Tampa Bay Buccaneers

S.S. Mailbag: Early Camp Impressions

We're one week into training camp and Buc fans have a ton of questions about lineups, kickers, the rushing attack and more.


The folks on Instagram had lots and lots of questions this week, which I have to believe is the result of training camp starting and giving us all kinds of new topics to discuss. We also are getting our first bits of evidence as to how things are going, now that we're about a week into practices. So let's skip the preamble this week and get right to your questions!

A reminder that you can send questions to me anytime you want on Twitter (@ScottSBucs) and they're easier to find if you include the hashtag #SSMailbagBucs. We are also now soliciting questions each week on our Instagram page; look for that story on Wednesdays. As always, if you want to get a longer question into the mailbag and would prefer to email your question, you can do so to tbbsocial@buccaneers.nfl.com.

Will there be any changes to our starting lineup on both sides of the ball?

- im2slick4u1116, via Instagram

Yes, Slick, there will be. Of course, that's true every season, but the specifics are different each summer. Let's go through spots at which there will definitely be changes, and then a couple where there is a good chance of seeing something new.

1. Right guard. The other four starting spots on the offensive line appear set with the incumbents: LT Donovan Smith, LG Ali Marpet, C Ryan Jensen and T Demar Dotson. However, it does not appear as if Caleb Benenoch will reprise his role as the starting right guard – he's been focusing on playing offensive tackle and could end up as a key reserve – while second-year man Alex Cappa has been getting the first-team looks at right guard. I believe the team's first hope is that Cappa seizes that opportunity and runs with it, but he could get competition from veterans Earl Watford and Evan Smith, and perhaps Mike Liedtke.

2. Wide receiver. This is only technically correct, but you know what they say: Technically correct is the best kind of correct. Obviously, Mike Evans remains one of the starters, but Chris Godwin should be the other one and he only started five games last year. He was playing as much as DeSean Jackson, but not getting the official starts last year. That will be different in 2019.

3. Defensive line. Remember, the Bucs are now identifying as a 3-4 defense, which means that if the defense is in base personnel on the game's first snap there will be three down linemen and four linebackers on the field. Ndamukong Suh will likely be one of those, joining Vita Vea and perhaps Will Gholston. That means you'd have at least one new starter on the D-Line.

4. Outside linebacker. In that same base front, you will have two outside linebackers primarily serving as edge rushers. One of those probably would have been Jason Pierre-Paul, but it does not appear as if he will be ready to play at the start of the season. That means you'll have a new starter there, perhaps Noah Spence or Shaq Barrett.

5. Inside linebacker. Devin White will be starting. He wasn't here last year, so that's obviously now. Lavonte David remains a starter, of course, but he used to be the starting "weakside linebacker." Now he's identified as one of the two ILBs.

6. Cornerback. Thanks to injuries, the Bucs started a lot of different players on the corners last year, but the two that got the most starts were Carlton Davis and Brent Grimes. Carlton is still running with the ones but Grimes is gone, so there will be at least one new starter there. Of course, it may be the same guy who started in the first game last year but then was lost to injury for the rest of the year: Vernon Hargreaves.

7. Safety. Ditto here. Injuries forced a lot of shuffling at the two safety spots so it's a little misleading to call anybody a returning starter here. Jordan Whitehead did open 11 games last year and could retain his spot but whether the other one is incumbent Justin Evans (10 starts last year), rookie Mike Edwards or someone else that will still be a pretty new look.

Other possibilities…

8. Running Back. Peyton Barber seems to have a pretty good grip on the starting spot but it remains possible that second-year man Ronald Jones could end up with an even bigger role than originally envisioned.

9. Kicker. Yes if rookie Matt Gay wins the one-on-one competition for the job, no if incumbent Cairo Santos holds onto it.

10. Punter and long-snapper. Not technically starting positions, as is also true of kicker, but they are in spirit. Bradley Pinion and Zach Triner have replaced Bryan Anger and Garrison Sanborn.

So, yes, there is the possibility of quite a bit of change in the starting lineups this year, particularly on defense.

View some of the top photos from Buccaneers Training Camp practice at the AdventHealth Training Center.

Whys does only 1 kicker practice per day?

- Justinoates, via Instagram

Fair question. Obviously, Justin has been following the breathless reporting from the AdventHealth Training Center about how the two competing placekickers are faring. (Spoiler alert: They're both doing really well!) He has noted that the Bucs have had a field goal period in every practice so far, but the two kickers have been alternating days. As the veteran, Cairo Santos got to go first when camp opened, then Matt Gay followed on Day Two and they've been alternating ever since.

Apparently the Bucs' new coaching staff wants to put the spotlight on just one kicker each day and run him through the paces. Generally, it's the same setup for each guy, with a series of nine or 10 kicks starting fairly close and then backing up about four yards for each successive one. They've both made some very long kicks, including a 61-yarder by Santos during his third run-through on Tuesday. Presumably it will be Gay's turn on Thursday night after the off day.

But I think I understand what Justin is getting at here. If you had both kickers competing on the same day, it might ratchet up the pressure a little bit. If one guy makes a 47-yarder and the other guy has to line up immediately after and try to match it, that could be a bit more stressful than usual. And who knows, maybe Bruce Arians and his staff will do something like that later in camp. This just might be all part of the progression of the competition. So far, the method that Arians has used to apply some additional pressure on a kick is to call the kickers on at the end of a move-the-ball drill, in what is more like an in-game situation.

Of course, everything that happens on the practice field is secondary to how the two guys fare in the preseason games. So I guess what I'm saying is, "stay tuned."

How does our run game look?

- Kari_up2, via Instagram


Who has shown the most improvement this offseason?

- ev.h34

I put these two questions together because I think the clear answer for the second one is Ronald Jones, and that could shed some light on the first question.

I'll start by saying this – the Bucs have only had three practices in pads so far and they've only had one period that featured live tackling. I hate to say it, but it's pretty hard to tell how good a team's rushing attack is without real hitting or tackling. That's why it was good to see some solid evidence in practice on Tuesday that Tampa Bay's ground game may be significantly improved in 2019. This is what Arians had to say about it:

"The offense kind of bounced back and I really saw the beginnings of a solid running game. The backs played really well today. We had a really good blitz-pickup drill and they stepped up. It was a very nice step forward today."

Arians had some praise specifically for Jones after the young back provided the best highlights of the live-tackling session with a pair of explosive plays, one on a short outlet pass that featured a series of broken tackles and one on a run around the edge. Both of those plays went to the outside, but Arians says Jones has actually been doing his best work between the tackles. Both of those things are encouraging, as the Bucs need to be better on inside runs in 2019 but they would also benefit from getting the ball in Jones' hands out in space.

Again, though, I feel more confident in my answer to the second question than the first one. All the offseason raving about Jones from his coaches and teammates seems to actually mean something now that the pads are on. Given the disappointment of his rookie season, Jones would easily be the team's most improved player if he became a big part of the offense. As for the first question, there are reasons for optimism about the running game as a whole, but really not enough evidence yet to declare it much-improved.

Speed Round!

Are we signing Matthew Eaton?

- c_bunks5, via Instagram

Yes we are. Or, I mean, we did. We did sign wide receiver Matthew Eaton on Wednesday, apparently after good ol' cbunks sent in this question butbefore_ it got to me. The Buccaneers had a number of transactions during their off day, and this one was likely done early in the day, though not announced until later. One of those transactions was the waiver claim of former Colts tackle William Poehls, and the team didn't know if it would be awarded Poehls (a team higher in the claim order could have nabbed him instead) until the league sent out its transaction wire at 4:00 p.m. ET. So the Buccaneers waited until that was taken care of and then announced all the roster moves at the same. There's a peek behind the curtain for you!

Is Mike Evans okay?

- Sellecktallon, via Instagram

Yep. I assume that was prompted by Evans taking a ride on a cart back into the building before practice was over on Tuesday. The thing to know about Tuesday is that it was very hot and humid out on that practice field and receivers do a lot of running during a workout. Arians identified the issue as cramps and said Evans was taken inside to get some fluids. "He is fine," said Arians, prompting a chorus of relieved sighs from Buc fans…and presumably one know from Sellecktallon, which is something I've never typed before.

How is Vernon Hargreaves looking?

- Vaughngator, via Instagram

He's doing great! I say that because Casey Phillips and I do a live broadcast from every practice that is open to the public, in which we take questions from fans, and we've talked about Hargreaves quite a bit. He has made a lot of splash plays in the first five practices, including an interception that fired up the crowd on Tuesday and another one on Saturday that ended a hurry-up two-minute drill by the first-team offense.

Hargreaves has been running with the first team throughout camp, and he seems to be thriving in the new, more aggressive style of defense the Bucs are playing. And I'll tell you this: You don't have to worry about his confidence or enthusiasm. Hargreaves is performing well in this camp, and he knows it, and he doesn't mind celebrating those big plays. Hopefully we see lots of celebrations this season.

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