As the Tampa Bay Buccaneers welcome rookies—both drafted and undrafted—to training camp later this week, it's worth remembering that they all took different paths leading up to this point in their young lives. But for the next five or so weeks, they'll be on the same exact mission: showcasing their abilities to perform at the professional level.
Johnthan Banks is an award-winning defensive back from arguably the greatest conference in college football. Mike Glennon is short on accomplishments, but long on potential.
The same could be said for defensive linemen Akeem Spence and William Gholston as well, both of whom were drafted in the fourth round due in large part to their limited production. Pass-rushing specialist Steven Means, taken in the fifth round, was overlooked out of Buffalo, while sixth-round pick Mike James, a running back, was underutilized at Miami.
So, what do the Bucs have to work with?
The expectations were sky high for Banks, a second-round choice, the moment his name was announced at Radio City Music Hall. After all, he's being counted on to help fix the NFL's worst pass defense, a unit that allowed nearly 300 yards per game through the air in 2012.
Add to the mix the recent release of cornerback Eric Wright, per Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com, and the Bucs will be counting on Banks even more than they likely already were.
And while it's nice that Banks won the Thorpe Award last year, given to the nation's top collegiate defensive back, like many people, I just want to know if he can cover Julio Jones.
Glennon, drafted in the third round, was brought on as both an insurance policy and to serve as motivation of sorts to Josh Freeman, the talented yet equally erratic quarterback entering the final year of his rookie contract.
Glennon's presence, in theory, is meant to remind Freeman that this is a results driven business. As if Freeman wasn't already aware of that fact, but I digress.
Meanwhile, the Bucs are hopeful that, collectively, Spence, Gholston and Means are somehow able to resurrect a pass rush that ranked 30th in the NFL with 27 sacks a year ago.
And given the injury concerns of defensive ends Adrian Clayborn and Da'Quan Bowers, Gholston and Means could see significant snaps during camp and the preseason. Whether we see them bringing down quarterbacks is the bigger question mark.
James, the bruising, between-the-tackles halfback from The U, could easily power his way into the running back rotation, especially with the departure of LeGarrette Blount and the ongoing short yardage issues that has plagued the Bucs of late.
That said, does he perform well enough to supplant free-agent signee Brian Leonard as the backup to Doug Martin?
Leonard was brought in because of his familiarity with head coach Greg Schiano, as well as his reliability as a pass-catching back, something the aforementioned Blount struggled with. As such, James will have to showcase his versatility to have a chance of making the final roster.
And there are even a handful of undrafted rookies, such as CB Deveron Carr, among others, that could prove their worth over the next month or so and earn a spot on the 53-man roster before the season begins in September.
Mind you, this is not a process unique to the Bucs, as teams around the league will be assessing their rookie classes over the coming weeks in an attempt to find the best 53 men for their franchises.
As for the Bucs, they'll need to find out how well Banks can cover and how effective James is in goal line situations. They'll want to know if the addition of Glennon subtracts the number of mental mistakes by Freeman.
Oh, and they'll discover whether or not their defensive line trio can find a path to the quarterback.
Look, the Bucs are fortunate to not be in a position where they have to start their rookies, but at least they'll know in a few weeks whether or not they have any capable of doing so.
Training camp is finally here and not a minute too soon.
Doesn't it feel great?
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