Last year, on May 25 and near the end of their offseason training program, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers signed cornerback Dee Delaney, a former undrafted free agent who had played a total of three regular-season games for Jacksonville and Washington in 2018 and 2019. At the time, the Buccaneers had nine other cornerbacks on the roster.
Carlton Davis, Jamel Dean, Sean Murphy-Bunting, Ross Cockrell and Herb Miller had all been on the 2020 Super Bowl team, Miller on the practice squad. During the draft in late April, the Buccaneers picked up BYU corner Chris Wilcox in the seventh round. During the first 17 days of May, the team also added veterans Nate Brooks and Antonio Hamilton plus undrafted free agent Cameron Kinley. There is no official depth chart to start training camp, but given his date of arrival and relative lack of experience it would have been fair to consider Delaney somewhere around 10th of 10 on that list.
What mattered, though, was that he was on that list.
Delaney made the most of his opportunity, particularly during the Buccaneers three preseason games. He picked off two passes in those contests, the only player on the roster to have multiple interceptions. He also led the team with three passes defensed, finished fourth with 12 tackles and added a stop on special teams, which may have been just as important as his defensive contributions. When it came time to shape the initial 53-man roster, the Buccaneers kept holdovers Davis, Dean, Murphy-Bunting and Cockrell and rounded out the unit with Delaney.
Delaney would go on to play in 15 games with two starts as the Buccaneers navigated through an almost comical string of injuries at the cornerback position. He would eventually snare his first career interception and also play on 65% of the team's special teams snaps. Perhaps most importantly, Delaney is still around in 2022 and is coming off an offseason program in which he was singled out by the coaches for making a string of splashy plays.
Dee Delaney had a strong training camp and preseason in 2021 and it changed the trajectory of his NFL career. That's the story we're using as a springboard today as we continue our annual Roundtable Week here on Buccaneers. All this week, Digital Contributor Amy Schwartz, Staff Writer/Reporter Brianna Dix and I are engaging in a series of discussions regarding the Buccaneers upcoming training camp. You can find the schedule of our daily topics below. Today, we are looking for the next Delaney.
Specifically, this is today's Roundtable question: Who is one player on the Buccaneers' 90-man training camp roster you believe most needs to have a strong training camp and preseason to take his NFL career to the next level?
· Monday, July 4: Name a sleeper on the Buccaneers' 90-man camp roster who you will be keeping a close eye on.
· Tuesday, July 5: What is the best test a player or unit on the Bucs' roster will get during the joint practices with the Dolphins and Titans?
· Wednesday, July 6: What is a headline you hope to be reading about the Buccaneers as training camp and the preseason comes to an end?
· Thursday, July 7: Which Buccaneer do you think most needs to have a strong camp and preseason showing?
· Friday, July 8: Identify a one-on-one battle between two Buccaneers that you are most looking forward to seeing in camp practices.
Duplicate answers between the three of us are not allowed, so order of selection sometimes matters and we are rotating that order all week. Today, Amy rotates back to the top, with Brianna second and me third. The table is yours, Amy.
Amy Schwartz: Safety Mike Edwards
The strong safety position is one of top battles heading into training camp this season. With the departure of Jordan Whitehead to the Jets this offseason, there is a starting role available alongside Antoine Winfield Jr. The Bucs were able to add key veteran depth signing Keanu Neal and Logan Ryan in the offseason, two additions that will bring experience and competition to the young secondary.
I believe all eyes are on safety Mike Edwards this training camp and preseason. Edwards can step in and take the starting role this season after being a strong rotational player the last two seasons. Edwards has become known as a 'ball hawk' player due to his skills on the field and has steadily earned the trust of the coaching staff.
Edwards has recorded five picks and 12 passes defended in the last two seasons and Head Coach Todd Bowles has had nothing but praise for Edwards. "He is a very instinctive player," said Bowles. "He is our most cerebral player."
Buccaneers safeties coach Nick Rapone spoke during minicamp this offseason on the progress Edwards has made on the field. "f you look at it, Mike's had five interceptions in the last two years, probably playing a fourth of the reps a starter would get," Rapone said. "I trust Mike more now. Each safety has some certain areas he has to improve on. With Mike, it's going to consistently be being able to make that open-field tackle. He improved last year, he made more tackles in the open field than he had the year earlier."
While the additions of Neal and Ryan will be necessary for depth purposes moving forward, I think Edwards can secure the starting role when training camp wraps up this season.
Brianna Dix: Wide Receiver Russell Gage Jr.
Russell Gage Jr. has been one of the most prominent free agent signings discussed throughout the offseason in Tampa Bay, considering the club's pass-centric approach with Tom Brady at the helm. As Chris Godwin recovers from a significant late-season knee injury, Gage will heavily be depended on to bolster the aerial attack opposite Mike Evans. In discussing Gage's impact with local media during mandatory minicamp, Brady stated, "he has to have a big year." The pressure is on. Regardless of when Godwin returns to the turf, Gage will have an integral role in the offense.
Last season for the Falcons, Gage accumulated 66 receptions for 770 yards and four touchdowns despite the offense's struggles down the stretch. Now, gaining Brady's trust and learning the Bucs' route concepts are the focus. Gage can be used interchangeably in the slot and on the outside. Last season for Atlanta, he played 260 snaps in the slot and 340 out wide. Given his size, Gage is more of a natural fit from the slot, employed as a Cover Two-counter and zone-buster on underneath/intermediate routes. He can elevate the Buccaneers' screen game, and from the outside of the formation Gage is physical in press-man coverage and contested catch situations.
Much like Godwin, having the position flexibility to lineup in a variety of spots will help Gage solidify the offense in 2022. Gage became a go-to target for Matt Ryan on third down and now transitions to another NFC South franchise. Future Hall-of-Fame tight end Rob Gronkowski retired, optimizing Gage's opportunity to emerge as Brady's target over the middle of the field. With eyes on the Buccaneers this season with many heavy-hitters lining the 2022 schedule as they work towards another Lombardi Trophy, Gage has the possibility of reaching new heights in Byron Leftwich's system. In potentially Tom Brady's last ride in the NFL, the stage is set with Gage at the forefront. The time is now for him to become an offensive catalyst in Tampa Bay, beginning with production during training camp to garner trust.
Scott Smith: Kicker Jose Borregales
Those are two good choices and I hope both Edwards and Gage are successful in carving out more significant roles. My choice has a little something extra on the line: a roster spot.
We don't have to guess whether first-year kicker Jose Borregales is going to get a legitimate shot to take the job away from incumbent veteran Ryan Succop. Todd Bowles said so very directly. Asked during OTAs in May whether Borregales would be given the chance to unseat Succop, Bowles responded: "He will get the opportunity, yes."
The Buccaneers signed Borregales, the 2020 Lou Groza Award winner for the University of Miami, as an undrafted free agent a year ago. It never seemed particularly likely that the rookie would take the job away from Succop last year, after the veteran kicker had made 34 of 39 field goals, postseason included, during the Super Bowl season. However, he showed enough in training camp to be the Buccaneers' security blanket at the position. Borregales was not only put on the practice squad but he was also "protected" from being signed away by another team in all but Week One. He still could have signed with another team during the first two days of each week, but that weekly practice made it clear the Buccaneers wanted to keep him around.
Succop was still good in 2021, as he has been throughout his career other than an injury-plagued 2019 season in Tennessee, but maybe not quite as brilliant as the year before. He made the 28 of 34 attempts overall but notably only tried one kick of more than 48 yards, which was unsuccessful. Regardless, Succop is not going to give up his job without a fight.
Generally, for a new kicker to claim a team's job – especially a young kicker with no NFL experience yet – he has to clearly outperform the incumbent. That's why this year's training camp, and particularly the three preseason games, are going to be as important to Borregales as any player on the Buccaneers' roster. In fact, Bowles made it clear that it was performance in the games that would be the most decisive factor. In terms of taking the next step and earning a spot on a regular-season roster in the NFL, I'm not sure there's another player on the Bucs' camp roster who needs a strong month of August more.