Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 5 Players Facing Make or Break Training Camps
Coming off a 4-12 season, plenty of Tampa Bay Buccaneers have felt their seat grow a bit toasty this offseason.
Training camp is on the horizon, and the Bucs' new coaching staff will get their first true look at one of the most overhauled rosters in the entire league. But with the infusion of so much new blood comes the task of whittling away players who haven't been performing up to expectations.
Who needs a stellar performance in camp to lock up a spot on the final roster? Who will have to fight off serious competition to retain their starting spot? Who needs to stay healthy and be in peak physical shape to even have a chance at retaining their role on the team?
Let's take a look at who's on the bubble of receiving less playing time—if any at all—in 2014.
DE Da'Quan Bowers
Once projected to be the top overall pick in the 2011 NFL draft, Da'Quan Bowers looked to be a potential steal when the Bucs drafted him with the 51st selection.
But thanks in large part to a knee injury that was the cause for his free-fall down the draft board, Bowers has yet to regain the form that made him one of college football's most feared pass-rushers.
The Clemson product has started just eight games in three seasons for the Bucs, managing just 5.5 sacks for his career. Bowers has also struggled to stay in top physical shape, making it even more difficult for him to reach his full potential.
New head coach Lovie Smith has already made it clear it's time for Bowers to prove he can perform at a high level. If he doesn't shine in his fourth training camp, Bowers could be in danger of falling down the depth chart behind younger, more promising talent.
TE Luke Stocker
When he was drafted in the fourth round in 2011, Luke Stocker was supposed to be a pass-catching threat at tight end who could stretch the field and make big plays.
But though he started 20 games over his first two seasons with the Bucs, the former Tennessee Volunteer made just two starts in 2013 and failed to register a single reception.
Stocker has struggled to stay healthy, and when he has been on the field, his production has been minimal. In 32 career games in Tampa Bay, Stocker has just 28 receptions for 257 yards and a single touchdown catch.
With the emergence of Tim Wright last season, combined with the offseason additions of second-round pick Austin Seferian-Jenkins and free agent Brandon Myers, Stocker will need a stellar training camp to prove he's worth keeping on the roster.
RB Jeff Demps
When they acquired Jeff Demps from the Patriots prior to the 2013 season, the Bucs hoped to put the Olympian's world-class speed to good use on the field. But Demps didn't make much of an impact last year, carrying the ball one time for 14 yards before a groin injury landed him on injured reserve in October.
Many wondered if Demps would be able to successfully make the transition to the NFL game, but heading into offseason workouts this year, Demps made it clear he was ready to set aside his track aspirations to focus solely on football.
Demps made a solid impression on the new coaching staff during the team's first minicamp this offseason, lining up in the slot and utilizing his elite speed in open space.
The biggest danger to Demps' hopes of landing a roster spot is the Bucs' current depth at the running back position. Barring any moves, the Bucs will go into camp with Doug Martin, Charles Sims, Bobby Rainey and Mike James ahead of Demps.
Unless the former Florida Gator can make a big statement during training camp—perhaps as a return man—the odds of him making the final 53 are slim.
DE Adrian Clayborn
The 20th overall pick in the 2011 draft, Adrian Clayborn was one of many attempts the Bucs have made in an attempt to bolster a lackluster pass rush.
But three seasons into his NFL career, Clayborn has yet to become the feared presence off the edge Tampa Bay so desperately covets. The former Iowa Hawkeye missed all but three games of the 2012 season thanks to a torn ACL, but despite starting all 16 games in both 2011 and 2013, Clayborn has managed just 13 career sacks.
Head coach Lovie Smith had some strong words for Clayborn early in the offseason, using him as an example for how much the team's pass rush still needs to improve.
The team has also made it clear Clayborn is running out of time to make an emphatic statement, choosing not to pick up the fifth-year option on his contract. \With a young talent like William Gholston nipping at his heels, Clayborn will have to bring his best effort to training camp if he wants to retain the starting left defensive end spot and earn a second contract in Tampa.
G Carl Nicks
But though the Bucs hoped to pair Nicks with Davin Joseph to give the team one of the best guard tandems in the league, the former Pro Bowler has struggled to stay healthy, making just nine starts over his two seasons with the team.
Nicks is still dealing with the same toe injury that landed him on injured reserve back in 2012, and it's an ailment that will likely nag Nicks for the remainder of his life. Nicks was also one of multiple Tampa Bay players to contract MRSA last season.
The Bucs are still on the hook for plenty of money when it comes to Nicks, and he's confident he'll be able to return for training camp. But if this injury continues to keep him on the sideline throughout camp and it drags on into the season yet again, the Bucs might be forced to cut their losses and move on.
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