Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Key training camp battles

    The Tampa Bay Buccaneers face a critical 2019 season with jobs on the line. The fate of the entire team, however, may come down to crucial position battles.

    The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are on the cusp of turning around an under-achieving team towards a playoff contender. Changes made in the coaching staff is set to bring a much-needed improvement all around. However, there are two main areas on the Buccaneers squad that could propel or hinder their success. Each of these could be the deciding factor on the fate of many in the organization. General manager Jason Licht is already on the hot seat. New head coach Bruce Arians may have just one season to get this ship turned around, and quarterback Jameis Winston is in a contract year. On each side of the ball, there are decisive position battles that fans should keep a close eye on.

    Secondary

    The Achilles heel of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for the past three seasons has been their pass defense. Ranking no better than 22nd in the league in that span, including being dead last in 2017. However, it is not due to a lack of resources poured into the secondary. Tampa Bay has spent a whopping NINE draft picks in the past three seasons alone on either cornerbacks or safeties. Every one of those picks was in the top four rounds of the draft, and each one of those selections is now competing for a starting spot. With a seeming glut of talent, along with a new defensive scheme, the secondary should be flipped from a weakness to a strength.

    Safety

    Competing for a starting safety spot include 2017 second-round pick Justin Evans, 2018 second-round pick M.J. Stewart, 2018 fourth-round pick Jordan Whitehead, and 2019 third-round pick Mike Edwards. In Todd Bowles’ diverse defense, three safeties could be used often depending on the coverage played. This flexibility will allow a number of opportunities for these safeties to shine and get plenty of playing time. Evans showed promise in his rookie year, leading the Buccaneers in interceptions with three, but has suffered several injuries since. There is a lot of talent in this group, so no matter who wins in training camp, the Buccaneers should be in a good place.

    Cornerback

    The cornerback position has also received a lot of attention, starting with 2016 first-round pick Vernon Hargreaves who is looking to live up to his draft billing finally. Competing with Hargreaves is 2016 fourth-round pick Ryan Smith, 2018 second-round pick Carlton Davis, 2019 second-round pick Sean Murphy-Bunting, and 2019 third-round pick Jamel Dean. Both outside corner spots are up for grabs in Bowles’ press cover scheme. The good news for players drafted under the previous regime is the fact that the new system suits more of their strengths. Much like the safety position, this should be a fascinating competition this preseason.

    Right Guard

    Perhaps Arians’ main agenda this coming season is to get Winston to reach his potential. A vital part of making that happen is to correct the weakest part of the offense in 2018. The right guard spot has been a revolving door and the most glaring weakness on an otherwise potent offense with much potential. To reach their max potential on offense, Winston needs to be able to have an offensive line which is not continually allowing pressure. Last season, starting right guard Caleb Benenoch consistently had breakdowns in responsibility. The unit as a whole suffered because of that. Center Ryan Jensen and right tackle Demar Dotson would be left trying to pick up the mess.

    For 2019, there is a camp battle between 2018 third-round pick Alex Cappa, and former Arizona Cardinal Earl Watford. Watford played under Arians from 2014-2017 as a reserve lineman, so he will be familiar with the responsibilities in this offense. Cappa demonstrated a lot of promise, especially at the Senior Bowl, which led to his selection as a third-round pick. However, the transition from DII Humboldt State has required more of a learning curve to the NFL for Cappa.

    The Tampa Bay Buccaneers MUST field a competent right guard and a significant upgrade in talent from Benenoch. The entire offense may be relying on this position battle in order for them to reach their potential. However, if neither option can provide the right level of play, it could be the anchor that weighs them down. Arians along with Winston are relying on this offensive line being able to hold up and keep Winson clean. Right now the missing link is at right guard. Hopefully by the end of camp that is not the case

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