The arrival in January of Lovie Smith as the 10th head coach in Tampa Bay Buccaneers history led to significant roster changes for 2014.
All players — holdovers and plenty of new arrivals — are required to report to training camp Thursday, with the first practice scheduled for Friday.
To get you ready, we will examine key issues for Smith’s first training camp. Today, a look at five key position battles.
A few starting jobs and at least one key backup spot are yet to be determined. Smith plans to use training camp workouts and the four preseason games, where the pads are on and the intensity level is high, to decide the winners of those jobs.
Left and right guard
This remains the biggest area of uncertainty, mostly due to the uncertainty surrounding projected starting left guard Carl Nicks. Nicks spent the offseason recovering from foot problems that cost him the better part of two seasons, missing all offseason workouts as a result. If Nicks can finally make it back and play at a high level, he will start at left guard. If not, the Bucs will have to choose a starter from a group that includes rookie Kadeem Edwards, untested second-year pro Patrick Omameh and veterans Jamon Meredith and Oneil Cousins. None are ideal options, and the fact the Bucs must also choose a starting right guard from that bunch makes the situation even worse.
Veteran Vincent Jackson and rookie Mike Evans are expected to be the starters, but the Bucs still must decide on a third option. Ideally, the Bucs would like someone who can work out of the slot while Jackson and Evans work toward the sidelines. Chris Owusu got the majority of the first-team reps during offseason workouts, but is no lock to win the job. Veteran Louis Murphy established himself as a contender during mandatory June minicamp and the Bucs are intrigued by David Gettis, a four-year veteran who had a nice rookie campaign with Carolina before injuries derailed his career. Rookie Robert Herron and former University of Miami standout Tommy Streeter are capable of winning this job, as well.
Luke Stocker was the opening day starter last year, and he’s back for another season. His chances of starting this year, however, seem pretty slim. The Bucs completely rebuilt this position group, adding veteran Brandon Myers and rookie Austin Seferian-Jenkins to a unit that also includes holdover Tim Wright, the Bucs’ standout rookie of 2013. If it’s offensive production the Bucs want here, then the battle for the starter’s job will probably come down to Myers, Wright and Seferian-Jenkins, who has some ground to make up after missing all the offseason workouts because of rules that prohibit rookies from joining their new teams until school ends. The Bucs spent a second-round pick on him, though, and at 6-foot-5 he already stands out from the rest.
The only certainties are that Gerald McCoy will start at under tackle and Michael Johnson will start at right end. Who starts at nose tackle between Clinton McDonald and Akeem Spence, and who starts at left end has yet to be determined. The latter of those two spots is probably the most difficult to call. Adrian Clayborn has the inside edge at left end after being moved there from right end following the signing of Johnson, but could be supplanted by second-year pro William Gholston or veteran Da’Quan Bowers. Gholston and Bowers are also candidates to move inside on passing downs, supplanting McDonald or Spence. How the Bucs work their rotation will be interesting to watch.
Smith already has stated on several occasions that 2012 Pro Bowler Doug Martin will be his starter. Much like former Bucs coach Greg Schiano, he’s also referred to Martin as his “bell cow.’’ But Smith doesn’t plan to use Martin to the extent Schiano did. Martin will see fewer touches under Smith, so the Bucs must decide on a backup, but that doesn’t figure to be an easy task. Mike James and Bobby Rainey proved last year they can make an impact as runners, and rookie Charles Sims appears to be a pass catcher who can give them a different dimension than the others. Throw in Olympic sprinter Jeff Demps and this will be one of the most intriguing position battles of the preseason.