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Saturday, Sep 20, 2014
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bucs Beat: Favorites emerge in position battles

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— The Buccaneers are a little more than a week into training camp, and so far, coach Lovie Smith is winning the battle he agreed to wage against Mother Nature.

The Bucs have lost parts of only one workout — their first, which was not in pads — to severe weather threats.

The most important camp battles, though, are those being waged at a variety of positions, where several players are vying for the right to become the team’s new starter.

With that in mind, here’s an update on the key position battles being fought and who might be emerging as the likely winner.

Left guard

Jamon Meredith was surprised when he was initially awarded the first-team reps, but it wasn’t because he was surprised to hear that projected starter Carl Nicks decided to retire. Meredith spent most of the offseason working at right guard, and even then he was usually behind second-year pro Patrick Omameh.

Meredith is the team’s most-seasoned vet, and a return to right guard might still be in the plans because the left guard job seems to be rookie Kadeem Edwards’ to lose. Edwards has done nothing but wow the Bucs since arriving as a fifth-round pick out of Tennessee State, and if he can develop some consistency, he’ll start.

Right guard

Veteran journeyman Oneil Cousins took the first-team reps when training camp started, but he didn’t keep his spot atop the depth chart for long. By Day 3, the Bucs had Omameh back working with the first team, just as he did through most of the offseason program, but it’s too soon to say Omameh has taken the lead.

A lot of what happens will be contingent on what happens with Edwards at left guard. If Edwards wins that job, the Bucs might want to make use of Meredith’s or Cousins’ experience here.

Wide receiver

Chris Owusu went into camp as the man to beat for the third receiver job. He hasn’t lost that title, but some of his competitors are proving themselves worthy of a longer look.

The most notable has been Tommy Streeter, who has a rare blend of size (6-5, 219) and speed (4.38 in the 40) and has been the star of camp. Rookie Robert Herron has opened some eyes too, mostly with his speed.

Herron is almost as fast as Jeff Demps, but he had an inconsistent first week in which he spent a lot of time struggling to secure the ball. Veteran contenders Louis Murphy and Lavelle Hawkins have flashed here and there, but neither has stood out.

Cornerback

When camp started, the biggest battle seemed to be the one for the nickel spot. That might be changing. Before he strained a leg muscle late last week, veteran Mike Jenkins was getting a lot of work with the first team, and there’s a chance he could push 2013 second-round draft pick Johnthan Banks out of a starting role.

As for the nickel spot, Leonard Johnson has been getting most of the work there, and rightfully so. He is playing a more-physical style than he did his first two years and seems a lot more comfortable in coverage. The Bucs even have him blitzing on occasion and he seems to have the speed and timing necessary to make an impact in that role.

Nose tackle

Bucs general manager Jason Licht said before the start of camp that Akeem Spence, the starter last season, proved through the offseason workouts to be one of the team’s most improved players. The improvement has continued through the early part of camp.

Spence is giving veteran Clinton McDondald a legitimate run for the starter’s job. Both players have been very impressive, so much so that the Bucs have run a few alignments where both are in the game at the same time. This battle is too close to call, and from the looks of things, it could remain that way through the preseason. If that proves to be the case, the Bucs will have reason to feel very good about their defensive line depth.

 

rcummings@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7979

Twitter: @RCummingsTBO

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