The National Football League is currently in the midst of its only real extended downtime, after offseason programs have wrapped up but before training camps have started. However, training camp will be upon us soon, and then we'll be barreling full-steam towards that highly-anticipated regular-season opening weekend.
Given that we're in the calm before the storm, then, it seems like the perfect time to preview some of the storylines we'll be talking about in training camp and the season that follows. All week, Buccaneers.com contributors Casey Phillips, Carmen Vitali and I are going to conduct roundtable discussions on a selection of team-related topics. Here's the schedule:
Monday: Which player will emerge as a training camp surprise?
Tuesday: Who will be the Buccaneers' team MVP in 2018?
Wednesday: What will be the most interesting position battle in training camp?
Thursday: In what area will the Buccaneers make the biggest statistical improvement in 2018?
Friday: What game on the Buccaneers' 2018 schedule are you anticipating the most?
In some cases, a couple of us may agree with each other on the best answer, but for the sake of variety we won't be duplicating picks. Thus, the order in which we get to provide our answers is at least mildly important. Drawing straws for that order, we have Casey going first today, followed by me and then Carmen. We'll rotate around from day to day to be fair.
That means you're up, Casey! Which under-the-radar player do you see surprising us with his training camp performance?
Casey Phillips: Alex Cappa
Training camp is the first chance we will get to see the new Buccaneers with pads on and hitting someone. So when I hear "surprise," it makes me want to pick someone who didn't necessarily get to shine in OTAs and mini-camp, but could be a big performer in training camp. Since it's nearly impossible to tell very much about either side of the line in OTAs when contact is restricted, I'm excited to see rookie Alex Cappa in pads.
Cappa has been compared to Ali Marpet, and for good reason. Besides both coming from smaller football programs, Cappa, like Marpet, is a big, physical, smart player who can play multiple positions on the line. I remember Marpet holding his own against Gerald McCoy in training camp his rookie year. That was the moment everyone seemed to think, hey this DIII guy looks legit! Cappa's college film shows him absolutely manhandling defensive linemen. We will get to see him against a completely rebuilt NFL defensive line and test his football IQ as he tries to learn multiple positions in a new, bigger playbook.
Scott Smith: Shaun Wilson
I'll admit this is more of a gut feeling than anything else. We know that an undrafted rookie or two (or three or four) makes the 53-man roster virtually every season. It's just not always obvious in early July which player out of the current crop of incoming rookie free agents is the favorite to keep that trend alive. There was a bit of an exception to that rule a year ago as Canadian tight end Antony Auclair seemed to be highly valued by Head Coach Dirk Koetter and General Manager Jason Licht from the start. The Bucs didn't necessarily need Auclair to contribute right away but they were loath to let his talents get away.
I don't think there's an undrafted rookie in a similar situation this year. Tight end Donnie Ernsberger and safety Godwin Igwebuike seemed to be high-priority targets on the Bucs' post-draft list, but they aren't necessarily shoo-ins. A number of others – cornerback Marko Myers, tackle Cole Boozer, defensive end Evan Perrizo, tight ends Jason Reese and Tanner Hudson drew praise at times. But I'm going to go with Shaun Wilson, the diminutive but speedy running back out of Duke.
The Buccaneers are likely to keep at least four tailbacks, and maybe five. They could simply go with the three holdovers from 2017 (Peyton Barber, Jacquizz Rodgers and Charles Sims) plus second-round pick Ronald Jones, and that's probably the most likely scenario. But Wilson could challenge one of those four for a spot or perhaps persuade the team to keep a fifth back if he can offer value in multiple ways. One of those ways could be as a return man, and kickoff return might be more important this year. If Wilson could win that job, he might get a foothold on the roster long enough to prove he can help on offense, too.
Carmen Vitali: David Rivers
During OTAs, cornerback David Rivers stepped up when he was needed. I found myself routinely double-checking my roster card, wondering who number 27 was after I watched him break up a pass or found him lined up with the ones. Those first-team reps were in part the result of Brent Grimes' absence until mandatory mini-camp and cornerback Ryan Smith being held out of a few practices. And yes, the team drafted three defensive backs in this year's draft and Carlton Davis III looks to be the newcomer that will take the outside given his size and length, but Rivers is right there with him.
Rivers stands at a true 6-0 and has a season on Tampa Bay's practice squad under him. At the very least that has gotten him familiar with the Bucs' scheme and expectations of tall outside corners. Add in reps with the ones during this offseason and I think we could see him to shake up the cornerback rotation a little bit during this year's training camp and challenge some of the familiar and expected faces.