It appears there are very tight position battles still being waged on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 90-man roster, and some of them may actually be decided on Thursday night.
The Buccaneers conclude their preseason on Thursday with a visit from the Washington Redskins, a game in which dozens of front-line players will rest while those still fighting for jobs get the spotlight. Realistically, of course, there are some players who surely remain long shots, at least for the 53-man roster, and there are positions that have very little remaining mystery. But at some spots on the roster and the depth chart, evidence provided in the preseason finale will be critically important
The Buccaneers' ratings in this years Madden video game.
Perhaps surprisingly so.
"I know everyone has their projections on what it is, but I think most people would be surprised at how close it is for multiple spots," said Head Coach Dirk Koetter. "There are some spots where we want to see how these guys play in the game. That's not only for roster spots on the 53[-man roster], but also guys we want to keep here on the practice squad. We look at practice squad as guys that we think have a chance to develop and play for us – and that's proven that we have done it."
As Koetter alluded to without giving direct examples, it's not difficult to guess where the closest battles remain: Slot corner, fifth (and maybe sixth) receiver, fourth (and maybe fifth) tight end, fifth (and maybe sixth) linebacker, reserve defensive tackle. All are possibilities. One might also wonder if the back-end depth at such spots as the offensive line and running back are still being determined.
Once Thursday night's game concludes and the players have done all they can to support their respective cases, Koetter and General Manager Licht will have much work of their own to do. And it won't be easy. By Saturday at 4:00 p.m., the roster must be reduced to 53 players; as the weekend progresses after that, the Buccaneers may dive into the suddenly teeming waiver wire, and they will also select a 10-man practice squad. The primary goal for every competing on Thursday will be to hold onto a spot at One Buccaneer Place through the weekend, but Koetter and Licht have to weigh factors both near and far. Player injuries complicate the process, obviously.
"Jason and myself have to be thinking about not only the very first game, but you've got to be thinking long-term as well, and you have to be thinking about the 46 [players] that would be up on September 10," said Koetter, referring to the regular-season opener in Miami. "Yeah, it's a little tricky and it changes every day based on practice, you get a couple guys back, a couple other guys get nicked up and we're playing a live game Thursday night, so again it could change."
If earning a roster spot is a first-level victory for players still in competition, and getting chosen for the practice squad is second-level, there is still a third potential reward for good play on Thursday night. That loaded waiver wire will produce a round of cuts and signings around the entire NFL, and a young player who can't find a spot in Tampa might attract interest from another team. Like the other 31 teams, the Buccaneers will be watching all of the action very closely in the final preseason weekend.
"Jason and his staff – they are very involved in that," said Koetter. "That's what they do this time of year. Right after practice when we go up and watch the tape of what we just finished practicing, Jason and his guys not only watch our practice, but they're watching all those preseason games and getting their grades on guys. They have projections on who might pop loose from other teams."
Likewise, we could project possible winners of the aforementioned battles – Freddie Martino? Alan Cross? Adarius Glanton? Chances are, however, it's still a little too close to call.