This is the time of year when all the games, pictures, and videos of Training Camp lead to one thing. Who will make the 53 man roster! For just about every team those first 35 or so spots are virtually guaranteed.
It’s those remaining fifteen to twenty spots that remains a mystery. Media and fans alike are constantly scanning the clips and pictures taken during practice, reading between the lines of every press conference, to try to get a picture of what will form that 53 man roster. Well, we may have some clues when it comes to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Last Saturday evening, the Buccaneers opened up not only their regular morning practice for fans to come watch, but also their evening walk through practice to premium members, which includes club seats, Hall of Fame seats, and luxury suites.
By all accounts, this would be a very boring practice. After all, it is very appropriately named a walk-through. Truly, there isn’t any thing flashy about this practice, if one can even call it a practice. There was no music, and the coaches weren’t mic’ed, so the fans still couldn’t hear what was being said on the field. But that doesn’t mean there wasn’t something to be gained for the observant on-looker.
Towards the end of the walk-through, the team split. Not in half, but in about a group of 30ish players on one side, and 60ish players on the others. It wasn’t long before I noticed who was on each side. Some around me mentioned that it was first and second string on one side, and third, fourth, and fifth strings on the right.
But that wasn’t quite right. There were definitely players that would be much lower on the depth chart than second string with the smaller group, and players you might consider second stringers with the larger group.
It seemed as if it was something slightly different. More like the smaller group was made up of players that were definitely going to make the 53 man roster, and other group was people still battling it out for those final positions. The more I looked at each side, the more it seemed to be the case.
To be fair, I can’t definitively say if I was correctly observing that situation, as no one from Buccaneers football operations confirmed that for me. But it seemed pretty obvious. Once this idea was settled, I was shocked to see what most Bucs fans assume was certain bubble players on what I call the “roster locked” side, and players I thought were certain to make the roster on the “roster not locked” side.
Combine this with other information we’ve received over the last few weeks from press conferences and even the preliminary depth chart released, and we start to get a look at how the 2018 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 53 man roster is shaping up, at least inside the mind of Head Coach Dirk Koetter.
So, let’s take a look at three positions with battles going on for those last roster spots:
The Buccaneers currently have five running backs on the roster in serious contention to make the 53 man roster. The question is how many running backs will Dirk Koetter and Jason Licht decide to keep? Historically, the Bucs have only kept three on the active roster. For the last two years, however, they’ve held on to four on the active roster.
Peyton Barber and second round draft pick Ronald Jones are locks to make this roster. Which leaves three players, Jacquizz Rodgers, Chuck Sims, and the much lauded undrafted free agent, Shaun Wilson, to battle it out for that remaining one or two spots.
If all the reports are true as to how much Shaun Wilson has been impressing, it’s viable to think that the Bucs might not want to cut him and try to sign him back to practice squad considering that another team could claim him off waivers before the Bucs even got that chance.
So in reality, we have Rodgers and Sims, both returning Buccaneers, battling it out for that one roster spot, assuming they go with four backs again this year.
However, at the walk-through, it was Jacquizz Rodgers who was on the roster locked side, while Chuck Sims and Shaun Wilson were on the roster not locked side. Combine this with the fact that on the preliminary depth chart released before preseason game one, Rodgers was listed as the number two running back on the team, ahead of even Ronald Jones.
It would seem then that, in Dirk Koetter’s mind, the running back group looks like Barber, Rodgers, Jones, and maybe, if they have a fourth, it’ll be between Sims and Wilson.
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The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have one of the most formidable groups of wide receivers in the NFL. Helmed by Mike Evans, bolstered by Desean Jackson, Chris Godwin, and Adam Humphries, the wide receivers group will be a hard group to break into on this roster. Again, the question must be asked how many do they keep. I’m betting on six. Which means they have two roster spots for effectively four guys.
Two of those guys, Freddie Martino and Bernard Reedy, have been around the team for a while, bouncing back and forth between the practice squad and the active roster. They have real game experience, which definitely gives them an edge, but it seems as if they have also shown their ceiling.
The other two options are, last years undrafted Free Agent, Bobo Wilson, who has been looking great in camp, and this year’s fifth round draft pick, Justin Watson, who has also been having a pretty good camp. Both of these guys lack the real game experience that Martino and Reedy have, but their youth and their potentially higher ceiling, make them very appealing.
My thinking has been that they’ll keep one guy from each of these two groups, get one guy with experience, and another guy with a potentially higher ceiling. For me, Bobo Wilson seems more likely to get the nod, and the team will roll the dice on keeping Watson on the practice squad. But the battle between Martino and Reedy has been interesting.
Until the walk-through and Martino was clearly spotted on the roster locked side, which Reedy, Wilson, and Watson (along with oft discussed Jake Lampman) were all on the roster not locked side.
So perhaps the wide receiver room really looks like Evans, Jackson, Godwin, Humphries, Martino, with room for just one more…will it be Wilson or Watson…or could I be wrong and it’s Reedy? One thing is for sure in my mind, Martino’s spot on this roster is looking pretty secure.
Tight Ends is a weird group for the Buccaneers as they lump in with this group the Full Backs. Tight End Cameron Brate, who just signed a new six year, $40 million contract isn’t going anywhere. Neither is 2017 first round pick OJ Howard. But beyond those two, it’s a battle. And once again, we must ask ourselves, how many will they keep on the active roster? Historically, four is a safe bet. Five would almost be too much, including that Full Back position.
Filling out the rest of the this group is an undrafted free agent from last year, Antony Auclair, whom OJ Howard told me is nick named Ant, like the bug, who pushed out long time veteran Luke Stocker mid season last year. Alan Cross, who, like Martino and Reedy, has bounced around between the practice squad and active roster quite a bit over the last few years. Auclair being a true tight end, big and powerful. And Cross being more of a full back, short and stocky.
The question here really revolves around Alan Cross. Auclair seems certain to make the team. But with Cross, do Koetter and Licht want a true full back on this team or might they pass over Cross for another true Tight End. His spot on the 53 man roster is all but certain.
Well, two clues as to Cross’s status can help us answer that. First, in the walk-through, it was Alan Cross on the roster locks side, while it was Antony Auclair on the roster not locked side.
Combine that with Dirk Koetter presser comment when asked about Alan Cross as a “bubble player,” and Koetter commented, “I’d say he’s not on the bubble.”
Add to that the fact that as of the writing of this article, the Bucs have waived nearly all of their extra camp players at the Tight End position, it seems that the Bucs are already locking in their Tight End room for the start of the 2018 season. The only question remains, will Koetter keep a fifth guy around on this squad…I think that’s doubtful.
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