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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Camp Stars | S.S. Mailbag

This week, Bucs fans have questions about training camp diamonds in the rough, players with the largest shoe sizes and more


The Tampa Bay Buccaneers took 27 rookies into their 2023 training camp, making up 30% of the 90-man roster. There are another 10 players on that roster listed as first-year players, or "1s," which means they were in the NFL in some capacity before 2023 but have not yet accumulated a season of free agency credit. Wide receiver Kaylon Geiger, who came in to last year's camp as an undrafted free agent out of Texas Tech and spent all of 2022 on the Bucs' practice squad, is a good example of that category of player.

That's 37 of 90 roster spots used on rookies or the closest thing to it. Coincidentally, 37 is the exact number of spots on that roster the Buccaneers will have to trim by August 29 in order to get down to the regular-season limit of 53 players. Obviously, the team is unlikely to waive many, if any, of its 2023 draft picks, and both General Manager Jason Licht and Head Coach Todd Bowles have noted that there are very real opportunities this year for a good number of undrafted rookies. Those 37 cuts on the 29th are not all going to come from this group of NFL newcomers and first-year players.

But some of them will, of course. The good news is, that bit of unhappy news doesn't have to mean the end for a majority of those players who don't land on the 53-man roster to start the season. Just ask Geiger. Or Deven Thompkins, another 2022 undrafted receiver (Utah State), who successfully graduated from the practice squad late last season, took over the Bucs' punt and kickoff return duties and just had an eye-opening first week of his second training camp. NFL practice squads ballooned to 16 spots in 2020, some of that a last-minute response to the difficulties of COVID management, and they have stayed that way ever since. That means there are really 69 spots open to the 90 players currently putting in hard work in Bucs camp.

Which got me thinking. Which positions on the depth chart have benefitted the most from this very welcome bloating of the practice squad, which back in 1993 started out as five-man units? There's only so much you can do with a five-player reserve, but 16 practice squad occupants can help fill a lot of shallow spots on the active roster.

In 2020, the first year of the 16-man squads, there were 16 games, which means there were a total of 256 weekly practice squad spots during the season, not counting the bye week. The NFL expanded its schedule to 17 games in 2021, so for the last two years there have been 272 weekly practice squad spots available. On the Buccaneers' list of how a player is designated each week (it's called a "participation chart"), their status is determined by where they are by game day. Soif a player starts a week on the practice squad but is promoted to the active roster on, say, Friday, he is considered an active player for that week, not a practice squad member. Often the resulting open practice squad spot is not filled until the following week, so the actual number of weekly practice squad spots that were filled in 2020 was 252; in 2021 it was 261; in 2022 it was 266.

And the position to which the Buccaneers have devoted the most of those spots over the last three years? That would be the defensive line.

In 2020, the Buccaneers used 38 of their 252 weekly practice squad spots on defensive lineman. That was actually second on the list of positions to wide receiver, which got 44 of the spots. However, in both 2021 and 2022 the defensive linemen led the way, with 47 and 45 spots, respectively. Over those three years combined, which had a total of 779 weekly practice squad spots designated to players, here's how many each position commanded, listed from most to least, along with what percentage of the overall practice squad availability each one had:

  • Defensive linemen: 130, 16.7%
  • Wide receivers: 114, 14.6%
  • Offensive linemen: 111, 14.2%
  • Cornerbacks: 86, 11.0%
  • Safeties: 66, 8.5%
  • Tight ends: 62, 8.0%
  • Quarterbacks: 49, 6.3%
  • Running backs: 49, 6.3%
  • Outside linebackers: 41, 5.3%
  • Kickers: 33, 4.2%
  • Linebackers: 28, 3.6%
  • Punters: 6, 0.8%
  • Long-snappers: 4, 0.5%

Some of that correlates with how big the position groups are on the active roster. You start five offensive linemen in every game and often have eight on the active roster, so you're going to need a couple on the practice squad to have two full lines for a practice. Conversely, you only start one quarterback, and if you have four running backs on the active roster that's often enough to have all the snaps covered in practice.

Still, it's a little surprising to see outside linebackers relatively low on this list. A good OLB rotation has at least four players in it, and that can thin out quickly with injuries, as it did late in each of the Bucs' last two seasons. I suppose the reason for this is that real edge-rushing talent is hard to find. Over the last three seasons, the Bucs have had nine different OLBs on their practice squad at some point, and six of them only stuck around for five weeks or fewer.

So I guess the upshot is, if you're an inexperienced player on the Buccaneers' current camp roster who is hoping that, barring a spot on the 53-man roster, you can stick round via the practice squad, it helps to be a defensive lineman, wide receiver or cornerback.

Now on to your questions.

A reminder that you can send questions to me any time you want on Twitter (@ScottSBucs) and they're easier to find if you include the hashtag #SSMailbagBucs. We are also now soliciting questions each week on our Instagram page; look for that story on Wednesdays. As always, if you want to get a longer question into the mailbag and would prefer to email your question, you can do so to

Are there any "diamond in the rough" players who stood out week one?

- @wow_its_ethan_ (via Instagram)

Oh, there always are, Ethan. More often than not it's an undrafted receiver, like Texas Tech's Deven Thompkins last year. I vividly remember Thompkins making one highlight catch after another, belying his diminutive frame with a leaping ability and catch radius that didn't seem to make any sense. He absolutely lit up the Titans in one of the joint practices the two teams held in Nashville. The thing about these out-of-nowhere rookie receivers making splashy plays is, a lot of the time, they stand out for a week or so but have difficulty sustaining that level of play throughout camp. That was not the case for Thompkins, who impressed from beginning to end, earning a practice squad spots, several game-day elevations and, eventually, a promotion to the active roster where he took over the kick return jobs.

One player in that position this year is Maryland wide receiver Rakim Jarrett, an undrafted rookie with good size and 4.44 speed who was considered a somewhat raw prospect with a lot of talent and room for development. Jarrett has made a series of standout catches in the first week of camp. Now we'll see if he can keep it going like Thompkins did last year.

Speaking of Thompkins, does he still count as a "diamond in the rough?" If so, he's my number-one answer and it's not even close. If anything, he's been even better in camp this year than last summer – which I guess makes sense after a year of development at the NFL level – and he looks like he could be more than just a kick returner this year. I mean, did you see this catch last night:

I didn't actually see it at the time because some selfish football players were blocking my angle, but I did see how those players reacted when Thompkins made that catch. It was a very joyous sideline, at least the part occupied by players in white jerseys. Let's just say Thompkins' fan club is growing rapidly. The body control he displayed on that catch was amazing, and it's one of at least three times in the first week of camp that one of his grabs was deemed one of the day's must-see highlights by the Bucs' social media crew.

If a third-day draft pick counts, I'd also have to point out the first week put together by fifth-rounder SirVocea Dennis, a playmaking off-ball linebacker out of Pitt. I really like how Run Game Coordinator/Defensive Line Coach Kacy Rodgers described Dennis' knack for making plays, including two interceptions in the first four practices of camp.

"He has a great characteristic: the ball likes to find him," said Rodgers. "That is always a good thing in the league. He has been making a lot of plays for us. It makes for a lot of healthy competition all across the board."

Offensive Coordinator Dave Canales has also been impressed by what he's seen from Dennis so far.

"His eyes – he knows where he is supposed to be, first and foremost," said Canales. "He is in great position, but then he has a real suddenness to the ball. He tracks the quarterback's eyes and he is making – just quarterback 101, start with your eyes down the middle to hold the 'MIKE' linebacker. If we start staring routes down, he undercuts the things and he has great hands. That is the thing, it is not just his eyes and intelligence, but you have to be able to catch the ball too. He has a lot of that. He is a pretty good player."

One more: Christian Izien, an undrafted safety from Rutgers. Like Antoine Winfield Jr., Izien is a comparatively shorter but very solid safety who has good instincts, quick reactions and a nose for the football. What makes me think that Izien could emerge as a diamond in the rough and make the 53-man roster is that the coaches seem to be finding a lot of things for him to do. If you asked me before training camp who would be in the running for the wide-open slot corner job, I probably would have come up with Zyon McCollum, Josh Hayes and Dee Delaney. I doubt I would have expected an undrafted safety to be getting a decent number of reps there, but Izien has definitely been in the running. In addition, Special Teams Coordinator Keith Armstrong noted that Izien is a strong candidate for the second punt coverage gunner across from McCollum. And, given that the Buccaneers have virtually no experienced depth at safety behind Winfield and Ryan Neal, it would not be a stretch to predict that Izien will land one of the (probably) two reserve spots at that position.

Who has the biggest shoe size on the team?

- @hence89 (via Instagram)

I think I get this question at least once a season, and in this case I'm glad it came during training camp because the 90-man roster means there are a lot more players in the running for this crown. It also gives me a chance to visit the equipment room here at the AdventHealth Training Center, which is always an enjoyable experience.

Anyway, a rookie currently leads the group, but it could revert to one of the Bucs' best players if that rookie doesn't make the roster in the end. The current Buccaneer with the biggest shoe size is rookie offensive tackle Silas Dzansi, an undrafted free agent out of Virginia Tech. (By the way, Silas' last name is pronounced Jan-zee.) Dzansi is the one and only player on the current Bucs roster wearing a size 18 cleat.

Next on the list is another offensive tackle, fourth-year All-Pro Tristan Wirfs, who is making the switch this year from right tackle to left tackle. Frankly, it's hard to believe that a guy with feet that big can move them as nimbly as he does. Wirfs is just a rare athlete, which you know if you've seen the videos of him jumping straight out of a chest-high pool.

For a long time, this question was easy to answer and I didn't have to make a special trip to the training room for the answer. Long-time starting right tackle Demar Dotson, Wirfs' direct predecessor at that position, was famous for his enormous shoes. He wore a size 18, like Dzansi, but I guess it just seemed more of an outlier at the time.

Dotson's shoe size famously caused him a little trouble when he first got to Buccaneer headquarters in 2009. An undrafted free agent out of Southern Miss, Dotson was a former basketball player who only played one season of college football, seeing action in six games as a defensive tackle. He was supposed to bring his own cleats to the first day of the Buccaneers' rookie minicamp in 2009, but he forgot and the Bucs had no shoes in his size on hand. Dotson ran through his first practice in the basketball shoes he wore to One Buc Place, then the team had size-18 cleats overnighted to them for his second day.

None of this slowed Dotson down much, though. He made the team as an undrafted rookie, seeing action sparingly in 2009. After one season on injured reserve in 2010 and a 2011 campaign in which he mostly served as a reserve but did get two starts, Dotson began his long run as the Bucs' starting right tackle in 2012. He would go on to play in 130 games with 106 starts for Tampa Bay, followed by one season and eight starts for the Broncos in 2020.

What's your favorite moment you've had while on this team?

- @knox.poell10 (via Instagram)

Thank you for the question, Knox, but I think I would word it as "while working for this team." To me, "on the team" sounds like a player or coach, and I've never been that. That said, I've been here around the Bucs for a little over three decades and there have definitely been some unforgettable moments and I have very much appreciated the opportunity to be close to them.

I think number one for me was probably the point in the game on January 26, 2003 when the coworker sitting next to me in the press box at San Diego's Qualcomm Stadium turned to me, gripped my arm and said in a frantically hoarse whisper (remember – no cheering in the press box), his eyes wide, "We're going to win the Super Bowl!"

If my memory serves me correctly, and at this point sometimes it does not, this was near the end of the third quarter of Super Bowl XXXVII when nickel back Dwight Smith picked off a Rich Gannon pass meant for Jerry Rice and had nothing but green between him and the opposite end zone. The first of Smith's Super Bowl-record two pick-sixes gave the Bucs a 34-3 lead with 17 minutes of game clock left. The Raiders did make it a little interesting with a trio of touchdowns (all with failed two-point conversion attempts), but the lead never fell below 13 points and two more pick-sixes by Smith and Derrick Brooks sealed the deal. That whole night was amazing and surreal, of course, but it was that statement I remember the best.

In case you were wondering, yes being on hand for a second Super Bowl victory at the end of the 2020 season was amazing, too. It just wasn't quite as much of a personal moment because all of the COVID complications kept many of us a bit removed from the team. That was a thrilling game, though.

The "we're going to win the Super Bowl" conversation may be at the top for me just because winning a Super Bowl is what it's all about. That said, the single most exciting Bucs play I've ever seen – this is not exactly going to be a deep cut – is Rondé Barber's game-clinching 92-yard interception return for a touchdown that shut down the Vet and sent the team to that aforementioned Super Bowl, the first in franchise history. I know, go out on a limb, right? But it was truly a take-your-breath away experience, and I can assure you that the no-cheering-in-the-press-box rule was not adhered to by every Buccaneer employee in that particular press box.

From a personal standpoint, one very cool moment was when I was presented a framed and signed Barber #20 jersey to commemorate my 20th season with the team. It was particularly cool because Barber, my all-time favorite Buccaneer, was the person who presented it to me on the stage of the team auditorium at team headquarters.

View pictures from Tampa Bay Buccaneers Training Camp practice on 8/1/23.

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