The Tampa Bay Buccaneers drew up their first depth chart of 2018 because they were required to do so prior to the preseason opener against the Dolphins on Thursday night. In a way, though, that's backward, because it is that action in Miami, and the three other preseason games to follow, that will truly make the depth chart.
The Buccaneers released that depth chart on Monday as they got back to work at training camp after a players' day off. Here's a link to it, and here's the annual caveat that goes with it: Take it with a rather sizeable grain of salt.
A depth chart is always a work in progress, even during the regular season, but when it features 91 players and comes before even a single live snap has been taken it is truly a ball of wet clay. While there are some spots on the depth chart that are obvious – Mike Evans is a starter, as is Gerald McCoy – there are plenty of others still deep in competition. That's particularly true on defense, where the Buccaneers have put in a lot of effort to fortify a group that finished last in the NFL's yardage rankings a year ago.
"The great thing that these guys know is that it's an open competition," said Defensive Coordinator Mike Smith. "There's nobody that's guaranteed a starting role on this defense."
That's not to say the first depth chart is uninteresting. There are certainly hints at what the coaching staff is pondering as the roster cut to 53 approaches. For example, veteran wide receiver DeSean Jackson is listed second at punt returner, after incumbent Adam Humphries, something that was never the case during Jackson's first year in Tampa. Jackson has a history of making big plays in the return game, including four touchdowns, though most of that came with Philadelphia from 2008-2011. He only returned three punts in three seasons in Washington and wasn't used in that capacity at all by the Buccaneers in 2017.
Does Jackson's appearance on the depth chart and his handful of punt return reps in training camp indicate that the Bucs might choose their spots with him in the return game this year? Perhaps…but again, it is the actual games that will tell us more than the printed depth chart.
View exclusive photos from the second week of Buccaneers Training Camp from Team Photographer Kyle Zedaker.
Here are some additional observations from the Buccaneers' first depth chart of 2018:
· Second-year man Cole Gardner appears to have emerged as the top competition to Leonard Wester for the backup swing tackle role. While Wester is listed as the second option at left tackle, behind Donovan Smith, Gardner is in a similar spot behind right tackle Demar Dotson. And, in fact, when Wester went down with an injury a week ago, it was Gardner who picked up additional first-team snaps while Dotson was being eased back into 11-on-11 work. Gardner joined the Buccaneers as an undrafted free agent last year but spent his rookie season on injured reserve due to a shoulder ailment.
· Adarius Taylor is listed among the starters as the strongside linebacker. That spot would likely have been filled by second-year player Kendell Beckwith, but Beckwith is on the active/NFI list due to an ankle injury suffered in an April car accident. The Buccaneers are currently choosing to note Beckwith's injury and list him at the back of the depth chart in parentheses. With Taylor in the first column of the depth chart, the second-team of linebackers is arranged as such: Cameron Lynch on the weak side, Riley Bullough in the middle and Devante Bond on the strong side. If the Buccaneers choose to keep six linebackers and Beckwith is ready to play for the start of the regular season, there will be a rather intense competition for the three backup spots, one that will also include sixth-round draft pick Jack Cichy. Cichy is currently listed third at strongside linebacker.
· Indeed, there are no rookies in the depth chart's first column. That's no surprise. Most NFL coaches choose to put the rookies back a bit on the depth chart unless it is undeniable that they are already starters, such as with Jameis Winston in 2015. Three rookies did make the second-team column: Alex Cappa at right guard, Vita Vea at defensive tackle (behind Beau Allen) and Carlton Davis at cornerback. That number goes to four if one includes the kicker position as a starter, as rookie Trevor Moore is right behind veteran Chandler Catanzaro. Of course, Catanzaro and Moore are the only kickers on the roster.
· Speaking of the cornerback position, third-year player Vernon Hargreaves gets the starting line opposite Brent Grimes. Davis and fellow second-round rookie M.J. Stewart are providing very stiff competition at cornerback in this year's training camp, but Hargreaves is getting every chance to take a starting spot both on the outside and, when the team goes to the nickel package, in the slot. In camp practices, Hargreaves, Davis and Ryan Smith have all drawn a good amount of first-team snaps on the outside, especially since Grimes was sidelined by an injury.
· The Buccaneers are not choosing to list Jameis Winston at the back of the depth chart as they did with Beckwith, though Winston will miss the first three games of the regular season due to an NFL suspension. Winston remains in the first-team slot, followed by Ryan Fitzpatrick, who is expected to start those three games and has been taking the most first-team reps in practice.
· Running back Ronald Jones, another second-round draft pick, is listed third behind Peyton Barber and Jacquizz Rodgers. He is actually followed by another rookie, undrafted Duke product Shaun Wilson in the fourth slot. After Wilson, the depth chart is rounded out by Charles Sims and Dare Ogunbowale.
· The Buccaneers top four receivers are as expected: Evans and Jackson in the first-team slots and Adam Humphries and Chris Godwin right behind them. The competition for either one or two more receiver spots is crowded with the likes of Freddie Martino, Bobo Wilson, Justin Watson and Bernard Reedy. For the moment, Martino and Wilson are listed in the third slots (though Martino is currently sidelined by injury), with Watson and Reedy coming next.
· The Bucs have only one dedicated long-snapper on the roster in first-year man Drew Ferris, who has yet to take a regular-season NFL snap. However, as Head Coach Dirk Koetter noted recently, the team has cultivated a couple of backup options if Ferris was unavailable. Both Taylor and tight end Alan Cross have perfected the skill enough to be called on in an emergency, and in fact Taylor did so in a game last year.
· Only two players are listed as options at both punt and kick returner: Bernard Reedy, who in fact did return both kinds of kicks for the Bucs last year, and Wilson, the rookie back who had three kickoff return touchdowns at Duke. Wilson is fourth on both lines but does seem to have an actual shot at winning at least one of the return jobs.
· The Buccaneers have 15 defensive linemen on their 91-man roster at the moment, but they seem to be unbalanced towards ends over tackles. There are nine players listed at the two DE spots and only six at the two DT spots. That's a bit misleading, though. A number of the players the Bucs have listed at end have been seen taking some snaps on the inside, as well, including Jason Pierre-Paul, William Gholston and Will Clarke.
· Third-year man Noah Spence is listed second at one of the end spots, behind Vinny Curry. He figures to have a prominent role in the end rotation even though he is often not one of the two ends who comes in when the team goes to a base second-team line in practice. Those spots are often occupied by Clarke and Gholston. Instead, Spence is commonly used as a designated edge rusher in nickel packages.