Tampa Bay Buccaneers

One Buc Mailbag: Depth Perception

This week, the discussion starts with a look at the possible depth chart on defense this year, then touches again on last week's effort to build an all-time Bucs' depth chart.

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The best photos from the first week of OTAs.

Each week during the remainder of the offseason, Senior Writer/Editor Scott Smith will dip into the inbox to answer questions from  Buccaneer fans. This week, we look at how the defense might line up when the regular season arrives in three months. Last week's attempt to construct an all-time depth chart for the franchise leads to some feedback and we offer some hints as to what this year's training camp schedule will look like.*

Fans can submit questions for upcoming mailbags via Twitter to @ScottSBucs (#BucsMailbag), through a message on the Buccaneers Official Facebook Page or via email at *tbbsocial@buccaneers.nfl.com.  The One Buc Mailbag runs every Thursday and is not necessarily meant to reflect the opinions of the team's management or coaching staff.

*1. Defensive Lineup

Better? Can I just say "better."

On paper, that seems like a guarantee. The new players will have to prove it on the field, but Jason Licht and Dirk Koetter spent a good portion of the offseason adding much needed talent to all three levels of the defense. The pass-rush, in particular, got a jolt with Robert Ayers and Noah Spence, and the cornerback position looks a lot deeper and more promising with the likes of Vernon Hargreaves and Brent Grimes.

But you probably meant something more specific, didn't you Einar? Like, who will be the starting 11, something like that? Casey Phillips and I have discussed on several occasions on Insider Live that it might not particularly matter whether somebody like Spence is technically on the field for the first snap, and Defensive Coordinator Mike Smith said his unit is going to have something like 15 players it considers starters.

Still, somebody has to start – or 11 somebodies – and when the season arrives the Bucs are going to have to put out an official depth chart. So let's take a way-too-earlier, come-on-can't-we-at-least-wait-until-training-camp stab at this.

Let's go with the two most obvious ones: Gerald McCoy and Lavonte David will be starting. On the defensive line, McCoy takes one of the tackle spots and I would think Clinton McDonald is the likely other starter inside, even if the Bucs will use a lot of players there throughout the season. Assuming good health for everyone, I would consider Jacquies Smith and Ayers to be first in line at defensive end, although at this point I'm not going to predict right or left. The Bucs' official depth chart didn't even label the ends "right" or "left" last year, so I don't have to.

Spence and William Gholston, who was a starter for much of last year, are the second line of ends and it wouldn't surprise me to see Gholston still get some starts. George Johnson, Howard Jones and Kourtnei Brown would figure heavily in the mix at end, and several of those guys will be asked to take some snaps inside, too. Akeem Spence is the primary backup behind McCoy and McDonald.

The linebackers are the easiest call. David and second-year middle linebacker Kwon Alexander return; the former is already an NFL star and the latter looked like he had that potential as a rookie. He'll get a chance to grow. Daryl Smith, the long-time veteran who knows Mike Smith's defense very well, is almost surely the starter on the strong side. David and Alexander seem like the first two choices to stay on the field in nickel packages, but Smith may have something to say about that in training camp and the preseason.

There isn't much NFL experience behind those starting three, but sixth-round pick Devante Bond should get every chance to win a roster spot and play on special teams while learning the defense and the league. If the Bucs keep six linebackers, the battle for the other spots should be intense because you have a returning trio of special-teamers in Jeremiah George, Josh Keyes and Adarius Glanton, and you have some interesting undrafted rookies in Cassanova McKinzy and Luke Rhodes.

Given that Grimes was one of the team's key free agent signees and Hargreaves was the 11th-overall pick in the draft, they're the obvious first two guesses as to who will start at cornerback. Grimes' experience and recent history of playmaking makes him the surer bet of those two. Hargreaves will have to prove himself as the other best option, something that's a little more daunting given that Johnthan Banks and Alterraun Verner, both returning players, have extensive starting experience. Plus, the team signed Josh Robinson from the Vikings and also has Jude Adjei-Barimah starting. It wouldn't surprise me to see the Bucs keep six players at this spot, maybe at the expense of a fifth safety or sixth linebacker.

Chris Conte and Bradley McDougald got the majority of the safety starts last year, and both players were re-signed in the offseason, indicating that the coaching staff sees value in them. There's no reason you don't start off with those two at the top of the depth chart, with Keith Tandy remaining in his valuable and versatile reserve role. Ryan Smith, the fourth-round draft pick who is converting from cornerback to safety, is the interesting name to watch there.

2. All-Time Depth Chart FeedbackLast week, I took up a challenge from a Bucs fan in New Jersey named Matt. Matt asked me for an all-time Buccaneer starting lineup and I decided to go with a whole 53-man depth chart. Check it out if you missed it and that sounds interesting to you. I invited feedback, especially on a couple potentially controversial picks, and I expected at least a little bit of a backlash. I did get a littlefeedback, but no real acrimony. Here's what you had to say, with some additional comments from me:

Well, I think Bert Emanuel is remembered for two things: the rule that Mitch mentions (which I'll explain in a moment) and for mostly unmet expectations as a high-priced free agent signing. If you were making an all-time roster of Bucs who made some kind of lasting NFL mark – good, bad or neutral – I think Emanuel would be on there, but I don't think from a football standpoint he could beat out the receivers I chose. Frankly, Gerald Carter, Keenan McCardell, Lawrence Dawsey, Bruce Hill and Mike Williams would have better arguments, and Mike Evans will probably pass all of them very soon. I actually came close to shoe-horning Evans onto the squad, but it didn't seem fair to those ahead of him (for now) on the all-time receiving chart.

"The Bert Emanuel" rule, as NFL fans know it, refers to the fact that a catch can still be valid even if the football hits the ground. If the receiver secures a catch and lands on the ground, and a part of the ball touches the ground but doesn't cause a loss of possession, even for a split second, it's still a catch. In other words, if the ball doesn't move in his hands, it's still a good catch. That rule actually existed before the 1999 NFC Championship Game that gave it its new nickname; the league just chose to emphasize and clarify it after an incorrect call involving Emanuel.

With the Bucs trailing, 11-6, and 51 seconds left on the clock, Shaun King hit Bert Emanuel for an apparent 12-yard completion to the Rams' 23. That made it third-and-11 and the Bucs called a timeout to think over their next move. During that timeout, the play was surprisingly reviewed and as the Bucs were taking the field the ball was moved back to the original line of scrimmage, the Rams' 35. The referee ruled (incorrectly, in the minds of many) that Emanuel had used the ground to complete the catch. Now in a much more dire situation, the Bucs ran two more futile pass plays, a pair of incompletions, and the game was over.

It is widely believed that the NFL changed the rule in the 2000 offseason to make such plays a valid catch. As I mentioned above, that part of the rule already existed; it was just clarified so the next receiver who made a play like Emanuel's would get credit for his catch. That wasn't much consolation to Buccaneer fans.

Emanuel was a converted college quarterback at Rice who was drafted by the Falcons in the second round in 1994. He had some good years in Atlanta, including a 1,000-yard campaign in 1995, two other seasons with more than 900 yards and a nine-TD effort in 1997. After that last season, the Bucs signed him away even though the Falcons had put a transition tag on him. It was the team's second big attempt to land a #1 receiver in free agency, and it couldn't have gone much worse than the first: Alvin Harper. It certainly didn't go much better, though, as Emanuel played just two seasons in Tampa, catching a total of 63 passes. That may not have been all his fault, as the Bucs' passing game wasn't exactly robust at that time, but Emanuel never had another season of more than 41 catches after leaving Atlanta.

That was my thinking, too. The starting 11 on defense is downright scary, especially the defensive line. With the foursome of Lee Roy Selmon, Warren Sapp, Simeon Rice and Gerald McCoy putting relentless pressure on the passer, there would be plenty of turnover opportunities for such ballhawks as Ronde Barber and Mike Washington. And that doesn't even mention the linebacker position, which is probably the deepest in team history. Along those lines…

Thanks, Darren. Ervin Randle was indeed a very good player for the Buccaneers for six years, although it's his misfortune that those six seasons (1985-90) were a pretty bad stretch for the club. That said, I don't think Randle was the most deserving linebacker who didn't get a spot. As I said last week, I felt really bad about leaving off my last LB cut, David Lewis, along with the likes of Scot Brantley, Jeff Davis, Dewey Selmon and Barrett Ruud. Somehow, I also forgot to mention Jeff Davis. Perhaps that's Darren's point about Randle; he at least deserved mention in the write-up about the position.

You could definitely make a case for Ron Hall on the team, perhaps in place of Kellen Winslow. Hall was a Buccaneer for more than twice as long as Winslow (seven years to three) and they have nearly identical stats for the team. I mentioned that I felt Winslow was a more dynamic player (he certainly piled up his numbers much more quickly) but I wouldn't begrudge someone for preferring Hall. And, truth be told, I'm not really sure which one was a better blocker; if it's Hall, that could be an edge.

This isn't really an argument about my choices, or even a discussion of the all-time depth chart at all. It's just a big-time Mike Alstott fan. Of which there are more than a few around here. I just included it to point out that fullback, even with only one slot to fill, was one of the easiest picks of the whole exercise. This team is loaded in the backfield.

3. Camp Dates

I think that release is going to come out pretty soon, Robert, within a couple weeks. Last year, it was announced on June 23; it might be a bit earlier this year. I won't have exact dates and times of the open practices at One Buccaneer Place until that time, but I think you're going to have plenty of opportunities in the first week of August, particularly if you like mornings.

Even without the official schedule, there are some educated guesses we can make. First of all, you've got to know the little trick about training camp start dates: They can't be set more than 15 days before the team's first preseason game. The Bucs open the preseason on August 11, so they can't bring the team in before July 27. That's a Wednesday. I would expect you'll find the first open practices that weekend, maybe Friday or Saturday, and then most of them will be open for the next two weeks.

Last week, Head Coach Dirk Koetter confirmed that he intends to have his team practice in the mornings all the way through camp and the preseason slate. Those practices are about two hours long, so they'll probably start in the 8:30 to 9:00 a.m. range. That should make it nicer for both the players and the fans.

As camp approaches, you'll find all the information you need here on Buccaneers.com, including what you can expect in terms of parking, concessions, merchandise sales, autograph opportunities, activities for kids and cheerleading performances. The full practice schedule should be out soon, but you picked a good week to come to town, Robert. Or your wife did. Probably your wife.

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