Projected Buccaneers' Final 53-Man Roster, Pre-Training Camp Edition
Having a 4-12 season will do that.
As the Bucs break in a new general manager and coaching staff, the roster will also be re-tooled with players who fit the team's new schemes on both sides of the ball. Many positions will see intense competition among last year's holdovers and the fresh faces brought in by the new regime.
Will there be a need to carry more than two quarterbacks? Who will get squeezed out of the logjam at running back? Which underachieving veterans will miss the cut? Will any undrafted free agents land a spot?
With training camp just over a week away, here are my current projections for the Bucs' final 53-man roster.
Jorvorskie Lane (FB)
Connor Barth (K)
Michael Koenen (P)
Jeremy Cain (LS)
Though the Bucs' stable of quarterbacks might not wow any NFL pundits, the team is plenty confident in whom they'll have under center in 2014.
Despite a fairly strong showing by Mike Glennon in his rookie season, especially considering the adversity the team faced throughout 2013, the Bucs' new regime sought to upgrade the position with a veteran presence. Josh McCown was signed to a two-year contract and immediate named the starter by new head coach Lovie Smith.
Heading into the draft, rumors swirled that the Bucs' new staff was looking to deal Glennon, planning to find a young quarterback in the draft who could possibly be a better fit for new coordinator Jeff Tedford's offense. It turned out to be all smoke, with Smith giving Glennon a public vote of confidence as Tampa Bay's quarterback of the future.
The Bucs will carry Mike Kafka and Alex Tanney into camp, as well, but expect them to keep only McCown and Glennon on the final roster.
Already one of the deepest positions on the roster heading into the offseason, the Bucs bolstered their stable of running backs even further via the draft, making this one of the strongest units on the team.
Doug Martin has been medically cleared to return from a torn labrum that prematurely ended his 2013 season, and he'll hope to return to the form that made him a Pro Bowler as a rookie in 2012.
Despite the depth at the position, the Bucs spent their third-round pick in the 2014 draft on West Virginia's Charles Sims. An excellent receiver out of the backfield, Sims has the skill set to be a three-down back and should get first crack at spelling Martin, in addition to seeing plenty of action in the passing game.
The leftover touches will be split between Mike James and Bobby Rainey, both of whom showed plenty of promise last season when due to injuries they were forced to carry the load. There was some speculation that either would be possible trade bait, but it looks like Lovie Smith wants to keep the luxury of depth at a position that experienced plenty of injuries last season.
Jorvorskie Lane should end up being the only fullback on the final roster, giving the Bucs five total running backs. This will make it very difficult for the speedster Jeff Demps to make the final cut, barring a phenomenal training camp.
Heading into free agency, the Bucs' receiving corps was among the leanest position groups on the roster. But the team has attacked the position aggressively, bringing in six new faces to join the training camp battle.
Vincent Jackson returns as the Bucs' top target, but he'll have a new running mate in Mike Evans, the team's first-round pick. Both bring similar skill sets to the table in that they are big, physical receivers who can make big plays down the field and dwarf smaller defenders. Their presence will be particularly key in improving a red-zone offense that struggled in 2013.
Louis Murphy was brought in as a veteran free agent and should provide solid depth on the outside, while Chris Owusu has impressed head coach Lovie Smith during offseason workouts and should see plenty of action.
Free-agent addition Lavelle Hawkins played under offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford at Cal, but he'll have to fight off rookie sixth-round pick Robert Herron to be the team's first option in the slot.
The plethora of new additions could push certain returning players out of a roster spot. The likes of Eric Page, Skye Dawson and Russell Shepard will have to shine on special teams to make the team, while other new blood such as free-agent pickups Tommy Streeter and David Gettis, as well as undrafted free agents Solomon Patton and Quintin Payton, look like long shots.
The tight end position in the NFL has evolved as much as any other over recent years, and the Bucs look to have added the new prototype.
Tampa Bay spent the 38th overall pick in the 2014 draft on Washington's Austin Seferian-Jenkins, a massive target who brings a rare blend of size and athleticism to the position. He should be a valuable weapon who can stretch the defense downfield, while also being effective enough as a blocker to be a three-down player.
The former Husky is still recovering from offseason foot surgery, but he should be good to go when camp begins.
Tim Wright was one of the most pleasant surprises on offense last season, proving to be a reliable target who consistently moved the chains. The converted receiver shouldn't be counted on as much in 2014, but he could still see plenty of snaps on passing downs.
Brandon Myers was one of the first free agents signed by the Bucs this offseason, joining the team on a two-year deal. He proved in Oakland he can be a productive receiver, and while he's not likely to be a featured part of the passing attack, he gives Tampa Bay useful depth.
Luke Stocker has struggled to stay healthy and produce since being drafted in the fourth round in 2011, and he'll need his best camp ever to have any chance at a roster spot. Rookie free agents Ian Thompson and Cameron Brate are long shots who may have practice-squad value.
A unit that was plagued by injury and inconsistent play throughout the entire 2013 season, the Bucs' offensive line has gone through quite a rebuilding process this offseason.
This year's group should feature at least two new starters, one each at left tackle and center, with the potential for a third at left guard.
Gone is veteran left tackle Donald Penn, replaced by free agent Anthony Collins. The 28-year-old former Cincinnati Bengal was signed to a five-year, $30 million deal, giving the Bucs a younger, cheaper blindside protector for Josh McCown.
The most consistent performer on last year's unit, Demar Dotson returns as the starter on the right side. Only two right tackles in the league graded higher than Dotson according to Pro Football Focus, and he's a bargain for the Bucs at his base salary of $2 million.
Behind those two, things look pretty thin at tackle. Jace Daniels returns after spending most of 2013 on the practice squad, but he could be pushed out of a roster spot by two new additions. Tampa Bay traded back up into fifth round to grab Purdue's Kevin Pamphile, so they obviously like him enough to see him develop, and don't be shocked if undrafted free agent Matt Patchan makes the the cut if he can avoid injury.
At guard, Carl Nicks is confident he'll be healthy enough to return for training camp, where he would be plugged back in as the starter on the left side. Jamon Meredith was re-signed in the offseason, and he should lock down the starting spot at right guard.
With Nicks' durability still a huge question mark, depth at guard will be extremely important. Patrick Omameh took most of the first-team reps during last month's minicamp in Nicks' absence, and the new coaching staff seems to like what they've seen from him so far.
The Bucs grabbed a raw talent in Kadeem Edwards with one of their fifth-round picks in this year's draft. He will need time to develop. Another new face, free-agent acquisition Oniel Cousins, started four games for the Cleveland Browns last season and appeared in all 16 games.
The odd men out at guard look to be second-year man Jason Foster and undrafted free agent Andrew Miller.
Evan Dietrich-Smith will be the Bucs' new starting center, replacing Jeremy Zuttah, who was traded to the Baltimore Ravens. Undrafted free agent Josh Allen is the only other center currently on the roster, so his chances of making the team are as good as any other UDFA on the roster.
The Tampa 2 defense relies heavily on the play of the front four, and the Bucs' unit looks to be much improved from last year's group.
The anchor of the entire defense is Gerald McCoy, who will play the 3-technique role that Warren Sapp made famous in the Tampa 2 for the Bucs during his Hall of Fame career. McCoy is coming off two consecutive Pro Bowl berths and is primed for a dominant year.
Clinton McDonald was signed as a free agent and start opposite McCoy at the other defensive tackle spot. The former Seahawk is coming off a Super Bowl title, bagging 5.5 sacks as a rotational player in Seattle. McDonald's leadership qualities have already endeared him to the Bucs' new staff, and he could end up being the team's most underrated offseason addition.
Akeem Spence made 14 starts as a rookie in 2013, showing flashes of potential. He'll slide back into a rotational role in his sophomore campaign, but should continue to develop into a solid performer. Matthew Masilfilo was snatched off the San Francisco 49ers' practice squad in 2012, and he should benefit from the lack of depth at the position and score a roster spot.
Euclid Cummings was signed as an undrafted free agent his year, and will need a head-turning performance in camp to have a chance at making the final cut.
At defensive end, the Bucs made an aggressive move to sign free agent Michael Johnson to a lucrative contract just as free agency opened. No Buccaneer has notched 10 or more sacks in a season since Simeon Rice, but the team is hoping that streak comes to and end thanks to the former Bengal.
At the other end spot, there should be an entertaining camp battle. Incumbent Adrian Clayborn leads the race, but head coach Lovie Smith has made it clear that the Bucs need better play from what the former first-rounder has been putting out since turning pro. William Gholston is young and fits the prototype of the type of end Smith is looking for, making him a prime candidate to wrestle the starting gig away from Clayborn.
Da'Quan Bowers could be looking at his last chance to make an impact in Tampa Bay, while the raw but athletic Steven Means should get a chance to see some game action in his second year.
Scott Solomon, free-agent pickup Ronald Talley and undrafted free agent Chaz Sutton could be on the outside looking in when final cuts come down.
At linebacker, the Bucs boast one of the top young talents in the entire league, but the group as a whole is one of the skinniest on the team.
Lavonte David was named first-team All-Pro after proving himself to be a dynamic playmaker in just his second NFL season. David's production should only increase under Lovie Smith, where his talents are a perfect fit for the weak-side linebacker spot.
Mason Foster will man the middle for the Bucs yet again, taking back control of the play-calling duties, which were handled by David last season.
On the strong side, returning starter Jonathan Casillas is returning from a season-ending torn ACL and will have to contend with free-agent pickup Dane Fletcher for the starting role. Fletcher's ability to play either inside or outside gives him added value as a rotational player.
Don't be shocked to see undrafted free agent Nate Askew grab the final linebacker spot on the roster. His raw athleticism could be a perfect fit for the Tampa 2 if he's able to develop and reach his full potential.
This would put the likes of Ka'Lial Glaud, Danny Lansanah and Damaso Munoz on the chopping block by the time Week 1 rolls around.
The defensive backfield was another unit that underachieved in 2013, and there will be a few fresh faces in pewter and red this season to help this group reach its full potential.
Free agent Alterraun Verner replaces the departed Darrelle Revis as the team's top corner, after making his first Pro Bowl last season. Verner is just 25 years old, signed for a fraction of what the Bucs would have paid Revis and is a better fit for the Tampa 2 scheme.
One of the more intense camp battles should happen at the other corner spot, where Johnthan Banks will look to fight off veteran addition Mike Jenkins to keep his starting role. No matter who wins the spot, the Bucs should have three very capable corners in a division that boasts the likes of Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Cam Newton.
Leonard Johnson has gathered plenty of valuable experience over his first two years in the league, which will help the Bucs with depth in the secondary. Another new face, D.J. Moore, has looked strong at the nickel corner spot, so look for him to get plenty of snaps in passing situations.
The short straws at corner will likely end up going to Danny Gorrer, Deveron Carr, Rashaan Melvin and Keith Lewis. Lewis is a long shot, while the other three could conceivably battle it out for a roster spot if the Bucs decide to keep six corners.
At safety, both Dashon Goldson and Mark Barron return as starters, but they must improve their play in their first year under Lovie Smith and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier. Barron quietly improved in 2013 but still hasn't quite lived up to the expectations that come with being a top-10 overall pick. Goldson, meanwhile, hired a tackling coach this offseason to help him afford another fine-riddled season.
The depth at safety looks fairly strong for the Bucs. Major Wright signed as a free agent after years of starting in Chicago, while Keith Tandy returns after logging plenty of quality snaps in relief of an injured Goldson last season.
Bradley McDougald, Kelcie McCray and undrafted free agent Mycal Swaim are doubtful to make the final 53-man roster.
Arguably the most underrated addition to the Bucs' 2014 active roster is a player who has been with the team since 2009 but was forced to watch the entire 2013 from the sidelines.
After missing all of last season with a ruptured Achilles tendon, Connor Barth returns to assume the kicking duties. The most accurate kicker in team history, Barth will bring stability back to a position that saw plenty of inconsistency from Rian Lindell last season.
Michael Koenen returns as the Bucs punter after averaging 44.2 yards per punt in 2013, landing 19 kicks inside the opponent's 20-yard line.
Bucs fans will a new face at long snapper for the first time in nearly a decade, as Andrew Economos was not retained in free agency. The battle for snapping duties will fall to veteran Jeremy Cain and second-year man Andrew DePaola. Cain, whose first two NFL seasons were spent under Lovie Smith in Chicago, should get the edge.