Tampa Bay Buccaneers Training Camp: Week 2 Stock Report
It's still early, but the hype trains are starting to gain momentum in both directions as rookies and veterans alike try to take an early lead in the race for a spot on the final roster.
One aspect playing a huge part for the Bucs so far this year is injuries, as multiple players are missing out on valuable practice time while they try to get healthy.
Which players have their arrows pointing up or down so far in Bucs training camp?
Up: WR Robert Herron
After being drafted in the sixth round of the 2014 draft, Robert Herron was a bit of a disappointment in his rookie season, struggling to catch passes consistently and failing to take full advantage of a weak Bucs depth chart at receiver.
But so far this year, Herron has made a strong impression and could challenge for a roster spot and plenty of snaps in the slot.
Head coach Lovie Smith says Herron is showing the kind of improvement you hope to see in a player's second year in the league, per Greg Auman of the Tampa Bay Times:
Robert has excellent speed and quickness. You noticed that right away. He's had nagging injuries, but he's out there making plays. Yesterday, he had a couple of great plays. He's a good slot player -- it's a tough combination when you're not quick and fast (on defense).
In the past, maybe you'd like for him to hold onto a few more balls, but that's what he's doing. Again, second year anywhere, in the system, whatever, you should see marked improvement, and we're seeing that with Robert.
Herron appeared in eight games for the Bucs last season, catching just six passes for 58 yards and a touchdown. He'll face a tougher road to a roster spot this year thanks to improved depth at receiver, but he's making a strong case to stick in his second season.
Down: S Chris Conte
The biggest knock on safety Chris Conte so far in his NFL career has been his inability to avoid injury, and that reputation is already rearing its head as he starts his tenure with the Bucs.
After struggling with concussions over the past two seasons, Conte injured his hamstring on the first day of training camp, and the injury has cost him plenty of valuable action already.
Conte's greatest asset is his familiarity with the Tampa 2 defense, having played for current Bucs head coach Lovie Smith when both were with the Chicago Bears. But if the veteran can't stay healthy, his knowledge of the scheme isn't going to do him much good.
Up: OL Garrett Gilkey
Tampa Bay's offensive line struggled mightily in 2014, and nobody in that group had a rougher season than Garrett Gilkey.
Despite multiple opportunities to seize a starting role on one of the league's worst units, Gilkey's season was marred by mental errors and poor play, including costly penalties and fumbled snaps.
But the versatile lineman vowed to make amends for last season in an interview with Pewter Report's Mark Cook, and the results are already showing in training camp; he's currently listed as the team's starting right guard, as reported by the Tampa Bay Times.
Even though Gilkey's likely just a placeholder in the starting lineup until second-round pick Ali Marpet is ready to handle the job, it's never bad to have depth on the offensive line. Bucs fans will be hoping Gilkey continues to improve, putting last year's debacle of a season behind him and providing the team with a versatile backup who can play all across the line.
Down: DT Akeem Spence
Defensive tackle is easily the deepest position on the Bucs roster, but the injury bug has forced one of Tampa Bay's interior defenders to miss training camp so far, and he may not return anytime soon.
Akeem Spence has performed fairly well for the Bucs since being drafted in the fourth round in 2013, but a back injury has held him out of camp, and he required surgery early last month.
Per Greg Auman of the Tampa Bay Times, Spence is still planning to be sidelined for quite a while:
Spence said he was lifting weights and it "caused something in my back to slip," requiring surgery on July 2. His timetable for recovery would make him a candidate for the NFL's physically unable to perform list, which would keep him from taking up a spot on the 53-man roster but wouldn't allow him to play until after the first six games of the season.
Spence's absence caused the Bucs to bring back Da'Quan Bowers, who had yet to find any suitors on the free-agent market after his rookie contract with the Bucs expired. The team also signed former Seattle Seahawks defensive tackle Tony McDaniel to a one-year deal made official on Tuesday, giving the Bucs some insurance while Spence is out.
Bowers may not make the team, but Spence should be worried McDaniel could end up displacing him on the roster even after he returns to full health.
Up: 2015 Rookie Class
The Bucs need some big things from this year's crop of rookies, and so far, they're delivering some promising results.
According to Pat Yasinskas of ESPN.com, Jameis Winston is already showing improvement after a rough first few days in full pads, while Donovan Smith and Ali Marpet are both already getting reps with the first-team offensive line and could end up locking up their respective starting spots prior to Week 1 of the regular season.
Even the Bucs' mid-round picks have been impressive throughout camp. A. Richard Brown of the Ledger reported Kenny Bell has caught nearly everything in sight and should be the current favorite to land the third receiver spot, while Scott Smith of Buccaneers.com noted that Kwon Alexander has flashed fantastic athleticism and shown the versatility to play either inside or outside linebacker.
Sixth-round pick Kaelin Clay is currently listed atop the depth chart to return both punts and kickoffs, while Joey Iosefa is currently listed just behind veteran Jorvorskie Lane for the team's starting fullback job.
Even some undrafted free agents are making a name for themselves during training camp, led by a solid group of young receivers that includes Rannell Hall and Donteea Dye, per Smith.
Winston gets most of the attention in this draft class—and understandably so—but this looks like it could be an incredibly deep class across the board for the Bucs, which is vital for a team that has struggled so badly to maintain quality depth over the past few seasons.
Down: WR Louis Murphy
The Bucs signed Louis Murphy to a three-year contract extension this offseason, hoping to keep the veteran as solid depth behind starters Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson.
The former Florida Gator appeared in 11 games for the Bucs in 2014, hauling in 31 passes for 380 yards and a pair of touchdowns, and he was expected to be the team's third receiver heading into the 2015 season. Murphy was activated from the injured list on Tuesday, but he's got plenty of catching up to do if he wants to fight off Bell.