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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Training Camp Goals: 2023 Buccaneers, Numbers 20-29

The third installment in our rundown of potential player goals for training camp brings us one of the team's most important defenders but also a host of young defensive backs hunting roster spots


The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will conduct the first practice of their 2023 training camp in exactly two weeks. That's how much time the 90 players on Tampa Bay's offseason roster have to take one more breath of relaxation, get in a few more workouts in order to hit the ground running and maybe study the playbook one last time.

Some of those players may also be using that time to set goals for themselves that they will pursue over the six weeks between the opening of camp and the start of the regular season. We are, in fact, using these last couple pre-camp weeks to consider what those personal goals might be for every player on the roster. We've already covered everyone who wears a jersey number between zero and 19 and today we move on to those in the 20s. That group includes a potential clash for position on the running back depth chart and a quartet of young and inexperienced defensive backs looking for an opportunity to stick.

#21 RB Ke'Shawn Vaughn: As Vaughn enters the final year of his rookie contract, the goal is obvious: With Leonard Fournette gone there is playing time up for grabs and Vaughn wants to be the one to grab it. He has logged just 79 carries and 12 catches over his first three seasons, which obviously hasn't given him much of an opportunity to show what he can do at the NFL level. Rachaad White is the starter and will likely see his snap count rise dramatically from 49% last year, but very few teams ride one bell cow back these days. There is likely to be at least one more significantly-sized role in the backfield along with White and Vaughn needs to show he is a better option than veteran addition Chase Edmonds, 2022 practice squad player Patrick Laird and undrafted rookies Ronnie Brown and Sean Tucker. Vaughn likely will need to show that he has improved in the passing game, which would be a more specific goal for this July and August.

#22 RB Chase Edmonds: Edmonds signed with the Buccaneers on March 20, becoming just the second outside free agent the team added after quarterback Baker Mayfield. Edmonds is coming off a strange season in which he failed to carve out an expected role in Miami's offense and then was traded to Denver, where he was a bit player for five games. However, he had a productive four-year run in Arizona before than, including two seasons in which he had 850 or more yards from scrimmage. A lot of that came from his excellent work in the passing game, including 53 and 43-catch seasons in 2020 and 2021. Edmonds' goal in camp could be to show that he is easily the best receiving option among the backup running back candidates, which might him the more likely second option since he would be more effective on third downs.

#23 S Ryan Neal: The Buccaneers felt like fortune smiled upon them when the Seahawks signed former Giants safety Julian Love and subsequently decided to rescind the right-of-first-refusal tag they had put on Neal as a restricted free agent. Neal was actually working out in Tampa at the time and a deal quickly came together between the fourth-year player and a Bucs team that had no experienced safety depth aside from Antoine Winfield Jr. Neal, who garnered three Associated Press All-Pro votes after a 2022 season that saw him fill in more than ably for Jamal Adams, appears to be the obvious choice to start next to Winfield after the free agency departures of Mike Edwards, Keanu Neal and Logan Ryan. He'll be looking to solidify that role in camp and show he is the right sort of hard-hitting complement to Winfield, who is moving into the free safety role exclusively this year.

#24 CB Carlton Davis: It seems as if the Buccaneers have had a very youthful secondary for years, thanks to a string of good drafts that produced instant starters. But now both Davis and Jamel Dean are on second contracts and Winfield is heading into his fourth season. Behind them, though, there is still a lot of youth, and Davis admitted that he felt like an 'old guy" on the team this offseason, voicing his intention to be a leader to the rest of the group. He is particularly focused on getting the younger players up to speed, and on maintaining the winning culture that was fostered during the Tom Brady era. Davis said he planned on, "Letting [the young players] know that there's a standard and this is how we're going to practice and that eventually translates to game days."

#25(o) RB Patrick Laird: Laird has been in this position before. He originally entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent out of Cal, signing with the Dolphins in 2019. He didn't make the 53-man roster out of camp but did land a spot on the practice squad and that led to an eventual promotion during his rookie season. Laird even started four games that year, putting up 372 yards from scrimmage in the process. That kept him around in Miami for two more seasons, even if his playing time on offense dwindled a bit. As a free agent last year, Laird started over with a mid-camp invitation from the Bucs that led to a practice squad spot. While there is generally a lot of turnover on that unit, Laird spent the entire season in Tampa and then re-signed after the season. So Laird's goal is once again to use that exposure on the practice squad to catapult him back to an NFL regular season roster. His 23 catches and 8.9 yards per grab in 2019 indicate he could help in a third-down role.

#25(d) S Kedrick Whitehead: The former Delaware standout has positive momentum on his side heading into his first NFL camp. Whitehead did not land a spot with any NFL team in the frenzied rookie free agent signing period after the draft, but he came to the Bucs' rookie minicamp on a tryout roster and made the most of the opportunity. He was one of only three tryout players the team chose to find a spot for on the 90-man roster. Now he's staring a safety depth chart that, beyond Winfield and Neal includes three undrafted rookies and Nolan Turner, who played one defensive snap as a rookie in 2022. Whitehead proved to be a very strong run defender for Delaware, so he may look to emulate Neal and show he can provide depth as a box safety.

#26 S Kaevon Merriweather: Much of the above applies in the same ways to Merriweather's first NFL camp, including the idea that he may be best utilized closer to the line of scrimmage, even though he played a lot of different positions at Iowa. Merriweather was signed right after the draft and was generally considered one of the more coveted UDFAs at his position. He is a strong downhill tackler and his coverage skills improved throughout his years at Iowa, ending in a senior season that included three interceptions and six passes defensed. If the Buccaneers end up with only four safeties on the 53-man roster, they would like their reserves to be versatile enough to play either position, so one goal for Merriweather could be proving that his abilities in coverage translate to the NFL level.

#27 CB Zyon McCollum: McCollum was an instance ace on special teams in his rookie season and likely would be a near-lock for the roster in 2023 based on that role alone. But with Sean Murphy-Bunting departing in free agency and Winfield moving way from his slot-corner job, the Buccaneers also have a couple voids to fill behind Davis and Dean. There are really two potential goals for McCollum heading into camp. First, he can seek to solidify his position as the first person in at either outside corner spot if one of those two starters isn't available. Second, he can try to win the nickel corner job, which would see him getting significant reps from Day One. McCollum's size seems more suited for the outside spots, but he has been mentioned on several occasions by Buccaneers coaches as one potential option in the slot.

#28 CB Duron Lowe: Lowe made it to Tampa right before the end of his rookie season, signing to the practice squad between the regular season finale and the opening round of the playoffs. He was then re-signed a week later to a reserve/future contract, indicating the Bucs had seen enough in a short time to want to take a longer look in 2023. Lowe started his college career at UTEP and finished it with one season at Liberty before signing with the Rams as an undrafted free agent in 2022. He ran a 4.39-second 40-yard dash at Liberty's Pro Day and also put up good numbers in the vertical leap and broad jump. He has athletic traits that make him an intriguing developmental prospect; for his first camp with the Buccaneers he should be looking to absorb everything the coaches are telling him to move forward in that development.

#29 S Christian Izien: Izien, another of the Bucs' three undrafted rookie safeties, had some flash moments during the offseason program, including a spin move on a blitz that made veteran safety Ryan Neal envious. He also put on a nice show at the Rutgers Pro Day and is impressively built; it was likely his 5-9 height that led to him slipping through the draft after a productive college career. If Izien continues to make plays in training camp, he could gain the inside track on one of the wide-open reserve safety spots, but the best way to improve his chances would be to also show he can contribute immediately on special teams. With his good speed and acceleration along with a willingness to deliver a hit, he fits the profile of a valuable coverage man on punts and kickoffs.

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