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Splitting Up the 90: Positional Numbers on the Camp Roster

Posted Jun 27, 2013

The Bucs are still making some tweaks to the roster they will take to training camp in a month, but the current shape of that 90-man crew provides some insight on the upcoming positional battles

NFL coaches and general managers are always trying to divvy up their roster spots just so.  Can you devote a locker to that promising undrafted cornerback, or do you need that space for a reserve linebacker who helps on special teams?  Who needs a ninth man more, the offensive line or the defensive line?  Can you afford to keep three quarterbacks among your 53 players, even if the third one isn't likely to see the field?  And when game day comes and that 53 has to be pared down further to 46 active men, which positions will have to sacrifice?


It's a little easier at the start of training camp, when rosters are expanded to 90 players.  At that point, every team is carrying a fairly high number of unproven players, waiting to see which ones emerge over the month that will follow and which ones may not be ready yet.  There is some method to the distribution of roster spots by position, as coaches keep in mind how many players they need at each corner of the depth chart in order to handle the high number of training camp practice reps.  There will always be a lot of linemen, for instance, and the receiving squad is usually at least twice as big as what it will be during the regular season.


The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are currently putting the finishing touches on the 90-man roster they will take to training camp in late July.  You may have caught some recent tweaks to that roster, such as the additions of Derek Hagan and Michael Adams.  In those cases, the receiver position kept the same numbers (the waiver paired with Hagan's signing was rookie wideout Jheranie Boyd) while the cornerback crew got a slight bump at the expense of the offensive line (rookie guard Jeremy Lewis).


There could be another move or two before the start of camp on July 25.  All players, coaches and football operations folks will be taking some vacation time between now and training camp, but the NFL waiver wire never shuts down.  The Bucs will surely keep an eye on that wire, and they may choose to massage the numbers at one position or another before camp starts.


Still, we have a pretty good working camp roster at this point, so it's instructive to look at how those 90 spots break down by position.  You'll find those numbers in the table below along with, for comparison's sake, the breakdown from the first day of training camp in 2012, Head Coach Greg Schiano's first season at the helm.  The last column in the table below shows how the 53 spots broke down by position when the Bucs opened the regular season a year ago, which helps demonstrate which spots will be most competitive in camp.























































Let's take a look at the specifics at each position.


At quarterback, the team is carrying one more than it did a year ago, and there has certainly been speculation that such will be the case when the regular season arrives this time around.  Last year, the Bucs worked with three passers in training camp – starter Josh Freeman, veteran backup Dan Orlovsky and journeyman Brett Ratliff.  That depth chart order was pretty obvious, and when the regular season came the Bucs did what many teams have chosen to do since the "inactive third quarterback" option was dissolved – they carried only two on the active roster and put the third QB on the practice squad.  Specifically, the Bucs released Ratliff and signed rookie Adam Weber to be that practice-squad passer.


The situation is markedly different this year with the drafting of North Carolina State's Mike Glennon in the third round in April.  Obviously, few expect the Buccaneers to expose their third-rounder to the waiver wire, but he may not immediately provided the comfort as the primary backup that the team gets from Orlovsky.  As such, it wouldn't be surprising to see the QBs take up three of the 53 spots this year.


At running back, the Bucs are currently one shy of where they were a year ago, and that's with the fairly late addition of Temple rookie Matt Brown.  Also that includes Jeff Demps, whose NFL career is still a question mark and who is most importantly a return-game option if he joins the team.  Thus, if any position is likely to get an addition or two in the next couple months, it would probably be this one.  On the other hand, it is already a well-rounded group, led by obvious lead back Doug Martin but also including the likes of Brian Leonard, who can fill multiple roles, and rookie draft pick Mike James, who might be a very useful third-down back.  There is speed and return ability, too, with Michael Smith and Matt Brown, and that positional number also includes the team's one primary fullback, Erik Lorig.


At wide receiver, the Bucs are right where they were a year ago, with 11 coming to camp and likely five or six of them sticking around after the September cuts.  Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams are the obvious starters but there are quite a few other jobs to be won/roles to be defined behind them.  The addition of Hagan gives the team three potential reserves who have significant NFL experience (Hagan, Kevin Ogletree and Tiquan Underwood), but the Bucs also want to see what they have in young holdovers Chris Owusu and David Douglas.  This is also a position at which Tampa Bay has had success finding depth from the undrafted ranks, from Owusu to Preston Parker and all the way back to Karl Williams.


The offensive line is one shy of where it was a year ago, depth-wise, after the release of Lewis.  There's a very obvious reason why a team would take 15 OL to training camp, as the Bucs did last year: That represents three full five-man crews.  A rotation of three lines makes it easy to divvy up reps…at least until the inevitable minor injuries of training camp cause some shuffling and some double duty.  The Bucs will likely pare that number down to eight or nine for the regular season, and the final number may depend largely on the versatility of the players selected.


The defensive line is right where it was in 2012, and this is often a position where NFL teams are willing to carry a little extra depth in the regular season.  The trenches are a grueling place to play, and you've heard it before: You can never have too many pass-rushers.  This position has more questions to answer than most, with two starters from last year departing and the rotation at both DE and DT not yet sure.


There's going to be some turnover in the linebacker position from a year ago, but it wouldn't be surprising to see the numbers and the basic structure of the crew work out about the same.  The Bucs are bringing nine to camp again and they might cut it down to six for the regular season, as they did last year.  That's an obvious configuration, too – three starting spots with one reserve for each one.  On the other hand, linebackers often make up the core of a club's special teams unit, so it is not at all unusual to see a team keep seven at the position.  It's usually a give and take between the linebackers and the secondary, where you find a lot of special teams contributors as well.


The cornerback position currently has the highest level of variance from last year's training camp numbers.  The team took nine corners to camp last year and has devoted 11 of its 90 spots to the position in 2013, at least for now.  That's also one of the highest numbers on the depth chart in comparison to the number of starting spots at each position, with an average of more than five candidates for each starting job.  That ignores, of course, that the third cornerback is practically a starting job in the NFL these days, and even a dime back can end up seeing a lot of time.  It's not surprising to see the Bucs go a little heavy at the cornerback position in 2013, as strengthening the secondary was perhaps the top priority following the 2012 campaign.  The Bucs addressed that position in just about the most dramatic way possible with the trade for Darrelle Revis and the drafting of Johnthan Banks, but there are still plenty of depth issues to figure out.  Fortunately for the candidates at the position, the team kept eight corners at the start of last year and could do that again in 2013.


The safety position is one down from a year ago, essentially ceding a spot to the cornerbacks.  The Bucs took eight safeties to camp last year and eventually cut that group in half for the start of the regular season.  From that standpoint, it doesn't seem critical to get back to that number to start this year's camp, as the team could still easily find four viable safeties from its current group of seven.  If an addition is made, it could simply be to better distribute reps during camp.  Also, it's not unusual to see a cornerback move to safety during camp, as then-rookie Keith Tandy did last year, so a similar maneuver this year could even out the numbers a bit.


The only change in the numbers at specialist from last year to this one is that the team will start camp with two long-snappers in 2013.  There are two punters and two kickers once again, a common arrangement that keeps any of the kicking specialists from getting overused before the regular-season.  Though it would be unfair to dismiss the chances of any of the second options at those three positions – kicker Derek Dimke, punter Chas Henry and long-snapper Andrew DePaolo – the numbers at those spots are unlikely to change.  It is unusual to see any team devote more than three of their 53 spots to those important but solitary jobs, especially if either of the primary kickers is a very good kickoff man, as is the case with Bucs punter Michael Koenen.