Buccaneeers Training Camp: 5 Developments That Will Impact Preseason Lineup
Training camp has been fierce with heavy competition from most positions with no player easing off from earning the job.
Which players do you expect to start come September 11th?
Here are five developments to keep a close eye on during training camp that may determine the Buccaneers depth chart.
Mason Foster Versus Tyrone McKenzie
This battle seems to be the most popular among Tampa Bay fans, and for good reason.
Longtime starting middle linebacker Barrett Ruud was not re-signed, and the Buccaneer organization drafted Mason Foster in the third round of the 2011 NFL Draft.
Along with Foster, Tyrone McKenzie, a former third round draft pick by the New England Patriots back in 2009, is also making his case to start at middle linebacker.
Buccaneer head coach Raheem Morris has spoken highly of both players, but tends to reference McKenzie a bit more, calling him his "thumper," and praising his offseason work with quarterback Josh Freeman.
The issue with this competition is neither player has any experience in a system as complex as Morris' ever-evolving Tampa-2 scheme.
With the inexperience at middle linebacker, the rest of the defense will be significantly impacted unless either Foster or McKenzie quickly stand out before the Bucs' first preseason game.
Don't sleep on: Dakota Watson. The second-year player out of Florida State is one of Morris' favorites because of his versatility to play all three linebacker spots.
James Lee Versus Jeremy Trueblood
Starting right tackle Jeremy Trueblood was demoted this past December in favor of James Lee, as most felt Lee was a better fit for what the Buccaneers were trying to accomplish offensively.
Fast forward eight months: Trueblood re-signs with the team and is penciled in as the starter.
Bucs fans were surprised at the re-signing considering Trueblood hasn't lived up to his billing, and, as previously mentioned, Lee was playing at a higher level.
Competition makes everyone better and having two veterans duke it out for the starting right tackle spot will benefit both.
The concern here is once a starter is named, will they be looking over their shoulder? Although competition makes a player stronger, fear of losing the spot may cause apprehension and mistakes.
Neither player is protecting Freeman's blind side, but the right tackle spot is still extremely important, and the sooner offensive coordinator Greg Olson names a starter, the quicker the line can gel.
Don't sleep on: Cory Brandon. The chances Brandon starts this season are slim, but the rookie out of Oklahoma is impressing coaches.
Elbert Mack Versus EJ Biggers
The nickel cornerback is an essential part of the Buccaneers defense.
Cornerback Ronde Barber is a master of his craft. Stick him in that nickel slot and his skills shine as both a cover corner and a blitzer off the edges.
Problem is, with Aqib Talib holding one corner spot down and Barber being used as the versatile nickel, someone has to be the other outside corner.
When Talib injured his hip towards the end of the 2010-2011 season, Elbert Mack and EJ Biggers both filled in magnificently.
Now, Mack and Biggers are playing for the right to eventually succeed Barber, or potentially play that vaunted nickel position in the Tampa-2 defense.
The two also want to start opposite Talib, and both are surprising coach Morris during training camp.
With the experience they gained a season ago, Mack and Biggers have reinforced an already excellent Buccaneer secondary.
Don't sleep on: Myron Lewis. The Buccaneers third-round pick in the 2010 NFL Draft was taken for a reason, and the staff want to see more of Lewis on the field.
Arrelious Benn Versus Dezmon Briscoe
Wide receiver Mike Williams became Freeman's favorite target by Game 1 of the 2010 season but didn't have a consistent No. 2 target, opting to distribute the ball out evenly instead.
Arrelious Benn was supposed to be that second target, but injured his knee late last season.
Dezmon Briscoe came on strong in Benn's absence.
The two are competing to play the other wide receiver spot with Briscoe far in front of Benn; only because the coaching staff is too afraid to put Benn in jeopardy of re-injuring his surgically repaired knee.
Benn will be okay and certainly will have every shot of earning the receiver position opposite of Williams, but the coaching staff is overly impressed with the dynamic catches Briscoe turns in on a daily basis during training camp.
It's still unclear whether the coaching staff will play Benn at all during this preseason, but you can bet the second-year pro will try and convince coach Morris to give him reps.
Don't sleep on: Sammy Stroughter. Stroughter seemed to be the go-to receiver on third down situations a season ago and the speedy slot receiver is consistent.
Da'Quan Bowers Versus Tim Crowder
The left defensive end position may be the most exciting battle in Buccaneers training camp.
Rookie Da'Quan Bowers has a massive chip on his shoulder after falling into the second round when experts predicted the former Clemson Tiger would be a top five pick.
While Bowers is trying to earn the starting spot, Tim Crowder is trying to maintain his position after starting on the left side for the Bucs last season.
Crowder was just re-signed and offers Tampa Bay either veteran depth or a solid, starting defensive end.
The two will have an equal chance during the preseason to earn the starting role, and coach Morris loves that kind of competition.
The Buccaneers rotate their defensive line, so whoever starts will still receive plenty of playing time and allow the other to stay fresh.
Don't sleep on: Kyle Moore. Moore is an excellent run-stuffing defensive end that needs help with a pass-rushing move. He'll most likely back up 2011 first round draft pick Adrian Clayborn.