Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bucs' Receiver Battle Could Go Down to the Wire

Training Camp Notes: With no more cutdown to 75 players, the competition for the final receiver spots could still be fierce in the preseason finale…Plus, a practice-field replay review of sorts, and more

View photos from the Buccaneers' 2018 Training Camp practice Friday at One Buccaneer Place.

Last summer, the NFL changed the procedure in which teams must reduce their roster from 90 players to 53 for the start of the season. For many years, that process happened in two steps, with teams trimming down to 75 men after the third preseason game and then making the rest of the cuts after the fourth and final warmup.

That intermediate cut was removed in 2017, which means teams only have to make one (very big) roster reduction, and it comes after all the games are played. NFL coaches were quite pleased with the change as it gave them more flexibility at the end of the preseason and one more chance to see their youngest players in action.

"I'm a big fan of the late cut because it gives you 15 more guys to play in that fourth game and you're always probably going to hold a few guys out of that fourth game," said Buccaneers Head Coach Dirk Koetter. "There are some guys that you're still a little bit on the fence on, so health comes into it. Yeah, the competition could go into that fourth game for a few of these last spots. It usually does anyway. The depth will help for sure."

Koetter wasn't specifically referring to the receiver position when he made that comment, but it does logically apply to that group. The Buccaneers appear to have a deep group of candidates to choose from at wideout this year, and they may be forced to cut a player or two they would like to keep around. The Bucs generally carry either five or six receivers on the 53-man roster in any given week.

Four of those spots seem fairly well tied up by Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson, Adam Humphries and Chris Godwin. That presumably leaves either one or two spots available for the likes of Justin Watson, Bobo Wilson, Freddie Martino, Bernard Reedy, Jake Lampman, Ervin Philips and Sergio Bailey.

Watson, Philips and Bailey are all rookies, with Watson arriving in the fifth round of the draft and the other two signing on as undrafted free agents. Lampman is a second-year player who got into six games with the Saints in 2016, while Wilson is technically listed as first-year player after appearing in three contests for the Bucs as a rookie last year. Reedy saw his first regular-season action last year with the Buccaneers, mostly as a kick returner.

Martino, a third-year player who turns 27 two days before this year's regular-season opener, has been around the longest in that group and has seen the most action for the Buccaneers. He has 17 catches over the last two seasons and emerged as a very good special teams player last year. However, Martino's progress in that competition has been slowed by an injury that has kept him off the field for much of this week.

"Freddie has been in this offense for like six years because he was with us in Atlanta," said Koetter. "Freddie is also a very valuable special teams player for us, but [his injury] gives the other guys reps."

The Bucs won't have to cut any of those seven players before the fourth game, and there's a good chance that all of them will be active and involved in the offense as the team rests the likes of Evans and Jackson. What transpires on that August 30 evening against Jacksonville could help make the final decisions at wide receiver, but of course that's also true of each and every practice in the weeks to come. Consistency and learning from one's mistakes will be critical for these competitors.

"Watson did miss a lot [in the offseason], so these reps are valuable," said Koetter. "Bobo Wilson is another guy that's trying to get up and Lampman is another guy that's trying to climb into that race for those last wide receiver spots. When one guy is out…whoever's turn it is, that's their time to shine. I promise you when those guys are sitting in those meetings and other guys are getting corrected, those other guys are thinking, 'Well, I wouldn't do that,' and then all of a sudden, you're out there and it's your turn. That's what practice this time of year is all about."

Upon Further Review: There's no instant replay in practice, which is fine because there's no scoreboard either. That said, the Buccaneers and their visiting NFL officiating crew came about as close to a replay review as one could possibly expect during training camp on Friday.

About 45 minutes into the team's two-hour field session on Friday morning, the wide receivers and defensive backs, plus three of the four quarterbacks, gathered near the north end zone of Field 3 to run a one-on-one drill. This one was conducted in the red zone, which means almost all of the passes went into the end zone, and some of them were heavily contested near the sidelines.

Rookie Justin Watson ran such a play when he got his one-on-one opportunity against cornerback David Rivers. Watson ran a fade to the back right corner of the end zone and managed to high-point a catch over Rivers, who had good coverage. Rivers did manage to ride Watson out of bounds, and it appeared as if he prevented the receiver from getting his foot down.

One of the NFL officials was stationed in that corner, just a few feet from the play, but he didn't signal whether or not it was a touchdown. What he did do was seek out a Bucs staffer after the drill was over, because he knew that staffer had captured the play on his phone to share on the team's social media feeds.

As the players switched fields for the next drill, the official watched the play several times over and eventually determined that Watson did get his second foot down. Presumably, the same thing will be clear to the rookie wideout when he and his fellow receivers go over the practice tape later in the day. Had this play occurred in a game, it likely would have been called an incomplete pass and the Buccaneers likely would have challenged and won. Since this was only a practice, we were treated to a slimmed-down version of the same series of events.

Roll the Scoreboard: Again, there's no scoreboard at training camp – or rather, there is one, but it's use to track the periods of practice and the time left in each – but if there was it would have been rolling during the one-on-one drill mentioned above.

Yes, Evans started the drill in a familiar manner, running a fade route against Vernon Hargreaves and pulling down a pass delivered to a spot only he could reach. Hargreaves wanted a call for a push-off but none came from the nearby official.

Among the other pass-catchers who had fine moments during the one-on-one drill (which admittedly favors the offense) was DeSean Jackson, who ran very similar routes on each of his first two reps, both successfully. In each case he made several cuts and ended up just over the goal line and just inside the right pylon. The pass was perfectly on target each time and the defender was helpless to stop the two touchdowns. Wide receiver Bobo Wilson executed a sharp route that saw him go to the back of the end zone, fake out and then cut back across the middle, where he caught the ball just in front of the back line. WR Adam Humphries perfected the opposite route, faking in and heading out along the back line.

In the Zone: Veteran kicker Chandler Catanzaro continues to make almost every field goal attempt with which he has tasked. After a perfect six-for-six session on Tuesday, Catanzaro booted another four tries in a field goal drill on Friday and all four split the uprights.

Catanzaro's four kicks varied between distances of 38 and 44 yards, and he alternated between the left and right hash mark from attempt to attempt. He also made a 54-yard try during the team's "mock game" in the indoor facility on Thursday.

Rookie kicker Trevor Moore did miss one of his four kicks, but he also finished his run by nailing a 54-yard attempt. He, too, had made a field goal of that distance during the mock game.

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