cornerback had one of the most impressive offseason performances of any player on the Bucs roster, but he's been noticeably quiet during training camp. Arrington hasn't come up with enough interceptions or even passes defensed for that matter, and he's come up on the losing end of battles with wide receivers as well. At this point, Arrington still is Tampa Bay's fourth best cornerback, but if his play doesn't improve he will win that job by default instead of earning it like he was doing during the offseason. Arrington has been out-shined at times by rookie E.J. Biggers.
10. QB JOSH FREEMAN So much for Tampa Bay's first-round pick starting in Week 1 vs. Dallas. Freeman has shown an accurate and strong arm at times during camp, but he's been too indecisive and inaccurate throughout the majority of practices. His inconsistent and shaky play has led to a reduction in practice reps. Those reps have gone to the two players competing for the starting job – Luke McCown and Byron Leftwich. Perhaps the biggest cause for concern is Freeman's ability to read defenses at the line of scrimmage. Defensive coordinator Jim Bates threw several different blitzes at Freeman during one particular practice this week, and it resulted in Freeman's worst training camp practice to date. In the span of four plays, Freeman threw a pick, had a pass batted at the line of scrimmage and took back-to-back delay of game penalties. Unless he turns things around over the final week of camp and plays well in preseason, Freeman appears to be locked in as Tampa Bay's third signal caller to start the season.