Carving a 53-man roster out of a pool of 91 training camp players is a balancing act, with any added depth at one position costing the team a spot elsewhere on the depth chart. The initial 53-man roster that resulted from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 38 roster moves on Saturday gave that extra depth to the defensive line while going relatively slim at linebacker.
Injuries were likely a deciding factor on both ends of those interconnected decisions.
The Buccaneers kept 10 defensive linemen among their 25 defensive players, including all the newcomers added in free agency, the trade market and the draft during the spring. Those new Bucs include defensive ends Jason Pierre-Paul and Vinny Curry and defensive tackles Beau Allen, Mitch Unrein and Vita Vea. They mix in with holdovers Gerald McCoy, Will Gholston, Will Clark and Noah Spence to give the team what it believes will be a deep and impactful front-line rotation this season.
The last bit of depth comes from one of the most recent additions to the roster, veteran defensive tackle Jerel Worthy. The Buccaneers signed Worthy on August 20 and he played extensively in the last two games, starting Thursday's finale while all of the usual starters were held out. Originally a second-round pick by Green Bay in 2012, Worthy has played in 36 NFL games with the Packers and Bills, including five last year in Buffalo.
Worthy received praise from Head Coach Dirk Koetter for his play in the third preseason game, particularly considering he had only been on the roster for a couple days. His spot on the roster might have also been influenced by injuries that kept Unrein and Vea out for almost all of training camp. Neither has practice for weeks, which puts their availability for the regular-season opener in some doubt.
Injuries also reduced the team's options at linebacker, where the team might have found a way to retain six if not for late foot injuries that led to Devante Bond and Riley Bullough landing on injured reserve on Saturday. In addition, linebacker Kendell Beckwith will begin the season on the reserve/non-football-injury list, meaning he will miss at least the first six games. Adarius Taylor will step in as the starting strongside linebacker, as he has throughout the preseason, but the Bucs will have only two backups to start the season in sixth-round rookie Jack Cichy and veteran Cameron Lynch.
View photos of the Buccaneers' 53-man roster.
Below are some additional notes regarding Saturday's cuts and the initial defensive and special teams depth chart they produced.
CORNERED MARKET: The Buccaneers also tilted towards cornerback over safety in filling out the secondary, keeping six of the former and only four of the latter. It's common for the team to keep 10 defensive backs on the 53-man roster, but the split is often five corners and five safeties. Of course, those lines are sometimes blurred a bit by versatile players at both positions. Safety Justin Evans spent a week in practice handling the nickel corner job while some other cornerbacks were out with injuries, and rookie cornerback M.J. Stewart might be able to play safety, as well.
The cornerback position includes two of the five rookies who made the team on defense. Stewart has missed time recently due to a foot injury but has shown he can be a playmaker both in the slot and on the outside. Carlton Davis has battled third-year man Vernon Hargreaves for the starting spot opposite Brent Grimes. Even if Hargreaves retains that role in base packages, Davis could still play there when Hargreaves moves inside in nickel formations.
The added depth at corner comes from a player who, like Worthy, was added to the roster during the preseason. The Buccaneers claimed third-year player De'Vante Harris off waivers on August 12 after he was let go by the Saints. Harris played in 21 games with two starts over the past two seasons in New Orleans.
YOUTH MOVEMENT AT SAFETY: The Bucs got their safety crew down to four players with the two most notable cuts of Sunday, as veterans Keith Tandy and Josh Robinson were let go. A sixth-round draft pick in 2012, Tandy has been a valued reserve, occasional starter and special team stalwart in Tampa for six seasons. He played in 84 games over that span, with 15 starts.
Robinson was on the depth chart at safety but was on the team for his special teams prowess. He was a special teams captain for the Buccaneers last year and an accomplished cover man on punts and kickoffs for the last two seasons, though he missed five games due to injury in 2017.
Of the four safeties who remain on the roster, three are 25 or younger. The youngest is 21-year-old Jordan Whitehead, the team's fourth-round draft pick in 2018. The two starters remain veteran Chris Conte and 23-year-old Justin Evans, who arrived as a second-round draft pick in 2017. Isaiah Johnson rounds out the crew; he is 25 but has just four games of NFL regular-season experience, having spent most of his first two seasons on Tampa Bay's practice squad.
SNAP DECISION: There were no Saturday surprises in the kicking department, as punter Bryan Anger and kicker Chandler Catanzaro ran unopposed throughout most of the preseason. Anger is heading into his third season as the Bucs' punter after four years in Jacksonville; Catanzaro joined the Bucs as an unrestricted free agent this spring after three seasons in Arizona and one with the New York Jets.
Where the Bucs made an unexpected decision among the specialists was in cutting both of the long-snappers on the roster: veteran Garrison Sanborn and first-year man Drew Ferris. Ferris had been the only snapper on the roster for most of the preseason before the Bucs brought back Sanborn last week. Sanborn, a Tampa native, had been the team's long-snapper in 2017 after eight years in Buffalo.
Those cuts were actually only a mild surprise. Last year, the Buccaneers cut Sanborn on the Saturday when rosters were trimmed to 53, then brought him back the next day. Obviously, the team will need to re-sign Sanborn or Ferris or find another snapper on the waiver wire before September 9. Linebacker Adarius Taylor and tight end Alan Cross are listed on the depth chart at that position – and Taylor performed those duties in a game in 2017 – but are likely only considered emergency options.