Setting Realistic Training Camp Expectations for Each Buccaneer Rookie
Training camp is now only weeks away. Let the speculation on this year's rookie class begin.
The Buccaneers overhauled a large portion of the roster following Lovie Smith's hiring. Most of the additions were made on offense, particularly during the draft.
Higher-round picks like Mike Evans and Austin Seferian-Jenkins will be expected to make immediate contributions. However, there are no guarantees in the NFL that anyone will fulfill their potential or stay healthy long enough for it to matter.
Expected competition and practice reps will be the key factors in determining each Bucs rookie's outlook for training camp. More competition means fewer practice reps and less time making an impression on coaches.
After finishing 4-12 last season, the Bucs need their rookies to be fast risers, especially if they intend on competing in what is shaping up to be an unforgiving NFC South.
Here are some expectations for the Bucs rookie class heading into this year's training camp.
Any player drafted in the first 10 picks is expected to be in a starting position opening day. Wide receiver Mike Evans' only problem fulfilling this obligation will be his own body.
Evans has the potential to make the Bucs offense an nightmare for matchups. Alongside WR Vincent Jackson, Evans brings a rare combination of size and speed that's been in high demand recently by offenses around the league.
The only hurdle in Evans' path to the starting lineup is his own health and conditioning. After tweaking his hamstring during offseason workouts, Evans missed crucial practice reps with the first team.
Evans told the Tampa Bay Times' Greg Auman this week he's back to "100 percent." However, Evans also admitted he is "not in tip-top shape," and needed to get back into "game shape."
While Evans' recovery should be a relief, his admission of his poor conditioning could be a serious problem heading into camp.
Summer in Tampa is not forgiving, and Evans will need be in the best shape of his life to get through camp. Rookie injuries are common given the grind of a 16-game season.
Should he remain healthy, Evans should prove himself the stand-out receiver he was drafted to be.
Second-round pick Austin Seferian-Jenkins is another big player with big expectations going into camp. His success during camp is contingent on his ability to catch up from behind.
Seferian-Jenkins joins a group of veterans, including Tim Wright and Brandon Myers, that has eyes for the starting job. Wright finished last year as the Bucs' starting tight end and put up the numbers to earn it.
In March, Myers signed a two-year, $4 million contract with the Bucs, a contract with numbers suggesting the Bucs intended Myers to play a sizeable role on offense.
Seferian-Jenkins is a more complete tight end than either Wright or Myers. He is plainly a talented pass-catcher but also can actually block, unlike Wright or Myers.
However, he is decidedly behind the curve learning the new offense after missing most of the offseason program finishing his academics at the University of Washington. He will enter training camp less prepared to compete for a starting spot than his more experienced teammates.
Though Seferian-Jenkins will likely own the starting position eventually, don't expect him to establish himself as the top tight end during training camp.
Running back Charles Sims is primed to make an impact, even if it isn't from the starting lineup.
While Sims is unlikely to beat out a tough, explosive Martin for a starting job, he will no doubt eat into Martin's carries. He brings too much to the pass game to leave him on the bench for very long.
The guard position is the least settled on the Bucs' roster and therefore the most difficult to predict. That also means rookie guard Kadeem Edwards could play a vital role on the offensive line this season.
The former Tennessee State guard faces competition from veterans like Jamon Meredith and Oniel Cousins as well as fellow rookie Andrew Miller. While Edwards' draft position makes him valuable to the front office, they brought in several guards to compete for positions.
Edwards was quick to demonstrate his quickness and aptitude during offseason workouts, impressing vets like Gerald McCoy and Josh McCown and earning valuable first-team reps.
The health of Carl Nicks will play a large role in Edwards' fate on the roster. If Nicks cannot start the season healthy, Edwards' chances of starting increase substantially.
Expectations for tackle Kevin Pamphile this year should be tempered by the fact the Bucs have two quality tackles already on the roster.
The Bucs signed former Cincinnati Bengals tackle Anthony Collins this offseason just as they cut longtime left tackle Donald Penn. Fifth-year pro Demar Dotson had already worked his way up the ranks to become a top-notch right tackle.
There will be no rush to put Pamphile in the starting lineup anytime soon. Like both Collins and Dotson, Pamphile is a project who will take a few years of seasoning to realize any untapped potential. Look for Pamphile to learn the ropes on the second-team offense during this year's training camp.
The Bucs offense is in no short supply of size between receivers Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans and tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins. What the Bucs need to focus on developing is their speed element, which could make WR Robert Herron a big player on offense.
Rookie wide receivers often experience a steep learning curve when they enter the league. Herron certainly has talent, but he will be competing for second-team reps with Louis Murphy and Solomon Patton.
Murphy poses the greatest challenge to Herron, mostly due to his experience. That could also work in Herron's favor as he has far more upside, and the Bucs are more invested in him than a free agent like Murphy.
Undrafted free agent Nate Askew joins a talented group of linebackers that's virtually set at the starting positions but is in dire need of depth.
Linebackers Lavonte David, Mason Foster and Jonathan Casillas aren't likely to be knocked out of the starting lineup, but one injury could throw the entire unit into chaos.
Askew has relatively little experience at linebacker. He converted from wide receiver his senior year at Texas A&M, putting his receiver speed and athleticism to use on defense.
His lack of experience precludes much progress up the depth chart at linebacker, but his athleticism could make him a special teams standout. His value as linebacker depth may be quickly overshadowed by his contributions covering punts and kickoffs.
Defensive tackle was not a huge position of need for the Bucs entering the draft. That likely led to picking up former Georgia Tech DT Euclid Cummings as an undrafted free agent
Training camp this year will be all development for Cummings, but his maturation could be rapid. Gerald McCoy wasted little time helping the rookie learn some of the pass-rush moves that made him one of the best defensive tackles in the NFL.
Nonetheless, Cummings should not be expected to make many waves. While he could make the final roster absent any unexpected competition, Cummings lacks pass-rush moves to make any real impact as a 3-technique.
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