The time has arrived. Training camp looms and with it, the foundation for the 2022 season. Rookies report on Saturday and the first practice takes place on Wednesday, July 27. After the offseason frenzy of roster moves and permeating questions regarding multiple positions, the team will take the field as preparations commence for the upcoming season. Evaluations begin, begging the question: Which players should fans monitor closely during the summer? Many household names will draw attention including Tom Brady, Mike Evans, Leonard Fournette, Lavonte David, Shaquil Barrett and Vita Vea, however a handful of players will be competing for a roster spot or looking to solidify their current jobs.
From rookies to veterans, here is a breakdown of the top 10 Buccaneers to watch.
The Buccaneers opted not to re-sign Jason Pierre-Paul, meaning both Shaq Barrett and Joe Tryon-Shoyinka will become the tone-setters. Tryon-Shoyinka, the Bucs' first round selection in the 2021 NFL Draft, played a variety of positions last season to maximize time on the field in his rookie campaign. The multi-faceted player rushed from the edge, the three-technique spot and served as an off-ball linebacker. In his first year, Tryon-Shoyinka concluded the season with 10 quarterback hits, five tackles for loss, three passes defensed, and 4.0 sacks in 560 defensive snaps. He now has the chance to specialize in one area, perfecting his craft as a 3-4 defensive end/OLB – complementing his downhill range and pursuit skills. Tampa's bread and butter, the twist stunt, plays into Tryon-Shoyinka's strengths - exploiting the opposite side gap with essentially a free run at the quarterback. He showed flashes in 2021 from various roles and now becomes a stationary cornerstone defender. As the pads come on in training camp, he will be one to observe.
Jordan Whitehead departed during free agency and Mike Edwards could fill the vacated role at strong safety. The Bucs acquired two challengers to compete for the role in Keanu Neal and Logan Ryan. During training camp, Edwards will strive to solidify his full-time role in the Buccaneers' secondary. Selected in the third round of the 2019 NFL Draft, Edwards has been utilized as a rotational safety and as a corner in nickel packages (a fifth defensive back is added to the field in replacement of a linebacker). During his three-year tenure in Tampa Bay, Edwards has posted five interceptions, two defensive touchdowns, 18 passes defensed, one forced fumble and 102 combined tackles. With rare instinctual play, Edwards is known for his "ball hawking" prowess that spearheads the last line of defense. He is a versatile playmaker who can blitz, cover slot receivers, disrupt screens and contain runs off the edge.
Jaelon Darden & Cyril Grayson Jr.
It is unclear how the depth behind headliners Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Russell Gage will play out. The competition will heat up during training camp as 2021 fourth-rounder Jaelon Darden, Cyril Grayson and many more aim to cement their role in the receiving corps by building camaraderie with Tom Brady. Every rep is crucial in building their resume during camp. Grayson, one of the most decorated relay racers in LSU history, possesses the vertical speed to win deep. Most memorable, with 21 seconds left against the Jets last season, Grayson stepped up. Known for his prowess as a long-sprinter in the 400-meter relay, Grayson displayed his straight-line speed in the NFL on a go-route to seal the victory with a game-winning touchdown. Grayson moved the chains with a comeback route a couple plays earlier and put his stamp on the team win. Despite his unorthodox road to the NFL, with 11 career receptions spanning three years, Grayson made significant strides in 2021 and has the potential to become an impactful deep threat for the Buccaneers.
Jaelon Darden, the club's primary return specialist last season, compiled six catches for 43 yards as a rookie. Even as injuries to the receiving corps piled up last year, Darden totaled three offensive snaps in the postseason. The determining factor for Darden in making the team is consistency. He showed flashes during OTAs that drew praise and if he continues the trend into training camp, Darden has a shot at making the final cutdown. With strength after the catch, stout contact balance and good acceleration, Darden has the opportunity to lock up a roster spot.
The Buccaneers' top pick in the 2022 NFL Draft will have the undivided attention of many. The 33rd overall pick out of Houston is presumed to play a significant role in 2022 as a dynamic pass rusher. Hall is projected to work predominantly at the 3-technique position, competing with free agent acquisition Akiem Hicks. In Todd Bowles' base 3-4 scheme with hybrid sub packages, Hall possesses the coveted combination of height (6-foot-6), weight (290 pounds) and speed (4.88 40-yard dash). He has position flexibility, primarily playing 3-technique in college in Doug Belk's multiple fronts, but also working as a five-technique, nose tackle and edge rusher. The Buccaneers are hopeful he will become an interior pass rush catalyst. At Houston, Hall utilized a lethal swim move to shed blockers and penetrate gaps. With a relentless motor, Hall showcased the bend/flexibility to attack from different angles and reacted well to counter pre-snap motion, along with screens. Throughout his collegiate career, he evidenced maturation both physically and mentally, which will bode well for him in the acclimation to the NFL. As his block recognition and pad level improve in the adjustment process, his ceiling is limitless. To see how Bowles uses Hall in various fronts will be a highlight of camp. How often Hall makes his way onto the field this season is predicated upon the work put in during training camp.
The left guard battle will draw eyes under the Florida heat as second-round pick Luke Goedeke challenges veteran Aaron Stinnie for the permanent role. Stinnie worked with the first team during OTAs and minicamp, but as Goedeke learns the offense and adjusts his hand placement, he will strive to dethrone the veteran. Following the retirement of Ali Marpet and the departure of Alex Cappa in free agency, Goedeke was drafted – perhaps with an eye to the future - to fill the role at left guard. At Central Michigan, Goedeke held down the right tackle position to fill a vacancy but is a natural fit at guard. A few weeks after enrolling at CMU, he made the transition from tight end to the offensive line, where he became a two-year starter for the Chippewas. With the ability to anchor in pass protection, stay centered in blocks and remain balanced through contact with lower body athleticism, Goedeke has the developmental traits to become a mainstay in the NFL. As he improves his coordination and hand placement in pass sets, his stock will rise.
Leonard Fournette will be the club's workhorse back. Ronald Jones II signed with the Kansas City Chiefs via free agency, creating the opportunity for another playmaker to emerge in the backfield. Third-round pick Rachaad White, third-year pro Ke'Shawn Vaughn and veteran Giovani Bernard will compete for the No. 2 spot. White provides position flexibility, with solid body control and tracking as a pass-catcher, along with lateral agility to bounce runs outside and make defenders miss. White's agility allowed him to consistently gain yardage that was not blocked for him at Arizona State. With vision and rare acceleration displayed in college, White can elevate the Buccaneers' offensive juggernaut. Touted as the shiftiest back in the Pac-12, White constantly eluded tackles and became a nightmare for flat-footed defenders in space. His explosive run style paired with experience running routes from the slot and out wide will add another dimension to the offense. As he battles for playing time in a Bucs jersey, keep an eye on No. 29.
With the recent retirement of Rob Gronkowski and departure of O.J. Howard in free agency, Cade Otton's progress takes on another meaning entirely. Historically, rookie tight ends take longer to adjust to the NFL and the intricacies that encompass the position, but Otton could see meaningful snaps this season if he emerges during camp. Selected in the fourth round of the 2022 NFL draft out of Washington, Otton projects as a Y tight end in the NFL. At Washington, Otton primarily lined up with his hand on the ground as an extension of the offensive line but gained leverage over the middle of the field with his size, boxing out defenders. With natural ball skills to haul in catches outside of his frame, Otton provides another dynamic weapon for Byron Leftwich. He was just a spectator at mandatory minicamp while recovering from an ankle injury that ended his season prematurely last year. The expectation is that he will be healthy and ready to go for training camp. Otton will be one to watch on the practice field at the AdventHealth Training Center as he learns from Kyle Rudolph and Cameron Brate.
In a contract year, nickel corner Sean Murphy-Bunting will strive to establish himself among the league's elite to land a lucrative payday. In addition to the added pressure to perform as his current contract expires soon, the Buccaneers brought in added competition to bolster the secondary. Former Patriots' star Logan Ryan has experience playing both safety and working in nickel packages as a slot corner. Ryan will vie for playing time, adding intrigue to Murphy-Bunting's pivotal year. No defense had opponents throw more passes against the unit than the Bucs, who faced 680 pass attempts last year. The opposition has predominately abandoned the run against the Buccaneers, relying on a passing attack. However, turnovers have remained elusive, leading to emphasis from the coaching staff during OTAs/minicamp on getting takeaways. After a stellar output in the 2020 playoffs that included three interceptions, Murphy-Bunting did not record a pick in 2021. Cornerbacks coach Kevin Ross disclosed his desire to see Murphy-Bunting ascend to an "All-Pro level of play" in 2022. The case begins now as Murphy-Bunting sets out to prove he is the unquestioned leader atop the cornerback hierarchy in the slot. Over his three-year tenure with Tampa Bay, Murphy-Bunting has accumulated four interceptions, one defensive touchdown, 14 passes defensed, three forced fumbles, one fumble recovery, five tackles for loss and 157 combined tackles. With fluid hip flips to mirror-and-match receivers on intermediate routes and disruptive ability to neutralize jet sweeps and screens, Murphy-Bunting will work to entrench his role during camp. As Ross candidly summarized back in May, "we expect big things from him this year."
There is an open competition for kicker duties between incumbent Ryan Succop and second-year pro Jose Borregales. Succop, who was a key contributor in the Super Bowl LV run two years ago, will be challenged by Borregales, who spent the duration of the 2021 season on the practice squad. In 2021, Succop tied his lowest success rate at 83 percent since 2013 and attempted just one kick from 50-plus yards during the 17-game season. For the Bucs in 2021, Borregales essentially fulfilled a redshirt year after achieving the Lou Groza Award the year before at Miami, being recognized as college football's top kicker. For the Hurricanes, he connected from 52 and 57 yards during his final campaign. Borregales is less experienced but shows promise, opening up the contest during training camp. Tampa Bay selected punter Jake Camarda in the fourth round in April and the club could have two newcomers make a debut on special teams in 2022.