Senior Writer/Editor Scott Smith and I spent last Friday hypothesizing who we thought might have the toughest challenge throughout camp for one reason or another. Now, we are going to shift the focus to who may be at an advantage, however unlikely that may be operating under the imposing global pandemic.
The good news for the Buccaneers is that for the most part, they were able to hang onto integral pieces from last year with experience in the current system. Last year was a lot of acclimatizing to new Head Coach Bruce Arians and his staff. Now, players are familiar with their roles and responsibilities, which should lead to some time saved on the learning curve. Of course, changes come with each season so no player or unit will be immune to some degree of difference in the hope of improvement, but some units may be further ahead than others. Those are the ones both Scott and I will aim to identify below.
This series is meant to pass the time as we count down the days to training camp action. Each day, Scott and I will be answering one of 10 questions:
Monday, July: 27: Which unit will get off to the fastest start in camp?
Tuesday, July 28: Other than Tom Brady, whose absence for an extended period would be the toughest for the Buccaneers to overcome?
Wednesday, July 29: Who do you think is most likely to fit into that third receiver role?
Thursday, July 30: How do you see the offensive backfield shaping up?
Friday, July 31: Who will be the first player to intercept Tom Brady in practice?
Monday, August 3: Which player on the roster will make the biggest leap from 2019 to 2020?
Tuesday, August 4: Who 'wins' training camp? Offense or defense?
Today's Question: Which unit will get off to the fastest start in camp?
With two top-ten receivers leading the way, I thought briefly about the Bucs' wideout room. Veterans like Mike Evans, and now Chris Godwin (entering his fourth season), are operating out of routine at this point. However, not only is the battle for that third receiver spot wide open, they'll also have a new quarterback throwing them the ball. Even with as vested as that veteran signal caller is, there are still bound to be some hiccups while they all build chemistry and get their timing down. The quarterback-receiver relationship is very nuanced, after all.
This is why I'm actually going to pivot to the other side of the ball where you'll find two healthy inside linebackers in veteran Lavonte David and now second-year player Devin White. These two are the anchors in the middle and after battling through injury earlier in the season, White finished his rookie campaign extremely strong. Like, with back-to-back NFC defensive rookie of the month honors, strong. Plus, he has undoubtedly benefitted from the nine-year veteran by his side in David, who despite his lack of recognition is the best inside linebacker in the league and to me, it's not close. The pair have now learned how to work together and have experience with all the moving parts of Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles' defense. Plus, with how close the two guys are, I have to think that their relationship has only gotten stronger off the field, which should lead to even more chemistry on it. There will be no playing catch up in that regard for the two, so that should lead to them truly hitting the ground running.
Veteran linebacker Kevin Minter is also returning, and he's perhaps the most familiar of any player with the defense after playing for Bowles back in Arizona. Minter knows the concepts of the system inside and out, which makes him an ideal rotational player that can step in at any time – like he showed last season in White's absence. You've also got Jack Cichy returning from injury and Noah Dawkins to round out that group. Dawkins played primarily special teams last season but again, has a year of learning the defense under his belt. All in all, the unit is set up well and is full of familiar faces.
View pictures of the Buccaneers' 2020 draft picks.
Wide receiver. It's always wide receiver, so if Carmen isn't going to take that group I'll jump on it with the second pick.
It seems like every summer a good number of receivers get off to fast starts and we start to wonder how the coaches will possibly be able to cut the group down to five or six players. Then by the time those final cuts arrive, we're wondering if it's possible to go six deep. That's because that early momentum isn't always maintained, and also because injuries can cut into the positional depth. Take Bryant Mitchell – the former CFL standout was off to an excellent start in training camp a year ago and was gaining buzz as a dark horse candidate to make the active roster. Then Mitchell tore an Achilles tendon in the preseason opener and ended up on injured reserve for the entire season.
(The good news: Mitchell, who is extremely upbeat and a delight to be around, has recovered from that injury and is ready to take another crack at the 53-man roster this August.)
Coaches want players who can consistently maintain a high level of play from day to day in training camp, and that's simply not easy for most prospects to do. Still, a fast start can get a young player on the coaches' radar and lead to more opportunities. That very thing was happening with rookie safety D'Cota Dixon in last year's camp before he, too, landed on injured reserve, and Head Coach Bruce Arians is still including Dixon when he talks about candidates to earn starting safety jobs in 2020.
That's why the relative inexperience of the Bucs' receivers behind Evans and Godwin doesn't deter me from choosing this position group. Evans and Godwin, of course, are not only established stars but also consummate professionals who are sure to show up for the start of camp in great shape and ready to go. Fifth-round draftee Tyler Johnson brings a similar reputation with him from Minnesota. Young veterans Justin Watson and Scotty Miller should be fired up for this camp, knowing they have a very real chance to win the third receiver job and thereby get much more playing time. And roster hopefuls like Mitchell will be looking to make every rep count. And you can count on this: We'll be raving about a couple of these young players within the first week of camp.