Breaking Down Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 5 Biggest Training Camp Projects
Development never ends in the NFL. Whether it's a rookie learning the ropes or a 10-year veteran finding a role for his remaining skill set, every NFL player has to adapt and learn during training camp.
The Buccaneers have undergone drastic changes this offseason. New blood was added and the old guard now finds itself with new challenges and opportunities to succeed under the Lovie Smith administration.
Certainly, the Bucs' rookies will be tested, but the same goes for some of the veteran players. Some are still young and trying to find their groove. Others are older players who have seen their careers derailed by injury or other circumstances.
Smith's first training camp in Tampa Bay will begin to separate the fulfilled prospects from the failed experiments. Here are the Bucs' five biggest training camp projects of 2014.
Tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins is a big piece of the makeover the Bucs gave their offense this year, as they selected him 38th overall in the 2014 draft. His development during this year's training camp could make him the biggest piece of the Bucs offense.
The Bucs have a cupboard full of pass-catching tight ends including Tim Wright and Brandon Myers. Thanks to his lingering foot injury, Seferian-Jenkins is a long ways behind them in experience and reps in the new offense.
However, he told Greg Auman of the Tampa Bay Times that it shouldn't be a problem going forward.
Seferian-Jenkins' personal equalizers will be his athleticism and size (6'5", 262 lbs). What will truly set him apart from his teammates will be his ability to block. Wright is undersized and Myers has never been much of a blocker.
The former Washington Huskie could be the most complete tight end on the Bucs' roster. Time will tell whether Seferian-Jenkins can become an integral piece of the Bucs offense.
A fourth-year player and former first-round pick? A project? Have things gone so awry for defensive end Adrian Clayborn that he is already a reclamation project?
Clayborn's career since his rookie year has been derailed by injury and ineffectiveness. He started last year on a rehabbed but still bum knee, though he regained his burst as the season wore on.
The signing of former Cincinnati Bengals DE Michael Johnson evicted Clayborn from the starting right end position—a position Clayborn had held ever since he was drafted by the Bucs in 2011 (20th overall) and during his collegiate career at Iowa.
For the first time in his professional career, Clayborn will have to earn a starting spot. His chief competition is upstart DE Will Gholston.
In addition to his body and ability, Clayborn's will and desire to live up to his draft position will be tested.
With Darrelle Revis no longer a Buccaneer, cornerback Johnthan Banks will likely be forced to play a more significant role in the secondary.
Banks' performance last year did not flatter his draft position (43rd overall in 2013) or the fact that he played across from the NFL's premier cornerback. He was frequently out of position and burned by opposing receivers.
It is not uncommon for rookie corners to struggle, especially when the coaching and defensive schemes were as bad as they were under Greg Schiano.
Banks will now be playing for some of the top defensive minds in the NFL in Lovie Smith and Leslie Frazier. Playing cover corner in a Tampa 2 alongside newcomer Alterraun Verner should prove to be just what the doctor ordered.
The key for Banks will be improving his route recognition and tackling. After a year of learning how to play the wrong way, Banks will have a chance to be what the Bucs drafted him to be.
The Bucs' situation at guard is nothing if not precarious. The only truly starting-caliber guard on the roster has played only nine games in two years, and it's no guarantee Carl Nicks will be back to top form.
Nicks could be one of the best guards in the league, but his toe is the Bermuda Triangle of injuries.
Throughout the offseason, expectations for Nicks' return have varied.
In an interview with WDAE-AM 620 (h/t JoeBucsFan.com), Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times suggested he "not hearing great things" regarding Nicks' recovery. Days later, The Associated Press' Fred Goodall quoted Nicks as saying he's confident he'll be ready for training camp.
According to Stroud, the latest word on Nicks is that he will be ready for a "modified schedule" during training camp.
There's no question the Bucs will have to play it safe with Nicks' toe indefinitely.
Aside from his toe's status, which is mostly unpredictable, the Bucs will have to focus on getting Nicks back into football shape.
Not every NFL team can boast a former Olympian on its roster. The Bucs have running back Jeff Demps, but his Olympic-caliber running hasn't made him a great NFL player.
In two years in the NFL, Demps has yet to play a full season. He has speed in spades, but durability will be a concern.
The biggest difference this year will be Demps' commitment to football. The Tampa Tribune's Roy Cummings reports he isn't training for the Olympics this year, so he will be able to focus on getting into football shape.
Demps will surely take snaps all over the field, with Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times noting that Demps has already been used in the slot during minicamp. His speed is too precious to be restricted to a set spot.
Learning the various packages will be Demps' biggest challenge. Execution only comes with ample preparation. With football as his clear priority this year, Demps will have his clearest shot yet to become a great player.