TAMPA - Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Greg Schiano brought with him from Rutgers a buzzword that is now the topic of almost every meaningful football conversation being held at One Buc Place.
The word is competition.
Next to winning, it might be the aspect of football Schiano likes most.
Schiano is all about competition - the more the better, he says - and has created a situation going into his second season as Tampa Bay's head coach that is very much to his liking, one in which there is competition at almost every position group.
When training camp opens on Thursday - veteran players report on Wednesday - there will competitions to monitor at quarterback, running back and wide receiver. There will be competition along the offensive and defensive lines, in the secondary and on special teams.
The 2013 preseason is shaping up to be one of the most competitive in recent years. With that in mind, we look at 10 position battles that will garner plenty of attention in the coming weeks.
Josh Freeman is the starter here and the only thing that will change that is an injury. What the Bucs must decide, then, is who would replace Freeman should he get hurt. Tampa Bay is high on rookie Mike Glennon, its 2013 third-round draft pick, but Glennon has to prove he's a better option than veteran Dan Orlovsky, who is a favorite among Bucs coaches. only one can be active on game day during the regular season. Glennon will get the bulk of the reps during preseason games, so has an excellent opportunity to prove he's ready to step in if necessary.
Much like quarterback, this is a position where the starter - Doug Martin - is established and a backup must be determined. With LeGarrette Blount gone in a trade to New England, the candidates are Brian Leonard, Michael Smith and Mike James. Leonard is a veteran with position versatility and good hands in the passing game. Smith's speed makes him an intriguing option. The Bucs, though, are high on James, a versatile sixth-round pick out of the University of Miami. They already have compared James to Earnest Graham, a productive player at several positions for several seasons. So, it could be James' job to lose.
The Bucs are set with Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams as their top two options, but must decide from an array of candidates who is best suited to work the slot. Kevin Ogletree, who came to the Bucs from Dallas during free agency, was impressive during the offseason workout program, but will get a push from Tiquan Underwood, David Douglas and Derek Hagan. The latter is an intriguing candidate. Hagan has bounced around the last few years, but at 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds has good size, speed and lots of experience.
The Bucs drafted Luke Stocker four years ago hoping he would develop as both a pass catcher and blocker enough to become their top tight end. That still hasn't happened. As a result, Tampa Bay signed four-year veteran Tom Crabtree during free agency. The Packers talked up Crabtree's skill set when he was with Green Bay, but Crabtree never got much of a chance to show off those skills playing behind Jermichael Finley. Now, he gets the chance.
The Bucs have a solid starter with plenty of upside in incumbent Demar Dotson. But Dotson is not as strong or as aggressive a run-blocker as the Bucs would like. That's why Gabe Carimi, a former first-round pick of the Bears whom the Bucs picked up in a trade in June, will get a chance to unseat Dotson. Dotson is a very good pass protector and can play left tackle, if necessary. So, he'd serve the team well as a swing tackle.
The potential career-ending neck/shoulder injury Quincy Black sustained in November created an opening in the starting lineup, but the Bucs don't quite know what their best option is for a replacement. Like Raheem Morris before him, Schiano is enamored with the array of possibilities Dekoda Watson presents, but five-year veteran Jonathan Casillas has more experience. Second-year pro Najee Goode could get a look here, too, and special teams standout Adam Hayward is always a candidate for more playing time.
The Bucs let former starter Roy Miller go in free agency because they thought they could find another player just like him in the draft. In Akeem Spence, they just might have him. Spence is a thickly-built, power-lifter type who flashed while at the University of Illinois. If he can flash during training camp, he'll earn the right to work this two-down position. If he fails, the Bucs will turn to one of two veterans, Gary Gibson or Derek Landri. So, Spence has plenty of competition to keep him from sliding.
The Bucs aren't just going to hand this job to Johnthan Banks, their 2013 second-round draft pick. He's going to have to earn it. That got a little easier when the Bucs traded Eric Wright to the 49ers on Friday, but Banks still has to prove he's a better option than several other candidates, including Leonard Johnson and Danny Gorrer. Both earned the respect of the Bucs coaches with their play a year ago, but even they will have to fight off challenges from the likes of veteran Michael Adams and promising rookies Rashaan Melvin and Deveron Carr.
The Bucs had some of the most pedestrian return units in the league last year, ranking 19th overall in punt return average and 30th in kick return average. Those hidden yardage numbers are something the Bucs will look to improve upon greatly. So, they're hoping someone from a group that includes Michael Smith, Matt Brown, Eric Page and Tiquan Underwood will give them a spark. And don't count Jeff Demps out of this equation. The Bucs expect the Olympic sprinter and former Florida Gator in camp at some point when his track season ends, and he could easily run away with a job.