The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and most NFL teams, are currently scheduled to open their training camps with full rosters on Tuesday, July 28. With the need for several rounds of COVID-19 testing and, probably, some period of time devoted to strength and conditioning, it's not yet clear exactly when formal practices will begin. Still, football is on its way back and we're counting down the days until cleats hit the grass behind the AdventHealth Training Center.
In fact, Staff Writer Carmen Vitali and I are going to count those days down with a series of burning questions regarding the Buccaneers and their upcoming camp. Carmen and I have each come up with five topics, and we'll both take a crack at answering each one. Here's the schedule for our Training Camp Burning Questions:
Wednesday, July 22: Which undrafted rookie are you most excited about?
Thursday, July 23: Which draft pick do you see making the smoothest transition?
Friday, July 24: Which player on the camp roster faces the toughest challenge over the next couple months?
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 undrafted rookie are you most excited about?
If I was trying to guess which of the 13 players were most likely to be with the team this fall, I'd probably go with San Diego quarterback Reid Sinnett or Texas center Zach Shackelford. The possibility of a quarterback being unavailable for an unspecified period of time due to the virus makes the need for a fourth quarterback who understands the playbook more pressing. Bruce Arians and Jason Licht also said prior to the draft that they would like to have a "developmental" quarterback around in 2020. I don't know if that means a spot on the 53-man roster or a practice squad assignment, but Sinnett has a good shot to be that fourth quarterback. Meanwhile, the Buccaneers lack depth being their interior-line starters and Shackelford was a long-time starter on a big-time program at Texas.
But the undrafted rookie I'm most interested in seeing once practice begins is Montana State wide receiver Travis Jonsen.
All three receivers the Bucs signed after the draft put up big-time numbers at smaller schools, with Jonsen joined by West Georgia's John Hurst and Jacksonville State's Josh Pearson. I can readily admit I never saw any of them play during their college careers, but it's not too hard to find highlights on YouTube. Jonsen looks like an intriguing do-it-all prospect. He was a highly-ranked "dual threat" quarterback in California but he eventually ended up as a receiver at Montana State, though even that really didn't tell the story. Last fall, Jonsen caught 55 passes for 580 yards and one touchdown, ran 82 times for 549 yards and eight scores and completed six of seven pass attempts for 64 yards and a touchdown. He was second on the team in receiving and third in rushing. At the end of the year, he was named first-team All-Big Sky Conference, not as a runner, receiver or passer but as an "all-purpose" player. I wonder if they made that spot on the team up for a player of Jonsen's unique set of skills.
I know the Buccaneers don't really need any more big-time weapons on their offense; there already aren't going to be enough footballs to go around in that loaded group. But I still think Arians would like to have a gadget player at his disposal. I base that on the fact that late last season he made a point of moving cornerback John Franklin – a former all-purpose offensive weapon in college – to receiver and then got him into the game in the season finale. Franklin took a handoff and ran around right end for 11 yards on his one chance to touch the ball. Franklin is obviously a good candidate to fill that gadget role if there is one, but I think Jonsen would get a look, too. Again, like the guys listed above, Jonsen might have to start out on the practice squad, but some teams are probably going to have to go deep into their overall pool of players this season.
The Bucs have seemingly had success with former LSU Tigers and you don't need to look further than last year's first-round pick to see that. Inside linebacker Devin White is joined this year by his former teammate in outside linebacker Michael Divinity Jr. and boy, am I excited about this guy. The Bucs are a little thin at outside linebacker, but lucky for Divinity, the two players that start at the position dismiss any concerns I have about the Bucs' perceived lack of depth.
Both Shaq Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul are guys that don't want to come off the field. Ever. It takes their coaches physically restraining them at times, even in practice. I love that attitude and I can't think of any two players I'd rather a young rookie learn from. Because of their unwillingness to miss a snap, Divinity Jr. will likely be allowed time to develop and progress. Let's also not forget about last year's fourth-round pick in Anthony Nelson, who the defense will be looking to add into the rotation now that he has a year of experience under his belt. Nelson fought through injury last season but again, it allowed him to take things slow and learn from the guys ahead of him. Carl Nassib was a big help in grooming the young fellow former Big Ten edge rusher but Nassib departed in free agency to Oakland this offseason. Time for Nelson to step up and perhaps Divinity to assume the next in line.
Coming off a national championship, Divinity fought through injury himself in his senior season but returned for the Tigers' final victory over Clemson. Prior to that, his last game action had come six games earlier against Auburn where he registered five tackles, including a sack and seven-yard tackle for loss. Divinity's junior season in which he played 12 games in 2018 saw him record 54 total tackles, including 9.5 tackles for loss and 4.0 sacks along with one interception, one forced fumble and two fumble recoveries. He's a former quarterback from Louisiana who undoubtedly now uses those football smarts to get after the position he formerly played and I think he could end up being a nice addition to both the outside linebacker room as well as special teams.