Here we are, just a few weeks from the regular-season opener, and still we don't know who will and who won't make the final 53-man rosters of NFL teams across the nation.
There are two preseason games left for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In them, both starters and backups alike will fight to retain their positions on the depth chart and even their jobs.
Here is one man's prediction of who will shine enough in these last two games to make the final 53-man roster, complete with an analysis of how each player fits in with the team.
Josh Freeman: Starting quarterback. Fourth-year player. Elite potential, but struggled mightily in 2011. Should improve with Mike Sullivan (Eli Manning's former QB coach) as his offensive coordinator.
Running Backs (5)
LeGarrette Blount: Doug Martin’s presence has pushed him to improve his skills in pass protection and receiving.
Doug Martin: First-round draft pick from Boise State. No true weaknesses as a running back. Excels at pass protection. Real tough runner for a short guy. Think Ray Rice or Maurice Jones-Drew.
Mossis Madu: Speedster without much game-day experience but has spent a few years being developed by coaching staff.
Michael Smith: Speedster out of Utah State. Potential weapon in return game.
Erik Lorig: Fullback who can block and receive. Good guy to have on any roster, especially one that plans on running the football repeatedly.
Wide Receivers (6)
Mike Williams: Desperately wants to improve from last year’s mediocre showing and will put the work in to do it. V-Jax has had a positive effect on him.
Tiquan Underwood: Former Patriot. Has shown up big in training camp and preseason games.
Preston Parker: Slot receiver. Was a standout last year, but has been quiet in preseason. Needs to improve if he wants to start at slot receiver. Efficient special teams punt/kick returner.
Jordan Shipley: Surprised? Well, after being waived by the Cincinnati Bengals, the Bucs swooped in and claimed the third-year wide receiver. Shipley was recovering from some torn ligaments in his left knee. In his short time as a Buc, Shipley has impressed. He could challenge Parker as a slot receiver and punt returner.
Arrelious Benn: Followed up a good rookie season in 2010 with a below-average showing in 2011. Like Williams, needs to return to form.
Tight Ends (3)
Dallas Clark: Receiving specialist who was Peyton Manning’s favorite for several years. Struggles with health.
Luke Stocker: Known more as a blocker, but seems to have improved route running and catching over year with Bucs.
Zach Pianalto: As much as I want to put rookies Danny Noble and Drake Dunsmore on this roster, Pianalto has simply outplayed them in training camp and the preseason.
Donald Penn: One of the top 10 left tackles in the league. Has improved his pass protection in the last few years and has maintained his excellent run-blocking. Recently returned to practice after a minor injury sustained during the offseason kept him away from training camp.
Jeremy Trueblood: Target of fans' ire. One of worst starting right tackles in league, and probably worse than a lot of backups. Has not yet been replaced, so it is probable that front office sees something in him that the rest of us don't.
Demar Dotson: Filled in for Penn while Penn was injured. Converted form RT, and could push Trueblood for starts at right tackle once regular season rolls around.
Jamon Meredith: 26-year-old who has played for six different NFL franchises. Will provide depth on the edges for the Bucs.
Carl Nicks: NFL’s best interior lineman. Need I say more?
Davin Joseph: Pro Bowl guard. Incredibly strong.
Mike Ingersoll: Former Patriot will give depth to offensive line.
Jeremy Zuttah: Versatile offensive lineman who was coached by Schiano at Rutgers.
Ted Larsen: Has a few years of NFL experience and weighs 305 pounds. What could be better?
Defensive Tackles (4)
Gerald McCoy: Has struggled with injuries in past, but still has elite potential as defensive tackle.
Roy Miller: Started preseason opposite McCoy and hasn’t fared too badly.
Gary Gibson: Seven-year veteran. Just the right kind of player to have deep in the rotation. Not too flashy, but not too shabby, either.
Amobi Okoye: Former Chicago Bear. Small for interior D-lineman at 6'2'', but beyond size and health, has no real concerns surrounding him.
Defensive Ends (4)
Adrian Clayborn: 2011 first-round pick. Has emerged as a fine pass-rusher.
Michael Bennett: Run-stopper who can always hold his own as a pass-rusher.
Da'Quan Bowers: Even though Bowers, who suffered a torn Achilles during the offseason, is likely to start the season on the PUP (physically unable to perform) list, I still see him as likely to make the 53-man roster. As much as the Bucs may want to put him on injured reserve if he's too injured to play in 2012, a player of his potential and talent will not make it past waivers to the IR.
George Johnson: Has two total tackles in his career, so the Bucs really need him to step up his game as a rotational player.
Mason Foster: Last season’s starter at middle backer. Had trouble with reading NFL offenses before the snap as a rookie, but the now-sophomore should be better.
Quincy Black: Veteran on strong side. A constant presence on a defense that was nothing if not inconsistent—it wavered between mediocre and purely terrible—last season.
Lavonte David: Second-round pick. Looks great in preseason. Only criticism before draft was related to height. East-west weak-side backer.
Dekoda Watson: Prospective situational pass-rush specialist. Watson's athleticism has not yet translated into on-field success, but 2012 is as good a year to buck this trend as any.
Najee Goode: Versatile linebacker out of West Virginia.
Adam Hayward: Filled in as starter at weak side after Geno Hayes was benched late last season.
Jacob Cutrera: Practice squad player in 2011. Should see some time on field in 2012.
Aqib Talib: Successful NFL cornerback who will be a lot better once he gets past all the off-the-field distractions.
Eric Wright: Pricey free-agent signee previously from Detroit. Has great potential, which has not yet been realized.
Myron Lewis: Training camp standout who struggled in preseason games.
Keith Tandy: Sixth-rounder who was Najee Goode's teammate and roommate at West Virginia. Versatile.
Anthony Gaitor: Undersized, weighing under 180 pounds. Once he gains some bulk, should see an upward spike in tackle numbers.
E.J. Biggers: A good coverage corner. Might miss regular-season opener.
Ronde Barber: Converted from cornerback, which he had played throughout his entire career.
Mark Barron: First-round draft pick and two-time BCS national champion with Alabama. Natural at strong safety.
Cody Grimm: Poor tackler, but third-best safety on Bucs’ roster.
Ahmad Black: Project player draft in 2011. Measures at same height as Barber (5'9'') and weighs six pounds more.
Larry Asante: Hard tackler who lacks the speed to send him up higher on the depth chart.
Special Teams (3)
Connor Barth: Above-average kicker.
Michael Koenen: Underrated, even for a punter. Landed a 40.3-yard net punt average in 2011, and 35.8% of punts pinned opponent within own 20-yard line. Has never missed a game in entire career.
Andrew Economos: Long snapper who flies under the radar, which is the only place a long snapper should be flying.
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