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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

What to Watch for at Mandatory Mini Camp 

With the arrival of mandatory mini camp and the impending 2024 NFL season, what should garner attention on the Bucs’ practice fields?

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Safety Tandem

The Buccaneers will field one of the best safety tandems in the NFL in 2024 with Antoine Winfield Jr. and Jordan Whitehead. Whitehead reunited with the team that drafted him after spending the previous two seasons with the New York Jets. He inked a two-year deal back in March with the Buccaneers and returns to the unit where he started 55 games from 2018-21. In the suffocating Florida heat, mandatory mini camp will provide a glimpse at the dynamic duo in action on the practice fields.

Winfield Jr. reverted back to a role at free safety in 2023 but was occasionally utilized in the box to collapse the pocket and invade the backfield. He produced a prolific season in 2023 for the Buccaneers, earning first-team All-Pro honors. Winfield Jr. put forth an NFL Defensive Player of the Year-caliber season in 2023, posting 122 tackles (six for loss), 12 passes defensed, eight quarterback hits, 6.0 sacks, six forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries and three interceptions. He ignited Todd Bowles' defense and made plays from sideline-to-sideline.

While with the Jets, Whitehead played in and started all 34 of the team's games. He amassed 186 tackles during that span along with six interceptions and 17 passes defensed, including career-highs in interceptions (four) and tackles (97) last season. After primarily playing in the box for Tampa Bay, Whitehead showcased his versatility and range in New York while frequently lining up deep. The downhill hitter enhanced his game and cemented his status as a do-it-all chess piece. In his first four seasons with the Buccaneers, Whitehead accumulated 292 tackles, five interceptions, 25 passes defensed, 2.0 sacks and 22 tackles for loss in 59 games. In six playoff games, Whitehead posted another 22 tackles, a pass defensed and two forced fumbles.

Center Competition

In the 2024 NFL Draft, the Buccaneers addressed the trenches. With the first overall pick, the Bucs selected Graham Barton, a versatile offensive lineman out of Duke. Barton earned freshman All-America honors at center in 2020 and went on to start 34 games at left tackle over the last three seasons of his collegiate tenure for the Blue Devils. He will compete for the Bucs' starting center job in 2024 with Robert Hainsey. After Ryan Jensen was put on IR at the outset of the 2023 season, Robert Hainsey was thrust into the starting role for the second-consecutive season. Hainsey started all 17 games in 2023 and helped solidify the unit around Baker Mayfield. Throughout rookie mini camp and voluntary OTAs, Barton has impressed with urgency through the whistle. With core strength, violent hands, movement skills and effective drive blocking capability, Barton will help fortify the line.

How Outside Linebacker Shapes up

With the departure of Shaq Barrett this offseason, the Bucs added depth in Alabama outside linebacker Chris Braswell via the draft and free agent acquisition Randy Gregory. In the second round of the draft with the 57th pick, the Bucs snagged Braswell to bolster the pass rush rotation. After initially playing in the Tide's packages on passing downs in 2022 behind a loaded corps. with Will Anderson Jr. and Dallas Turner, Braswell waited for his time and eventually assumed Anderson's role in 2023. As a starting outside linebacker in Nick Saban's hybrid 3-4 scheme that year, Braswell led the SEC in pressures with 56. His penetrating charge will fit the mold of Bowles' pressure-based system. Braswell accumulated 10.5 tackles for loss, 8.0 sacks and three forced fumbles last season. He will join Yaya Diaby (2023 sack leader, 7.5), Joe Tryon-Shoyinka, Anthony Nelson and Gregory in Tampa Bay's outside linebacker room.

Gregory, who officially signed with the team in April, played for the Cowboys from 2015-2021, before joining the Broncos (2022-23) and 49ers (2023). Overall, he has appeared in 72 games (18 starts) and has registered 117 tackles, 69 quarterback hits, 22 sacks, 27 tackles for loss, 10 forced fumbles, three passes defensed, two fumble recoveries and one interception. With Denver, Gregory appeared in four games (three starts) and recorded nine tackles, 1.0 sack, two tackles for loss and one pass defensed. In October of the 2023 season, Gregory was traded to the San Francisco 49ers and appeared in 12 games, posting 2.5 sacks, 10 tackles, four tackles for loss and eight quarterback hits. With rare bend and outstanding change-of-direction skills, Gregory gives the edge rush rotation a boost and provides another weapon for Bowles to use on blitzes/stunts. This will be an intriguing group to watch as the competition heats up during mandatory mini camp.

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