The entire defensive line
Ok, I cheated on this one because it's not a specific player. But how are you supposed to pick just one player to watch with FIVE new additions on the line alone (six, if you count the coach)? The biggest thing to watch about the unit will be the rotation itself. During mandatory minicamp, the line was in a constant state of flux. One series it was defensive anchor Gerald McCoy with Beau Allen on the inside, and Vinny Curry and Jason Pierre-Paul on the ends. The next – it was Allen and Vea on the inside with the same ends. Or same tackles with Noah Spence added in on the outside opposite JPP. And this was all with the first team.
Point is, the line has an extreme amount of flexibility. Many players, like Curry or Mitch Unrein have played both inside and outside, so the combinations that come out of this group are endless, serving as a nightmare for opponents. Coach Koetter did say in the offseason that the team will try to nail down a solid rotation before the season starts. As a result, training camp should serve as the lab in an experiment of defensive line rotation for everyone's enjoyment.
Cornerback M.J. Stewart
So, ok, the stat sheet has Stewart at corner. He played corner in college. But the way Stewart is built lends him more to the safety position than corner. He's strong, a little more stout and super athletic. The rookie out of North Carolina who the Bucs took with their second second-round pick initially drew a few puzzled looks from Bucs fans, especially since he was taken before long-limbed cornerback Carlton Davis III (who the team would take three picks later). But the name of the game with the secondary, as it is in the aforementioned defensive line scenario, is flexibility. That's what Stewart brings.
While he may not actually make the transition to full-fledged safety, he should serve as a great option at slot corner or inside at nickel given his stature and tackling ability. As with any rookie, it'll be interesting to see how he develops and adjusts to an NFL system – especially as a corner. Collegiate defenses tend to trend more in the way of press coverage but at the NFL level and the Bucs' system, in particular, corners are asked to play more off. This means a pretty significant transition for many rookie cornerbacks, but luckily for the Bucs, Stewart has experience playing off and has had success at it. It'll be fun to watch him hone his skills and how the Bucs plan to use him throughout training camp as he tries to secure his spot on the roster.
Linebacker Kwon Alexander
Alexander is an established vet at this point but coming off his first Pro Bowl nod last season, we might have another superstar linebacker on our hands. The tandem of Alexander and Lavonte David has made the Bucs' linebacking corps one of the team's strongest units for the past three years. The question now is Alexander's ceiling.
All signs point to Alexander taking on more of a leadership role and improving the mental aspect of his game. He was already named a defensive captain last season and is an established presence on the team, assuming the green-dot role of wearing the headset for the defense and therefore being the one to call the plays on the field during games. Plus, he's just a fun player to watch. You'll see Alexander dancing during stretches, slapping the hands of teammates and serving as 'hype man' for everyone around him. With an improved line up front, that should also free up Alexander and the other linebackers to make some big plays, so be on the lookout for that come camp.
Safety Jordan Whitehead
Whitehead was held out for most of OTAs after tweaking his hamstring in rookie minicamp. Training camp will provide an opportunity to see if Whitehead is ready to compete for a starting spot alongside safety Justin Evans, who will be looking to follow-up a great rookie campaign of his own. The Bucs' secondary in general is going to be a great unit to watch in advance of the regular season.
Whitehead was a dynamic player in college at the University of Pittsburgh. Not only did he start at safety, but he contributed on the opposite side of the ball as a running back. That should clue you in at just how athletic this kid is and how fun he should be to watch during training camp as he adjusts to the NFL game.
Linebacker Jack Cichy
Cichy battled through a couple major injuries in college, making him somewhat of a question mark as he enters the NFL. His most recent injury came during camp last year before football season started at Wisconsin where he tore his ACL. However, he was ready to go for the Bucs' offseason program and was quick to show that he's back at 100 percent. He is extremely athletic and seemed to grasp play concepts and read the offense well during minicamp. He even took on some MIKE responsibilities, diagnosing what the offense was doing and where he and his fellow linebackers needed to go.
Now that the pads will be on, it will be interesting to see how Cichy does during camp. He couldn't ask for a better group to help him develop, that's for sure. In addition to vet linebackers Lavonte David and Kwon Alexander, he's under the tutelage of Coach Mark Duffner, who is as much to thank for the success of the linebackers as the players themselves. Don't be surprised if you start noticing number 48 as you watch these preseason practices.