According to Head Coach Bruce Arians, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers intend to make some of their impending roster cuts late Friday afternoon before finishing the process the next day. All NFL teams must have their rosters pared to 53 active players by 4:00 p.m. ET on Saturday.
The two-stage process indicates that some of the decisions are easier than others. That doesn't mean that any of them are particularly easy. From a personal standpoint, this weekend is never easy for anyone involved, as it involves the professional dreams of dozens of young men, not all of which will be realized. But this one also happens to be difficult purely from a talent standpoint. As in, not wanting to lose any.
"I think when you look at the bottom half of our roster in the second half [of these] games, there's a lot of talent," said Arians. "This team – like I said when I first got here – they have plenty of talent. When you out and you win like that, it shows that the bottom half of your roster was quality, which is making some of these cuts really tough."
The Buccaneers outscored their preseason opponents by 20 points, 54 to 34, in the second halves of their four games. All four came down to the wire and all four were decided by two points or less, with the Bucs taking three of them. Ryan Griffin led the second-half charge in three of those games and was one of the team's top preseason performers, but the Bucs also got strong efforts from the likes of tight end Tanner Hudson, running backs Dare Ogunbowale and Bruce Anderson and receivers Bobo Wilson, Justin Watson and Spencer Schnell. On defense, Patrick O'Connor proved to be a versatile pass-rusher, Jack Cichy showed great range as an inside linebacker and rookie cornerback Jamel Dean showed off promising cover skills.
"I think the biggest thing – as I said last night – we found ways to win," said Arians. "For a team to find ways to win is a great growing area. We could've easily found ways to lose, and we didn't. The first game was really on me going for two early in the game. Had we kicked all three extra points [against Pittsburgh], we'd have been undefeated. It was finding ways to win with some guys like Griff – I think he was really the bright part of the whole preseason. He took young guys, performed well and won ball games in the second half."
As every young player knows, finding a productive role on special teams is the surest way to secure a roster spot. A couple young hopefuls made a splash in that area in the preseason finale on Thursday night in Denver. Rookie cornerback Mazzi Wilkins was credited with three kick-coverage tackles and first-year outside linebacker had his second special teams stop of the preseason. Wilson averaged 10.5 yards on two punt returns and also handled a pair of kickoff returns.
"Wide receivers, defensive backs – that's probably been the highest competition areas," said Arians. "Inside linebacker, special teams – I would throw tight ends in there too. That really high competition – I wouldn't be surprised to see guys on other teams from those rooms. The special teams part of it is the deciding factor. One guy might be a better player at his position but he's not as good as the next guy as a special teams player when you start getting down to four, five and six [on the depth chart]."
As Arians suggests, the true test of the Buccaneers' depth will come on Sunday, when the waiver wire reveals whether any of the team's cuts landed on 53-man rosters elsewhere. Before that happens, though, Arians and the Buccaneers' decision-makers are going to have to make some tough calls to get their own 53-man crew right.
The countdown to season kickoff is on! The Bucs are kicking off the NFL's 100th season with a FREE Tim McGraw pregame concert for all fans with a ticket to the home opener on Sept. 8! Get your tickets today.