Throughout this week, Team Writer/Reporter Brianna Dix and I have been taking turns giving each other surprise topics for our 'List with a Twist' series. If you're just tuning in, the premise is that we each have to engage in the time-honored internet exercise of writing lists, but we don't get to choose the topics. Instead, we are giving each other unexpected assignments regarding the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the upcoming season.
For her third exercise, I'm going to ask Brianna to look ahead a few weeks to the Buccaneers' upcoming training camp. Head Coach Todd Bowles noted on several occasions in May and June that the team's OTA practices and minicamp were mostly about installation and getting every player ready to hit the ground running when training camp starts in late July. It's important for nobody to be behind because that's when the competition really begins.
The goal of training camp is to produce a 53-man roster that is prepared to take on the challenges of the regular season. Some spots on that roster are obvious – Tom Brady is the quarterback, Shaq Barrett is the top edge rusher, and so on. However, there are some jobs that will be up for grabs when camp begins, or ones that could be reassigned due to particularly strong or weak camp performances. On that is what Brianna is going to discuss in this List with a Twist.
Today's Topic: What are the five most exciting and/or important positional battles that will take place in the Buccaneers' 2022 training camp?
There is not much more explanation needed. What do we need to watch to see the best competition once camp begins? I would say this: You don't have to limit yourself to starting positions. Even if, for example, Leonard Fournette clearly hangs on to the lead role in the backfield, perhaps there will be a battle for the second spot on the depth chart. You can cast your net far and wide on this one, Brianna.
Brianna: Gearing up for training camp? Yes, please. A plethora of players will be fighting for playing time and a coveted spot with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Those names will be dictated by training camp production. Who rises to the occasion and exceeds expectations? Players will be giving it their all to impress the coaching staff in order to move up the depth chart to cement their spot on the esteemed 53. There are numerous position battles I could have chosen for Scott's prompt but here are my top five battles heading into the Bucs' 2022 training camp! In other words, snag the popcorn.
5. Backup running back role
Like Scott mentioned above, three-down back Leonard Fournette re-signed on a long-term deal and will be the club's incumbent starter. Ronald Jones II signed with the Chiefs via free agency, creating the opportunity for another playmaker to materialize on the field. Third-round pick Rachaad White and third-year pro Ke'Shawn Vaughn will compete for the No. 2 spot. Giovani Bernard has primarily been the team's pass-catching back, replacing Fournette on some third downs and clear passing situations. He will become a challenger for the up-for-grabs RB2 spot.
White led all Pac-12 backs in 2021 with 48 targets, elevating Arizona State's aerial attack. He presents a pass-catching upside and will be a bigger target for Brady to pick out on reads. White quickly accelerates post-cut and possesses the lateral quickness to bounce runs outside. His elusiveness in space makes defenders miss and he will elevate the Bucs' ground game. In his acclimation to the NFL, the biggest thing for White is learning the playbook, absorbing the scheme, and translating both between the hash marks. The vision is there, now it is about execution.
Vaughn has been a dependable back for the Buccaneers. The 2020 third-round draft pick proved his worth during the playoffs in 2021. With more emphasis on running the football, Vaughn stepped up. Without Fournette out of the lineup against the Eagles in the Wild Card victory, Vaughn rushed for 53 yards and a touchdown. He can bounce off tacklers with a low center of gravity, enabling him to easily break to the second level. Vaughn hits another gear when he hits the open field and is difficult to bring down, making him a mismatch in space for defenders.
Bernard joined the Buccaneers in 2021 after spending the first eight seasons of his NFL career with the Cincinnati Bengals. In 12 games, he accumulated eight carries for 58 yards and caught 23 passes for 123 yards and three touchdowns. Like Vaughn, Bernard made his presence known in the Wild Card playoff victory against the Eagles. Bernard tallied 83 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown. He became one of the league's most recognized pass-catching backs while playing for the Bengals and adds an additional weapon in Byron Leftwich's arsenal. Veteran Kenjon Barner, primarily a kick returner the last two seasons, provides additional depth. The running back corps will be one to watch as the club strives to become more balanced on offense in 2022.
4. Fifth and sixth wide receiver spots
Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Russell Gage have their starting roles entrenched. Godwin is still recovering from a torn ACL and there is no guarantee he will be ready for the start of the season, fostering competition and added reps for other playmakers. Several receivers will be competing for multiple spots on the roster at No. 4, No. 5 and No. 6 including Tyler Johnson, Jaelon Darden, Scotty Miller, Cyril Grayson and Breshad Perriman. Then there are multiple undrafted rookies in the mix featuring Jerreth Sterns, Deven Thompkins and Vyncint Smith.
Tyler Johnson had the most targets (55) last year among backup receivers. He established himself as the No. 4 receiver early in the year when Antonio Brown was sidelined due to an ankle injury. The Bucs selected Johnson in the fifth round of the 2020 NFL Draft and he served in a limited role as a rookie, making 12 catches for 169 yards and two touchdowns. In 2021, his load increased, and Johnson played 612 snaps for the Bucs, adding 36 passes for 360 yards to his stat line.
Perriman was a 2015 first-round pick by the Ravens but never found his rhythm in Baltimore's offensive system, in part due to a string of injuries. His best campaign came in 2019 for the Bucs, when he caught 36 passes for 645 yards and six touchdowns and had three consecutive 100-yard games after Godwin and Evans both got hurt. He had stints with the Jets and Lions before making his way back to a pewter and red jersey.
A former college sprinter, Grayson has accumulated 10 receptions for 212 yards and two touchdowns in three game starts. He flashes his track speed on vertical routes, including a game-winning touchdown against the Jets last season as injuries decimated the receiving corps. He stepped up, much like Breshad Perriman, who posted a game-winning touchdown in overtime against the Bills. In 2021, Miller spent half the year on injured reserve dealing with turf toe. The ensuing result? He had just five catches for 38 yards and will be looking to up his stock in 2022. Darden, known for his prowess as a return specialist, is elusive. The Bucs' previous fourth-round pick had just six catches for 43 yards in 2021 and will primarily be used on special teams. He averaged 7.5 yards per punt return last season, 19.9 yards per kick return and has caught the eyes of coaches during OTAs.
All will be intriguing to watch as competition heats up at the AdventHealth Training Center.
3. Kicker: Ryan Succop versus Jose Borregales
Right now, the Buccaneers' kicker spot is a two-fold battle: competition for a roster spot along with a starting gig. Veteran Ryan Succop, who has been the club's reliable contributor in critical gametime situations including the Super Bowl LV clash, has a challenger in Jose Borregales. Succop had his lowest success rate since 2013 at 83 percent and only attempted one kick from 50-plus yards in 2021. With the rising question mark on his range, Borregales is another contestant vying for the starting role.
Borregales spent last season on Tampa Bay's practice squad, essentially classifying as a redshirt year. He is not established and although less proven on the NFL stage, he provides promise. At Miami, Borregales won the Lou Groza Award as college football's most esteemed kicker in 2020. He showcases a strong leg, drilling both a 52 and 57-yarder during his final campaign for the Hurricanes. That will be a top battle to watch under the Florida sun, coming in at No. 3 on my rundown.
2. Left guard: Luke Goedeke versus Aaron Stinnie
The offensive line will undergo a transition in 2022. Ali Marpet, the club's Pro Bowl left guard, retired and right guard Alex Cappa signed with the Cincinnati Bengals in free agency. Both were stabilizing forces, leaving a void that must be replaced. Seemingly four starters are locked in for the start of the season featuring Donovan Smith at left tackle, Ryan Jensen at center, Shaq Mason at right guard and Tristan Wirfs at right tackle. During training camp, there will be an open competition for the left guard spot between second-round selection Luke Goedeke and veteran Aaron Stinnie.
Goedeke, the 57th overall pick in the second round of the 2022 NFL Draft, was a two-year starter in Central Michigan's zone-blocking scheme. He is a finisher in the run game and possesses great contact balance to stay centered in blocks. Goedeke has the developmental traits to be a starting guard in the NFL but the biggest learning curve is hand placement and coordination off the line of scrimmage. Goedeke played right tackle in college and is used to shooting with his right hand. Now, he must switch as he adapts to playing on the left.
Stinnie originally joined the Bucs as a waiver claim in 2019 and made an impact in Tampa Bay's Super Bowl LV run, stepping in for injured right guard Alex Cappa. He was given lavish praise for his production and battled Cappa for the starting role in 2021. He is an obvious candidate for the left guard stop with a proven resume in the interior. Overall, Stinnie has played in 23 games with four starts, including the playoffs. He re-signed with the Bucs on a one-year deal during the offseason and will strive to solidify a permanent job in the Bucs' well-established line. This has already been a headline battle to watch as both got in work at the line of scrimmage during 11-on-11.
1. Strong safety battle opposite Antoine Winfield Jr.
Todd Bowles wanted additional competition at strong safety and his request was granted. The club signed two veterans during free agency, former Falcons safety Keanu Neal and former Patriots star Logan Ryan. Former Bucs safety Jordan Whitehead signed with the Jets and Mike Edwards could step into the vacated role at strong safety. Third-year pro Antoine Winfield Jr. will be incumbent starter at free safety but the job opposite him is open for the taking!
There will be different roles in certain packages and Edwards, Neal and Ryan will challenge one another, breeding success on the gridiron.
Neal was part of the linebacker rotation in nickel packages last season for the Dallas Cowboys and will transition back to his natural role in the Bucs' safety room. Prior to his stint in Dallas, Neal was the stereotypical cover 3 strong safety for the Falcons. He made a name for himself with rare physicality in the box and for his natural coverage ability - carrying running backs and tight ends. Neal received a Pro Bowl nod in 2017 after posting a career-high 116 tackles, four tackles for loss and three forced fumbles. Injuries have interrupted his otherwise ascending career (ACL tear- 2018, Achilles tear- 2019) and the Bucs will provide reinvigoration, igniting his career on the back end.
Last year with the Giants, Logan Ryan accumulated a career-high 117 combined tackles, eight passes defensed and two forced fumbles. With stellar short-area quickness, Ryan's athleticism will bolster the secondary. He provides flexibility, having played both as a slot corner and safety over the previous few seasons. Throughout his career with the Patriots, Ryan logged 705 combined tackles, 13 sacks, 18 interceptions, and 14 forced fumbles in 140 career games.
Mike Edwards is known for his "ball hawk" skills, resulting from instinctual play. He was selected by the Buccaneers in the third round of the 2019 NFL Draft and has been used as a rotational safety and as a slot corner in nickel packages, when the Bucs' added a third corner on the field. Edwards can blitz, cover slot receivers, and beat rushers to the perimeter. With superb route recognition and ball-tracking ability, he has a knack for getting his hands on the ball. The coaching staff has placed an emphasis on interceptions this offseason and that is certainly an upside for Edwards.
Scott's Thoughts: I guess I should have just done this list myself, because I'm pretty sure those are the same five I would have picked. Who needs a twist?
I would also have considered the fourth cornerback spot, since that could prove to be an important part of the depth chart if 2022 is even a little like 2021. With Carlton Davis, Sean Murphy-Bunting and Jamel Dean all missing time due to injury last year, the Bucs went well beyond their fourth cornerback at various times during the season. Will rookie Zyon McCollum show enough early on to be the next man up if Davis, Dean or SMB is out for a while? Could it be Dee Delaney, who has made a number of splash plays on the practice field this offseason?
Of all of these choices, though, I think the receiver competition is what will spark the most interest for me. And you know what, that tends to be true in almost every training camp. Obviously, it's easier to tell if a receiver is having a big camp than it is for, say, a guard or a defensive tackle. In addition, it always seems like there is a string of young receivers taking turns getting on a heater in camp; sometimes they stay hot and make the roster, and sometimes they fade away. It's a training camp tradition and I'm ready for it.