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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

5 Things to Watch for at Training Camp

With training camp fast approaching for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, what battles should garner attention on the practice fields? 

Training camp 5 things to watch

Optimism abounds for every NFL club as training camp approaches. Along with the other 31 franchises, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers added an infusion of talent via the Draft and free agency to catapult itself forward. With the acquisitions, a new foundation is formed, and position battles will ensue on the practice fields. As the Bucs undergo the next six-week training period, the 53-man roster will begin to form. Several questions remain for the Buccaneers and training camp will provide clarity. 

What are the most critical position battles, lineup scenarios and injury statuses to monitor at training camp? Here is a breakdown of our top five:

Quarterback: Baker Mayfield vs. Kyle Trask 

A revamped offensive system will take shape under new offensive coordinator Dave Canales and competition is underway for the headline role: quarterback. Baker Mayfield and Kyle Trask have alternated reps with the first-team offense throughout the offseason workout program and the trend will continue. Both will strive to make an impression during camp to cement the starting gig. 

A myriad of factors will contribute to the final decision with the most obvious being, who is playing better and who commands the huddle? Who is the leader players will gravitate towards? Training camp will provide a comprehensive evaluation for the coaching staff to find the answers to those questions. Production during the six-week period will play a crucial role in determining who takes the reins come fall. 

Running Back: Increased Role for Rachaad White 

After the release of Leonard Fournette in March, second-year player Rachaad White will be the club's featured back in 2023. Dave Canales will implement a system similar to the one in Seattle, with an emphasis on marrying the run and the pass in a quarterback-friendly scheme. The system is expected to accentuate the run game with traps, pulls, wide and mid-zone, to ignite play-action. White will be a focal point of the offense, contributing as a rusher, as a pass-catcher out of the backfield and in pass protection on blitz pickups. 

White emerged as a bright spot for the Bucs in 2022, despite the team's overall disposition (worst-ranked rush offense). The slash back possesses inside-outside versatility and has burst getting north. White is a natural runner boasting both vision and balance, positioning him for a big campaign in 2023. A breakout season could materialize for White between the hash marks and as the calendar shifts to camp, watch No. 1. 

Slot Corner: Competition Heats Up

The Bucs made the decision to move Antoine Winfield Jr. from a hybrid role to a traditional free safety position in 2023. He will play centerfield to clean things up on the back end, optimizing the opportunity to make plays on the football. Winfield Jr. emerged as the slot corner in nickel packages for the Bucs in 2022 due to his physicality against the run in the box and blitz prowess. 

Tampa Bay lost Sean Murphy-Bunting, another slot option, to the Chiefs in free agency. The Bucs acquired safety Ryan Neal during the offseason, and he is expected to fill the starting strong safety role alongside Winfield Jr. Second-year defensive back Zyon McCollum will vie for the vacant slot corner role, along with rookie Josh Hayes. How the secondary shakes out during camp, specifically the do-it-all position, will be something to monitor at the AdventHealth Training Center. 

Offensive Line Retool: Tristan Wirfs Moves to LT

A game of musical chairs will once again commence for the Buccaneers along the offensive line this upcoming season. Tampa Bay will undergo modifications to the offensive line following the departure of Donovan Smith and Shaq Mason. The team released their longtime starting left tackle, Smith, and reliable veteran, Mason, who was traded to Houston for a late-round draft pick. The Bucs proceeded to sign a cap-friendly alternative in Matt Feiler, who has flexibility starting at both guard and tackle. In addition, Tampa Bay drafted Cody Mauch, a mauler out of North Dakota State University in the second round of the 2023 NFL Draft. Wirfs will switch to the left side of the formation manning the blindside and second-year player Luke Goedeke will revert back to his natural position at right tackle that he played at Central Michigan. 

There will be competition along the line throughout the summer, but the penciled-in starters are projected to be Luke Goedeke at right tackle, Cody Mauch at right guard, Ryan Jensen at center, Matt Feiler at left guard and Tristan Wirfs at right tackle. Viable depth pieces Robert Hainsey, Nick Leverett and Aaron Stinnie will battle for roles as well, bolstering competition in the Florida heat. 

Injury Status: Ryan Jensen and Shaquil Barrett 

The Buccaneers dealt with misfortune on the injury-front in 2022, as several cornerstone players were sidelined. On the second day of training camp last year, center Ryan Jensen suffered a significant knee injury. Jensen later disclosed the specific details of the injury, including three ligament tears. Traditionally, that would be a grueling recovery process that should take nine months or longer to heal but roughly six months later, Jensen made his highly-anticipated return against the Cowboys in the Wild Card Round – a testament to Jensen's strength and commitment. He played 80 snaps in the game and showed no signs of limitation, stating "life is better with a helmet on" following the loss to Dallas. 

After missing the entirety of the 2022 season, Jensen ran and performed individual work on the blocking sheds without reserve during minicamp. He was held out of drills during OTAs and minicamp, but his presence was encouraging. Training camp will likely provide additional insight into Jensen's health status. 

In addition to Jensen, The Bucs suffered another significant blow last season as Shaquil Barrett suffered a torn Achilles tendon in the third quarter of the 27-22 loss to the Ravens. His stellar 2022 campaign came to an abrupt halt. Barrett, the team's leading sack producer of the previous four seasons, concluded the 2022 season with 30 tackles, 3.0 sacks, six tackles for loss, six quarterback hits and a forced fumble. The seasoned veteran's long-awaited return will help fortify the unit in 2023. Both Jensen and Barrett will be players to watch during training camp as they continue to work their way back from serious injuries, respectively. Within the next few days, players who will start the year on the Active/PUP list will have to be identified. If Jensen and Barrett are able to avoid that fate, it will be encouraging news for Bucs' fans.

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