Watch: Adam Hayward willing to fill any role, as always
In less than a week, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will open their 2013 preseason schedule against the Baltimore Ravens. That August 8 battle at Raymond James Stadium will fall just 15 days after the team began training camp, and it's certain that some of the position battles that began on Day One of camp will still be ongoing.
Still, the NFL requires each team to produce a depth chart before its first game, and that's what the Buccaneers did on Friday. Given that the chart has a robust 90 names on it and that the first regular-season game is still more than a month away, Friday's release is light-years from final. In fact, given a few injury situations, the starting 22 in next Thursday's game aren't likely to match what the Bucs have put on paper this week.
All of which is to say, consider the Buccaneers' current depth chart to be a work in progress rather than an official declaration of which players are ahead in the fight for starting jobs. It is nevertheless the first three-deep (or six-deep, as is the case at some positions during camp) to be put on paper, so it's worth a quick review.
Thus, some points of interest on the depth chart made public on Friday:
- Running Back
Doug Martin obviously remains the starter but there is a crowded group behind him trying to win time as his primary backup, or as a third-down back or a jack-of-all-trades. Right now, seventh-year man Brian Leonard is listed next behind Martin at tailback, with rookie sixth-rounder Michael James, July signee Peyton Hillis and second-year player Michael Smith rounding out that group. Leonard and Hillis are both seen as players who could fill a hybrid tailback/fullback role, and James has also been showing off his versatility.
"Your backup running backs have to be able to help you on special teams," said Head Coach Greg Schiano. "That's the athletic build that should [help on special teams] and at times we didn't have that last year, which hurt your 46-man roster. [It] put too much of a burden on the other guys."
- Wide Receiver
No real surprises here as Kevin Ogletree and Tiquan Underwood are listed right behind clear starters Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams, respectively. Underwood held the team's third-receiver job for a good portion of last season and Ogletree was seen as a direct competitor for that job when signed as an unrestricted free agent in March. Of course, the Bucs have been known to carry anywhere from four to seven receivers on the 53-man roster, some of that dependent upon decisions made in the special teams lineup, so it's good to look past the first two columns on the depth chart. Currently occupying the two slots behind Ogletree and Underwood are a pair of first-year players who were on the roster at the end of last year, Chris Owusu and David Douglas. Both have some capabilities in the return game; in fact, Douglas is listed second on this depth chart at punt returner.
"I don't know how many we're going to carry," said Schiano on Friday. "It all depends how the mix goes. If you carry three quarterbacks, then how does that affect other areas? If you have a special-teamer, if you have a guy that can be on your big four then you may not carry as many wideouts. Wideout is one of those positions where sometimes that can be the spot where you decrease the 53 and then maybe you help yourself out a little bit in practice squad. You need the legs, you can't ask your guys to do it in practice, but you may want to have that active position to be utilized for a big-four special teams guys. Those are all the juggling battles that take place, [but] that will be down the road a little bit. Right now we're just trying to figure out who our three is, and from there, what our four and five look like and then is there a sixth, or is the sixth a practice squad [member]? We'll figure it out."
Josh Freeman occupies the first line on the depth chart here, of course. What's noteworthy, though not a surprise considering how training camp has unfolded, is that rookie third-rounder Mike Glennon is next on the list, ahead of last year's primary reserve, Dan Orlovsky.
"I think Mike has been sharp all camp," said Schiano. "I think he's grasping the offense. He's got some good guys he's working with, not only with Mike Sullivan and John McNulty, but the rest of the quarterbacks. That room is a strong room. He's learning from some good people."
- Defensive Tackle
Rookie Akeem Spence has drawn some good reviews for his work during camp – Schiano said on Thursday that Spence has shown better pass-rush abilities than he had anticipated – but as of now veteran Gary Gibson holds the first spot on the depth chart next to Pro Bowler Gerald McCoy. It's worth noting that there are no rookies listed among the 22 offensive and defensive starters on this first chart. Veteran Derek Landri is the other player listed in the second column at DT, and the team often rotates three or even four players at that position on game day.
- Strongside Linebacker
Schiano has said that he expects both Dekoda Watson and 2013 free agent acquisition Jonathan Casillas to be among his 46 game-day actives during the regular season. He also considers Watson and Casillas somewhat similar players, and it's likely that either one is capable of taking this starting spot (the starter at the end of last year, Adam Hayward, is now listed at weakside linebacker behind Lavonte David). Watson has seemed to draw more of the first-team snaps through training camp so far, however, and indeed his name is first on the chart released Friday.
- Right Cornerback
Again, this is another spot where the eyes haven't lied during training camp. Johnson started five of the last six games at right cornerback in 2012 and so far he appears to be a prime candidate to keep that job in 2013, taking a lot of first-team snaps this summer. Of course, rookie second-rounder Johnthan Banks is right behind Johnson on the depth chart and has had a fine camp, as well. Just a second-year player, Johnson is mature beyond his years and he refuses to see training camp as a zero-sum battle between him and Banks, or any of the other young corners.
"I don't even look at it as competing for a starting job," said Johnson. "We just come out every day and get better. At the end of the day, someone has to play on the other side of [Darrelle] Revis, and that's both of our goals. There are other positions on the field that we can both play in and contribute and help this team. It's not about competition, outside of the lines, so much as getting better so we can all contribute to the team."
- Punt and Kick Returner
At the moment, that's two different jobs on the depth chart, though it's possible that one player could win them both. Either way, they're going to belong to different men than they did in 2012.
On the first depth chart, first-year wide receiver Eric Page leads the way on punt returns and second-year running back Michael Smith holds the top spot on kickoff returns. That, too, jibes with what has been seen on the practice field during the past week-and-a-half, though that work has a lot more to do with catching the ball cleanly and making good decisions than actually making any tacklers miss. For the return jobs in particular, opportunities during the preseason games are critical.
Joining Page in the punt return mix are first-year wide receiver David Douglas and rookie cornerback Branden Smith. Behind Smith at kickoff return are rookie running back Mike James and veteran wide receiver Tiquan Underwood.