The Tampa Bay Buccaneers must complete their roster cut to 53 players by 4:00 p.m. on Saturday, a process they will begin with a handful of moves on Friday afternoon. With 37 spots to clear off the 90-man camp roster, the Buccaneers could approach the deadline before rendering some of those roster verdicts.
As of mid-afternoon on Friday, Head Coach Dirk Koetter said that team architects were still "wrestling with a couple decisions that have to be made," though he obviously didn't reveal what the difficult topics were. That could refer to options for injured players such as Jacquies Smith, Devante Bond and Ryan Griffin. It could also refer to the weighing of positional depth at one spot against another; for instance, might the team keep a sixth linebacker at the expense of a 10th defensive back?
Or it might simply be that the Buccaneers are facing a few final spots on the depth chart where there are too many worthy candidates from which to choose. The battle for the fifth wide receiver spot, for instance, didn't get any less complicated with Thursday's preseason finale against Washington.
It's accepted wisdom that Tampa Bay will retain wideouts Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson, Adam Humphries and rookie Chris Godwin, and Koetter added on Friday that Humphries' hip injury is not a regular-season concern. That's three starters (counting Humphries job in the slot as a "starting" position) and a versatile reserve that can fill in at each spot. The Buccaneers generally keep either five or six receivers; a sixth spot isn't a guarantee on the first iteration of the roster, but they will certainly keep at least one more pass-catcher. A candidate for that job would help himself with flexibility and special teams prowess.
"That fifth receiver has to have some kind of a significant role on special teams," said Koetter. "And then, in a perfect world, they can play multiple spots on offense. If they can't play multiple spots on offense, then out of your three and four receivers, they have to be able to. Some combination of that."
Beyond the four listed above, the Buccaneers had seven more receivers in camp: (listed alphabetically) Donteea Dye, Shaq Hill, Josh Huff, Freddie Martino, Bernard Reedy, Derel Walker and Bobo Wilson. Dye, Huff, Martino and Reedy all have the advantage of having been with the Buccaneers before 2017, with Dye, Huff and Martino seeing actual regular-season playing time. That Dye and Martino are battling for one spot – along with some others – is an indication that the position is deeper than it's been in years.
"Those are two guys that have been around us here for the last couple years," said Koetter. "They're guys that have gone in and contributed for us at different times but this year they're in a battle."
Martino might be the one who best fits that fifth-receiver description above, as he plays extensively on special teams and would be able to fill in at any of the three receiver spots. However, Reedy also offers potential special teams value as a return man and the Buccaneers could go in a more specialized direction with that fifth spot since they already have the versatile Godwin.
Reedy capped a strong preseason on Thursday by scoring the Bucs' only touchdown on a 10-yard pass from Sefo Liufau. Reedy finished second on the team with eight catches in the four August games and also averaged 9.5 yards on six punt returns and 23.5 yards on two kickoff returns.
"I think he had a real consistent camp," said Koetter of Reedy. "Bernard is a situational player. Obviously by his stature, he's not your traditional X receiver that's going to go out there and go against a team's best corner in press-man all day. But in the things that he's asked to do, I think Bernard's done a good job."
The receiver who may have helped himself the most on Thursday night was Wilson, the undrafted rookie from Florida State. Wilson caught three passes for 58 yards, including a 40-yarder that set up a fourth-quarter field goal. He also had fine kickoff returns of 34 and 32 yards.
"Bobo Wilson finally got to touch the football and I thought he showed well for himself," said Koetter.
Dye, who played extensively for the Buccaneers in 2015, even starting a handful of games, also caught a pair of passes for 25 yards against Washington Thursday. He is trying to make up for lost time after watching a good portion of training camp due to an injury. Of course, that issue actually had one positive side effect for Dye.
"Donteea missed two-and-a-half weeks, so when he came back to practice these last few days he looked fast," said Koetter. "He had fresh legs where Freddie Martino, for example, took about a zillion reps in training camp. Anytime guys are held out, somebody else has to pick up the load, and I think Freddie wore down a little bit as camp wore on, where D.D. looked a lot fresher at the end."
That's a very good reminder that Koetter and company will be considering the receivers' full body of work in camp and the preseason, rather than just the stat sheet from Thursday night. Martino has had his moments, just like Reedy, Wilson and Dye did in the preseason finale. Huff, who played for the Eagles before coming to Tampa midway through last season, didn't even play in the last two games but has plenty of NFL videotape showing his talents. Walker's game tape comes from the Canadian Football League, where he was extremely prolific.
There's a lot to consider, including the secondary process of potentially signing several of the receivers who don't make the roster to the practice squad. The Bucs have been figuring the receiving corps out for months, and now the deadline to pick the best possible group is rapidly approaching. It could go down to the wire.