It happens every training camp. Someone who isn't expected to make much of an impact either steals a starter's job or earns regular playing time. A year ago it was rookie wide receiver Sammie Stroughter, a seventh-round draft pick who emerged during camp as a regular for the Bucs. To a degree, quarterback Josh Johnson was the same. Who will be a surprise this year? Players report Friday and practice begins Saturday, so it's time for such debate to begin. Here's a look at five under-the-radar players who could surprise everyone.
1. DL Tim Crowder
The starters on the Bucs defensive front are pretty much set. Working left to right, Kyle Moore, Gerald McCoy, Roy Miller and Stylez G. White are expected to get the bulk of the snaps. Crowder is good enough, however, to push either of the two ends for playing time. He proved that a year ago when he produced 43 tackles, 3.5 sacks and two pass breakups in a limited role. A former second-round pick of the Denver Broncos, Crowder just turned 25, so he may only now be entering his prime. Crowder isn't real explosive off the line, so he has to work hard to get his sacks. Hard work, though, is something Crowder has never shied away from.
2. FB Chris Pressley
The Bucs have Earnest Graham at the top of their fullback depth chart, and with good reason. He's a strong blocker and an excellent pass catcher, which coordinator Greg Olson wants in his West Coast scheme. You get the feeling, though, that the Bucs would gladly return Graham to running back if they had an equal or better option at fullback. That's where Pressley comes in. Entering his second season, the 5-foot-11, 260-pound Pressley has the bulk, power and drive to be a devastating lead blocker. Where he falls short is as a pass-catcher, a category in which he's considered adequate, although he'll get a chance to prove he's improved because he'll likely get the bulk of the preseason playing time.
3. LT Xavier Fulton
There's no telling when, or if, Donald Penn will show up and reclaim his starting left tackle spot. Even if Penn arrives early, the Bucs will still stage a battle to determine Penn's backup. Fulton, a fifth-round pick a year ago, has shown the ability to adjust to schemes and pick up line concepts quickly. That's why the Bucs have contemplated using him as a guard. Fulton's best position, however, could be tackle. If Penn remains absent for an extended period, Fulton could emerge as the best option to protect franchise quarterback Josh Freeman's blind side. He'll probably be in competition with Demar Dotson.
4. CB E.J. Biggers
The starters at cornerback are set. It will be Ronde Barber on the right and Aqib Talib on the left. But what about the nickel corner? When Barber moves into the slot on three-receiver passing downs, someone has to replace him on the right edge. Many believe either incumbent Elbert Mack or rookie Myron Lewis will get the nod there, but Biggers has been in the Bucs system a year longer than Lewis and some believe he's more talented than Mack. Though they waited until the seventh round last year to draft him, the Bucs viewed Biggers as a potential heir-apparent to Barber. After a shoulder injury kept Biggers out all of last season, he will be in the mix.
5. WR Preston Parker
Flying under the radar is nothing new to Parker. The undrafted rookie has been doing that since he got kicked out of Florida State University and wound up playing his senior season at little-known North Alabama University. Take away the red flags that led to his dismissal from FSU - including multiple arrests - and you have a gritty pass catcher whom many scouts say possesses first- or second-round talent. With the top two receiver spots up for grabs in this camp, Parker has a chance to prove the Bucs made a wise gamble by signing him as a free agent.