Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 5 Players Flying Under the Radar Who Will Make the Team
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers had one of the youngest teams in the NFL last season, and their roster is full of relatively unknown players. As training camp approaches this summer, some of these guys will be in line for spots on the final roster.
The team will have fierce competition at several positions, including linebacker, defensive tackle and wide receiver. But if the Bucs are to transform their 7-9 2012 season into a playoff berth this year, it may hinge on some players with whom many fans aren't familiar just yet.
Here, we will take a look at five guys who will shine in camp and preseason to earn a spot on the 53-man roster.
Eric Page, Wide Receiver
Eric Page played his college ball at Toledo but went undrafted in 2012. The Denver Broncos signed him following the draft, and the team had high hopes for him before he tore his ACL early in training camp.
After sitting out the entire year, Page was signed by the Bucs in April. If he can show he has fully recovered from the injury, he presents a unique fit in Tampa.
Page is a small receiver at 5'10" and 180 pounds, but he is very effective as a slot receiver. In three seasons at Toledo, he caught 306 passes, just 43 less than Ryan Broyles' all-time career record.
With defenses focusing on keeping Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams in check, a player like Page could spring off a huge gain on a crossing pattern over the middle of the field. He would be another weapon that defenses would have to account for and may be even more effective than Kevin Ogletree or Tiquan Underwood.
But aside from that, Page can contribute as a kick and punt returner. At Toledo, Page returned a total of five kicks or punts for touchdowns, and it is an area he excels in. As a team, the Bucs ranked No. 30 in the league on kick returns last season, averaging just 20.3 yards per return.
Page can help the team out and should get the opportunity to do just that.
Matthew Masifilo, Defensive Tackle
Matthew Masifilo was another undrafted rookie in 2012 after playing for Stanford in college. He has yet to appear in an NFL game, but the opportunity is there with the Bucs.
Gerald McCoy and rookie Akeem Spence figure to be the starting defensive tackles in 2013, but depth at the position will be key, and Masifilo will figure into that. Gary Gibson, Derek Landri and Andre Neblett will also be in the mix, but Masifilo has the tools to become a backup.
Masifilo is a strong, solid tackler who has displayed the ability to stop the run, even turning some plays into a loss of yardage with his explosive burst off the snap.
Masifilo is not the fastest player or a great pass-rusher, but he could be effective as a situational run defender.
Michael Smith, Running Back
After the year Doug Martin had as a rookie in 2012, the Bucs would probably be fine with giving him every single carry on a weekly basis. Still, the team will need to find a player to spell him off the bench.
Michael Smith fits the bill. He was a seventh-round draft choice last season out of Utah State but was never given a carry in the regular season. With LeGarrette Blount and D.J. Ware no longer with the team, he may have to fill that role in 2013.
Smith is a compact runner at 5'9" and 205 pounds, and he displays excellent upper-body strength while being exceptionally quick. Additionally, Smith is another player who can aid the Bucs as a kick returner.
Tim Wright, Tight End
Tim Wright is someone the Bucs could really develop into a very good player, though it won't happen overnight.
Wright was signed as an undrafted free agent in April after playing wide receiver in college for Rutgers. Since then, the Bucs have converted him to a tight end.
Wright will now be with the team led by his former college coach, Greg Schiano. If anyone knows what he is capable of, it would be Schiano.
Wright is a very athletic player who has the size (6'4", 220 pounds) and skills to become the type of tight end teams love, those who can run past linebackers and overpower defensive backs.
He could one day be a very tough matchup for opposing defenses, but he may be relegated to the practice squad this season.
Najee Goode, Linebacker
Najee Goode, the Bucs' fifth-round draft choice last season, could become a key contributor this coming year.
Mason Foster has been very good in his two seasons with the Bucs, and Goode can be an effective backup behind him. Goode is an effective tackler who is also able to provide coverage in the passing game by matching up against tight ends.
In college, he showed that he could play all three linebacker positions, making him a versatile option in Tampa. However, he is best suited for the inside.
The linebacker position will be an important one for the Bucs in 2013, and Goode should be able to contribute and make it a well-rounded spot on the team. Facing guys like Jimmy Graham, Tony Gonzalez and the scrambling Cam Newton twice per year, the Bucs will want all the help they can get at the position.