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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Training Camp Goals: 2024 Buccaneers, Numbers 20-29

Our latest set of proposed camp goals include the priorities for several candidates for the slot corner job, a couple of veteran offensive skill players and a key defender getting his first shot at a Week One starting job


Before he left for one final vacation from football before the Tampa Bay Buccaneers open training camp, quarterback Baker Mayfield said he planned to return to town and begin working out before the veterans' reporting date. The point was to make sure that he was fully acclimated to the Bay area heat and humidity by the time practices began.

That's a wise decision, and he's likely not the only Buccaneer who will employ that strategy. But these final weeks before football returns in full force are also a good time for players to consider their goals for training camp. We've been thinking about that, too, which is why we're using this time to take a guess at what those goals may be for each player on the 91-man camp roster. We've already covered everyone who wears a jersey number between zero and 19 and today we move on to those in the 20s. That group includes a veteran running back, several candidates for the starting slot corner job and even a couple receivers.

View photos of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers taking part in Day 3 of Mandatory Minicamp at AdventHealth Training Center on June 13th, 2024.

#21 CB Andrew Hayes: Hayes, who went undrafted out of Central Arkansas this spring, didn't immediately sign with any NFL team. He was invited to the Seahawks' rookie minicamp on a tryout contract but that didn't lead to anything in Seattle. The following weekend, he landed another tryout in the Buccaneers' rookie camp, and this time he caught the coaches' eyes and got a spot on the 91-man roster. That gives him a more extended opportunity in training camp to show that he was originally a hidden gem and angle for a spot on the active roster or practice squad. That's not an unheard-of rookie path; Bucs outside linebacker Markees Watts made that exact progression last spring and summer. Hayes has good size and sub-4.5 40 time on record, which could profile as a good special teams candidate. Like all undrafted rookies, Hayes will have a better shot at sticking around in the fall if he shows he can be productive in that phase of the game.

#22 RB Chase Edmonds: Over the last nine weeks of the 2023 season, playoffs included, Edmonds was the only back other than Rachaad White to take a snap on offense for the Buccaneers. White was one of the NFL's busiest workhorses, but when the Bucs didn't want to give him a rest they called on the steady veteran, who they trusted to run, catch passes and ably block for the quarterback. Since then, however, the Buccaneers have used a fourth-round pick on former Oregon running back Bucky Irving, who they believe can be a good complement to White and will probably get a decent amount of playing time. Edmonds, who has played six seasons in the NFL and been in a variety of different roles as it relates to playing time, could have twin goals for his seventh training camp. One could be to hold onto a pieces of the backfield snap distribution even with Irving now in the mix. The other could be to serve as a mentor to the young back, particularly given that Edmonds has shown he can be very productive in the passing game, like the Bucs hope Irving will be.

#23 S Tykee Smith: The Buccaneers drafted Smith out of Georgia in the third round in April and quickly made it clear that they believe he can compete for the primary slot assignment in the sub packages. However, there will be heavy competition for that job, particularly from the man who filled it last year and is still around. That would be second-year man Christian Izien, who arrived as an undrafted free agent from Rutgers last spring but had nailed down a significant role on defense by the time the season began. The Buccaneers also touted Tavierre Thomas's previous work in the slot when they signed him as a free agent in March. At the same time, the Bucs' coaches will likely see how Smith handles the safety position, too, as they are very fond of having versatile players in the secondary, such as Izien, Antoine Winfield Jr. and Zyon McCollum. Smith is a virtual certainty to make the 53-man roster but how soon and how much he plays on defense will depend on how well he displays a command of Todd Bowles' defensive schemes in camp.

#24 CB Tyrek Funderburk: Another undrafted rookie, this Appalachian State product has already put himself on the coaches' radar. After he made several splash plays on the first day of the Bucs' June minicamp, including an interception, Bowles said that Funderburk had "flashed out of pads." That's a good thing for the rookie hopeful, of course, but the coach's caveat is worth noting. Bowles liked what he saw from Funderburk in practices conducted in shorts and t-shirts, but now he wants to see if the rookie can do the same thing when the pads go on, the heat goes up and the competition intensifies. Funderburk will have a lot of company in the ranks of young and relatively unknown roster candidates trying to catch the coaches' attention in camp, but in his case he already has them looking his way. So his obvious goal is to keep that momentum going when the team reconvenes for practice later this month.

#25 WR Sterling Shepard: Shepard was the last addition to the 91-man roster the Buccaneers will take to training camp, signing in June just before the offseason-capping minicamp. Shepard provides a depth of NFL experience that most of the team's reserve receiver candidates lack, having played eight seasons for the Giants and hauled in 372 passes. Shepard also has preexisting relationship with Mayfield, having shared one extremely productive season with him at Oklahoma. After Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, the rest of the receiver roles are up for grabs as camp starts, and there will be intense competition for the last couple spots on the regular season depth chart. After several seasons that were interrupted by injuries, Shepard will be looking to show that he still has the form that helped him catch between 59 and 66 passes in each of his first five NFL campaigns. Whether its an intentional goal or not, if Shepard can prove that his wealth of experience is a significant advantage over his young camp mates, that will greatly improve his chances of having a decently-sized role in 2024.

#26 S Kaevon Merriweather: Merriweather, who suffered an ankle injury in the final game of his rookie season with the Bucs, was not able to practice at all during the team's offseason program, including the final minicamp. However, Bowles said at the end of that camp that the only player who might not be ready to hit the field at the start of training camp is tight end Ko Kieft. That would seem to indicate that Merriweather will be returning to action later this month. That's obviously good news, but missing out on the offseason program may put the second-year defender a bit behind his teammates in terms of handling the rigors of training camp. Thus, an obvious camp goal for the former undrafted free agent is to get his legs under him as quickly as he can. Merriweather already took the biggest step last year as a rookie, making the active roster and playing in 16 games, even starting two of them, so the Bucs' coaching staff already knows how they feel about his talents. Getting back into the mix, holding onto a prominent role on special teams and working towards a shot on defense are the camp targets for Merriweather.

#27 CB Zyon McCollum: In one sense, this is a big season for McCollum, in that he is expected to be an opening-day starter for the first time in his career. However, as Coach Bowles has stated on several occasions, the Bucs already think of McCollum as a starter because he opened nine games as an injury replacement last year and acquitted himself nicely. That experience made the Buccaneers comfortable enough to pull the trigger on a trade of Carlton Davis to the Lions, so the goal for McCollum this season – and starting in training camp – is to prove that the team was right to trust him. McCollum has the size, speed and agility to be a big-time playmaker in the Bucs' defense, but after two seasons he is still looking for his first interception. Getting his hands on the football more often is a big-time priority for the third-year cornerback in 2024, and training camp is a good time to work on those ball hawking skills.

#28 WR Cephus Johnson: Johnson didn't join the Buccaneers last summer until halfway through August, so the fact that he landed a practice squad spot and held onto it for the entire season suggests that it didn't take him long to demonstrate to the coaches that he has NFL potential. Johnson was primarily a quarterback during his college days, so he is still learning on the job in terms of being a pass-catcher at the pro level. He's now had a whole year of practice with the Buccaneers to work on that full-time transition, so this year's training camp is a perfect opportunity for him to show the coaches that he has polished his game and can be productive against NFL defenders. Another season on the Bucs' practice squad would give him even more of a chance to hone his game, but Johnson will surely be setting his sights higher in camp this year, trying to win out in that crowded battle to land a spot on the regular season depth chart.

#29 S Christian Izien: Izien was wildly successful in meeting his assumed goals in last year's training camp, his first in the NFL. After the Bucs signed him as an undrafted rookie, they began floating his name as a competitor for the slot corner job that was wide open after Winfield's move back to safety. If that seemed like a long shot in May, it quickly became evident in training camp that his candidacy for that job was very real. Izien made the active roster, held down the slot assignment all season and finished with 63 tackles, two interceptions and a forced fumble. All of that suggests it would be unwise to bet against him as he enters his second camp with fresh competition for that job from newcomers Smith and Thomas. Incumbent starters typically get the first shot at running with the first team, so Izien's clear goal in this year's camp is to start out on top and then fight back all the efforts to unseat him.

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