The NFL's offseason itinerary continues for all 32 teams and next up, the calendar flips to Organized Team Activities (OTAs). As players gear up for the 2023 slate, OTAs are the next step in the preliminary process. The ramp up commences during the involuntary series of practices. During OTAs, a 10-day span, in-person meetings, classroom instruction and on-field drills occur to foster growth. During OTAs, also known as Phase Three, live contact is not permitted but 7-on-7, 9-on-7 and 11-11 drills are allowed. Like the first day of school, under-classman (rookies) will shake hands and greet upper-classman (veterans who choose to attend). At this point, rosters boast 90 players and the competition to make the coveted 53-man roster heats up between the white lines. For the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, here are several players to keep an eye on during the start of OTAs at the AdventHealth Training Center:
The Buccaneers have a legitimate quarterback competition at One Buc Place. After three successful seasons including a Super Bowl victory and two-consecutive NFC South titles, the Bucs have to replace Tom Brady. Brady announced his retirement in February, ushering in a battle for the signal-caller duties. New Offensive Coordinator Dave Canales confirmed that both Baker Mayfield and Kyle Trask will receive even reps to generate equal opportunity in the Florida heat.
"If you name a starter today, the backup guy starts thinking like that," Canales stated. "But if you say this is a competition, we're going to allow [them] to go into the preseason, let them show us they can manage, to get us into the right play, to take care of the ball, that's going to be the determining factor, really."
Mayfield has an advantage in experience, having passed for 16,288 yards and 102 touchdowns in six NFL seasons with the Browns, Panthers and Rams. Former Florida star, Trask, has limited playing time on his resumé, including an appearance in the 2022 regular-season finale at Atlanta. In that low-stakes matchup with the division already secured, Trask completed three of nine passes for 23 yards. Trask does have a decided edge in familiarity with the Bucs' culture, locker room and the benefit of sitting in meeting rooms and sharing the practice field with Brady. Now, both will encounter a fresh slate under the tutelage of Canales and his revitalized offensive system in Tampa Bay. As cleats hit the grass, Mayfield will be one to monitor. The former Heisman Trophy Winner certainly has "moxie" and will vie to entrench his starting role. Mayfield possesses processing skills, improvisation to extend plays, a fiery demeanor and arm strength. Every rep will be critical in solidifying the starting gig come fall.
During the offseason, stalwart offensive tackle Tristan Wirfs will undergo a position switch. He will move from right tackle to left tackle, securing the blindside. In the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft, the Buccaneers went with the highest-rated player on their board in Pittsburgh's Calijah Kancey, requiring a shuffle across the line of scrimmage. Wirfs, a two-time Pro Bowl player and All-pro veteran, will begin to work through the acclimation process, building muscle memory.
"We all would've loved to add tackles, but I don't want to lose enough games every year to be up there where those tackles typically go," said Vice President of Player Personnel John Spytek. "We've got guys we feel good with. We've got guys who we can compete."
With Wirfs moving to the left side to replace Donovan Smith, who was released after eight seasons, second-year player Luke Goedeke will revert back to his natural position at right tackle. Goedeke was a right tackle at Central Michigan but was moved to left guard in 2022 to help fill a vacancy. This year, he will move back to the position he is familiar with. Goedeke played every snap at right tackle in the Bucs' regular-season finale at Atlanta and looked comfortable manning the right side. Wirfs, the elite technician, will once again anchor the Bucs' front. He has lateral quickness, a well-timed punch and can run zone blocks up the field to create in the run game. Wirfs will be a player to watch as OTAs begin.
It remains to be seen if vested veteran Vita Vea will be at OTAs, but regardless of his attendance, the guy lining up at three-technique will garner attention. First-round pick Calijah Kancey is known for his explosive first-step quickness and urgent play at Pittsburgh and the unanimous All-American will continue to adapt to the pro level. Kancey will don No. 94 for the Bucs, looking to solidify his place in the trenches. Kancey wins at the snap, dictating rushes with speed off the ball, and has a refined pass rush arsenal. Next to a domineering nose tackle, Kancey will have the opportunity to affect the backfield off advantageous one-on-one scenarios. His skillset will add another dimension to Todd Bowles' attack-styled, hybrid system.
"We just want him to play defensive tackle," said Head Coach Todd Bowles on Kancey. "That's what we got him for. He's not a stunter, he's not a this guy or a that guy. He can actually play football. He can play the position without stunting him. As we get to know him and get a feel for everything – what he's good at, not good at, left side, right side, which hand down and those types of things – based on the pieces around him, we'll try and use him accordingly. Now, he's focusing on learning the position. We're not into game-planning or schematics right now – you have to get the basics down and he's doing that very well. He's a very bright guy."
For the Bucs, a retooled offense will form under the direction of Dave Canales in 2023. He will bring a new system to Tampa Bay, similar to the one implemented in Seattle, with an emphasis on a quarterback-friendly scheme and wide-zone runs with movement up front. Second-year running back Rachaad White will likely serve as the beneficiary. Last season, White accumulated 469 snaps (38.57%). He concluded his rookie campaign with 481 yards on 129 rushes and a touchdown for an average of 3.7 yards per attempt. In the passing game, White amassed 290 yards on 50 receptions and two touchdowns. His improvement in pass protection on blitz pickups/stalk blocks allowed him to stay on the field for all three downs. White emerged between the hashes in 2022, despite what the stat metrics showed. Falling behind dictated the flow of games for Tampa Bay last season and Canales will aim to rejuvinate the Bucs' ground game this upcoming season to create a complementary attack. White is a dangerous dual-threat back in space and has inside/outside versatility in a zone-oriented assault. With good balance, body control, vision and pass-catching upside out of the backfield, White will likely play an increased role in 2023, drawing eyes during OTAs.
"I know I evaluated Rachaad [White] coming out and I really liked him a lot," remarked Running Backs coach Skip Peete. "I think he's a very talented inside runner – a guy who has good vision and balance, has the ability to create on his own. I think he's really an underrated pass receiver coming out of the backfield."
Third-round pick YaYa Diaby hit personal bests in sacks (9.0) and tackles for loss (14.0) in 2022 at Louisville. With physicality in the run game, exceptional pursuit to generate plays up-and-down the line of scrimmage and length to penetrate gaps, Diaby will work to earn a rotational role for the Bucs. He will begin work with the outside linebacker corps during the offseason, and has the developmental potential of becoming a power-rusher in Todd Bowles' scheme.
"We see him as an outside linebacker in base, he can help us in sub, he can also go inside some," described Todd Bowles. "So, as he gets acclimated to the system, it's just a matter of what are the tools that he has to see if we can move him around or leave him in one spot or add anything. But he has heavy hands, he's a load to handle and he can run so that gives us some hope."
Bowles likes to feature linebackers in blitzes and pressure packages, creating favorable matchups to collapse the pocket. With Diaby's natural explosiveness, he will bolster the unit with fluid change of direction skills. Throughout OTAs, he will be an outlier to keep under surveillance.