Buccaneers headed into the final week of the preseason. Now that the regular season has arrived, however, those jobs have necessarily been solidified, and Head Coach Todd Bowles revealed the decisions on Monday.
Cornerback Jamel Dean came out on top in a head-to-head battle with Sean Murphy-Bunting for the starting job opposite the entrenched Carlton Davis. Murphy-Bunting and Dean were back-to-back picks in the 2019 draft, in the second and third rounds respectively, and both have played extensively in the three years since. The coaches expect them both to be on the field quite a bit in 2022, as well.
The decision went down to the wire because both defenders performed well in training camp and the preseason.
"He's made great improvements since he got here and he studies," said Bowles of Dean. "He comes back in shape. It was a tough battle because Sean had a heck of a camp, he really did. Dean had just a notch better and they both will play a lot."
Dean impressed despite the fact that Murphy-Bunting got most of the snaps with the first-team defense, as the coaches noticed that he was consistently around the football. Run Game Coordinator/Defensive Line Coach Kacy Rodgers noted that he would sit next to Cornerbacks Coach Kevin Ross during daily coach meetings and Ross would point out every day plays where Dean was getting his hands on the ball.
"This year it was kind of interesting going into camp, but he made it clear right away that we're going to have a battle for that position and each day he just kept making plays," said Rodgers. "With the style of defense that we play, our corners, they're out there, you've got to be able to get your hands on the ball and be able to cover 'X' and 'Z.' He stepped up and really did that and to see the growth of this guy and to see him really step up… because it was really close because Sean had a really good camp. But, really just to see the growth that he made was really impressive."
On offense, the last starting job to be finalized was at left guard, which had at least four aspirants during training camp. The Buccaneers drafted Luke Goedeke this spring in the second round with the expectation that he would battle veteran Aaron Stinnie to replace retired Pro Bowler Ali Marpet. Those two did indeed compete for the job, along with Nick Leverett and Brandon Walton, though Stinnie was eventually lost to a season-ending knee injury. Leverett and Walton did make the roster as reserves.
Bowles officially identified Goedeke as the starter on Monday. The rookie out of Central Michigan will now line up next to second-year man Robert Hainsey, a third-round pick out of Notre Dame in 2021 who is stepping in for injured center Ryan Jensen. The Buccaneers also have a new starter at right guard in 2022, having traded for experienced veteran Shaq Mason after incumbent Alex Cappa left in free agency.
The Bucs will have five new starters on offense this season. That's considering Cameron Brate, who did make three starts last year, as the replacement for number-one tight end Rob Gronkowski. It also includes three starting wide receiver spots, with Russell Gage joining Mike Evans and Chris Godwin.
Tampa Bay's defense has, essentially, three new starters, including defensive lineman Akiem Hicks (replacing Ndamukong Suh) and outside linebacker Joe Tryon-Shoyinka, who is moving up into the spot vacated by Jason Pierre-Paul. Mike Edwards is also getting his first shot to be a full-time, full-season starter after serving in a rotational role the past couple seasons. The Buccaneers' cornerback position was repeatedly hit by injuries last year, causing constant lineup shuffling, but Dean did make 11 starts so doesn't really qualify as a "new" starter. Though it is not considered a starting position, the Bucs do have a new punter in 2022 in rookie Jake Camarda.