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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Five OTHER Position Battles to Watch in Bucs' Preseason Opener

From the slot corner starter to the fourth spot on the wideout depth chart, the Bucs still have a lot to sort through before the regular season and the competition will heat up under the lights on Friday night


Baker Mayfield will get the start in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' first preseason game of 2023, with Kyle Trask taking over at some point later in the evening. In Week Two, that order will be reversed. Those two games will be the next, and probably most important, step in their head-to-head battle to open the season as Tampa Bay's starter.

That's obviously the most significant decision the Buccaneers have to make regarding the depth chart before the start of the regular season. It is not the only one, however, and with up to 90 total players and 40 newcomers to the rosters potentially suiting up against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Friday night, there will plenty of other position battles to monitor. Here are five to keep an eye on:

Slot Corner

This is the only position on defense that appears to be a wide-open battle heading into the preseason games, and while it's not actually listed as a starting position on the depth chart it is definitely thought of as one by the coaching staff. The Buccaneers had at least five defensive backs on the field on 59.6% of their defensive snaps last season, so it is definitely critical to find someone who can handle that workload in the nickel package.

At the beginning of training camp, Head Coach Todd Bowles said he would consider any defensive back on the roster, and even potentially look for outside help if no one on hand fit the ball, to play in the slot. He did, however, mention five specific names who would definitely be getting a look at that spot: Dee Delaney, Josh Hayes, Christian Izien, Zyon McCollum and Anthony Chesley. Through the first two weeks of training camp, the majority of the first-team slot corner snaps have gone to Delaney and Izien.

Once a bit of a journeyman, Delaney has stuck on the Bucs' regular season roster the last two years largely due to his impressive versatility. He has seen game action at outside corner, slot corner and safety in that span, and that sort of positional flexibility is highly sought after when a coaching staff is trying to figure out how to narrow a 90-man roster down to 53. Izien is an undrafted rookie out of Rutgers who played safety for three years before manning the slot corner job as a senior, and he has had an impressive start to his training camp. Hayes was drafted in the sixth round this past spring and the coaching staff said at the time his first assignment would be to learn the nickel job.

Fourth Receiver

For some of these position battles we will making an assumption or two about the top of the depth chart, and that's the case here where the presumptive first three on the Bucs' receiving line are Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Russell Gage. And indeed, since Gage returned from a leg injury that had him sidelined to begin camp, those three have often come on the field together as an "11" personnel package that seems ready to order for the regular season.

After that, the Buccaneers will keep at least two and very possibly three more wideouts on the 53-man roster. There are 11 other candidates and, other than late-spring addition David Moore, they combine for very little NFL experience. Several of them have made a good impression in training camp so far, however, including daily big-play maker Deven Thompkins. An undrafted free agent out of Utah State last year, Thompkins already claimed the Bucs' kick and punt return jobs late last season and his impressive training camp suggests he could have an expanded role on offense in 2023.

Undrafted rookie Rakim Jarrett, a Maryland product, has made a string of standout plays during the first two weeks of camp, as well, and fellow rookie free agents Ryan Miller and Kade Warner have received positive reviews too. The Buccaneers are obviously hoping that their sixth-round draft pick Trey Palmer, for whom they traded a 2024 fifth-round pick to get, will claim a spot on the roster with his impressive combination of speed and size.

Fourth Outside Linebacker

On Wednesday, Bowles pinpointed this position as the one that would be the most difficult to pare down when the cut-down to 53 players arrives, simply because there is so much NFL-caliber talent in that room. Shaq Barrett's return to full-speed action after last season's Achilles tendon tear was one of the most welcome sights at the start of training camp, and the coaching staff is anticipating a big leap forward from third-year man Joe Tryon-Shoyinka in 2023. The new contract the Bucs gave Anthony Nelson in March to keep him in the fold suggests he's a lock to be a big part of the OLB rotation.

How the depth chart falls out after that, and how many edge rushers the team decides to keep overall, is still to be determined. Tampa Bay poured significant draft resources into the position in April, taking Louisville's Yaya Diaby in the third round and Eastern Michigan's Jose Ramirez in the sixth. Diaby has shown an impressive blend of speed and power so far and Ramirez is viewed as a potentially productive designated pass rusher.

The Buccaneers also have the underrated Cam Gill returning from a foot injury that cost him all of 2022 and believe they have some under-the-radar pass-rushing talent in Charles Snowden, Hamilcar Rashed and undrafted rookie Markees Watts. The Bucs have typically gone with a four-man OLB rotation on game days, and even the fourth player in that rotation has to fight for snaps, so there will be a fierce competition among young players in the preseason not only to grab roster spots but also to get a helmet on game days.

Second Running Back

Rachaad White took over the starting job midway through his rookie season and fully ascended to "RB1" status for the Buccanees when Leonard Fournette was released in March after a fine three-year run in Tampa. Barring some unforeseen circumstance, White is likely to see his snap share ramp up significantly from the roughly 45% he saw in his first year.

However, the Buccaneers are not expected to make White a one-man show and there is room for at least one if not several other backs to carve out significant roles on offense. One of those is former third-round pick Ke'Shawn Vaughn, who is headed into the final year of his rookie contract. Vaughn has been given just 79 carrires and 22 targets over his first three years, but his one-cut quickness and acceleration appear to make him a good fit in the Bucs' new zone running scheme.

The Bucs' coaching staff is also high on sixth-year veteran Chase Edmonds, who they grabbed in free agency after an unexpectedly low-usage 2022 season that saw him bounce from the Dolphins to the Broncose after four years in Arizona. Edmonds had several very productive seasons for the Cardinals, including two with over 40 catches and 850 yards from scrimmae, and Offensive Coordinator Dave Canales has described him as being "shot out of a cannon" on swing passes.

Bucs coaches are also pleased with the early work of undrafted rookie Sean Tucker, who was extremely productive at Syracuse but was passed over in the draft due to a heart issue unearthed at the NFL's Scouting Combine. Tucker has been given a clean bill of health and there's a good chance he will convince the coaching staff to go four deep in the backfield for the regular season.


This one is pretty straightforward. The Buccaneers have two veteran placekickers on the 90-man roster but there will only be room for one when that is reduced to 53.

The candidates are Chase McLaughlin and Rodrigo Blankenship, both of whom have good seasons with the Indianapolis Colts on their resumes. McLaughlin's is the most recent, and he was the first kicker the Bucs signed after releasing Ryan Succop in March. He handled Indy's kicking for the last 16 games of the 2022 season (coincidentally replacing Blankenship) and made 30 of 36 field goal attempts, most notably nine of 12 tries from beyond 50 yards. The Bucs are looking for more reliable distance in their kicking gmae in 2023 and McLaughlin has made 17 of 21 from 50 and farther in his career.

The Bucs later added Blankenship after the draft. He has had 56 field goal attempts over various stints in Indianapolis and Arizona and has made 47 of them, including 32 of 37 for the Colts in 2020. He hasn't had as many opportunities from beyond 50, making two of five tries so far, but has displayed plenty of leg strength on the practice field. Neither kicker has to worry about kickoff duties, as those are handled by punter Jake Camarda.

McLaughlin and Blankenship had a field goal period in practice on Wednesday, with each kicker attempting three-points from 22, 33, 49 and 53 yards out. Both went a perfect four-for-four. That did little to create separation between the two, obviously, but the real test is when the lights come on Friday night and in the other two preseason contests.

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