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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bucs training camp – the position battle no one is talking about

Roy Cummings

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Photo by Icon Sportswire

TAMPA – Since the Buccaneers began training camp workouts three days ago, Buccaneers coach Dirk Koetter has twice been asked to name which position battles will be the most hotly contested. And twice he has given the same answer: kicker and safety. In that order.

Koetter added the spots at the bottom of the depth chart at wide receiver, tight end and linebacker to that list on Saturday, but once again forgot to mention what he later admitted was indeed one of the more important battles in all of camp: slot corner.

“It is (one of the more contested battles) ,” Koetter said. “I should have mentioned that. Good competition there. We’ve got three guys there that have all started at slot corner in this league and they’re all battling right now.’’

The ever-increasing use of three- and four-receiver sets has forced most NFL teams, including the Bucs, to treat the slot corner spot as if it’s a starter’s position because the slot corner is usually on the field for more than half of all plays on any given Sunday.

What teams tend to do is swap out a linebacker for a slot corner, who’s primary job is usually to cover the slot receiver but is sometimes asked to cover a tight end or running back. No easy task there, of course, so it’s a spot that requires a vast array of skills.

A slot corner has to be part cornerback, part safety and part linebacker and as Koetter pointed out, the Bucs have three players who have started NFL games at the position in Jude Adjei-Barimah, Javien Elliott and Robert McClain.

What makes this battle even more interesting is the fact that Adjei-Barimah had the job all but locked down until he was suspended for four games for violating the NFL’s PED policy last year and therefore had to yield some starts to Elliott, who proved to be just as good.

Then the Bucs brought in McClain, who had played for coordinator Mike Smith in Atlanta, for depth, and McClain has been one of the more impressive players in camp drills so far, picking off a pass and returning it for a touchdown on the first day of workouts.

The battle in the Bucs camp for the slot corner spot won’t get as much attention as the battles for the kicker’s job or those at the starting safety positons but it’s still one of the most important and it will likely prove to be just as intriguing as the others.

 

Roy Cummings is a native of Chicago, Illinois who grew up in the suburb of Lombard. He and his family later moved to Lakeland, Florida, where Roy attended high school at Kathleen High. He graduated from the University of South Florida with a Bachelor's Degree in Mass Communications in 1983 and immediately went to work for the Tampa Tribune. After five years working in a Polk County bureau covering everything from high school sports to college football to the Orlando Magic of the NBA, Roy moved back to Tampa and became the Tribune's first beat writer for the Tampa Bay Lightning, covering the team from its inception through the first eight years on the ice. He was then moved to the Buccaneers beat, where he stayed until the paper was folded in May, 2016. A two-time Florida Sports Writer of the Year, Roy has extensive experience covering all Tampa professional sports teams, including the Tampa Bay Rays.

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bucs DE Jason Pierre-Paul ready to go get Eli Manning Sunday

Florida Football Insiders

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Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

It’s one of those juicy subplots that we see all the time now in professional sports. A player gets to go against his old team and show them that maybe they made a mistake and letting him go. In this case on Sunday, Bucs defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul will battle against his old team, the New York Giants. And that means, against a lot of former teammates.

One in specific, quarterback Eli Manning, maybe less than thrilled.

JPP has been one of the most dominant edge rushers in the NFL over the last decade, nevertheless, the Giants elected to trade into the Buccaneers back in March.

So when the organization that you won the Superbowl with in 2011 has decided to move on without you, there’s naturally going to be some questions from the media about you playing against them for the first time. And, you going against their borderline Hall of Fame signal-caller, Manning.

Such was the case Wednesday in the Buccaneers locker room prior to practice:

Pierre-Paul has already energized the Bucs pass rush and has eight sacks in the first nine games. This includes a streak of five consecutive games with a sack earlier this season. That is the first time since Simeon rice in 2002 that a Buccaneer had five straight games with a sack in a single season.

And coming into Sunday at The Meadowlands he has 66 1/2 of them in his career and would love nothing better than to take down the leader of the G-Men.

And while the Giants did look better on offense in their Monday night comeback win over the 49ers, it has clearly been a struggle for them to pass protect, specifically, throughout the early part of this season.

Pierre-Paul has to have been salivating watching their offensive line whiff and get run over in game after game.

Further, Buccaneer defenders like pro bowlers Gerald McCoy and Lavonte David, plus players like Will gholston Brent Grimes and young safety Justin Evans went against Manning in a Tampa Bay’s win last September against the Giants.

A game that the Buccaneers squeaked out 25-23. A game where is Eli Manning threw it 49 times and wasn’t sacked once by the Buccaneers front seven. That’s a pass rush that was last in the NFL in sacks a year ago.

However, that was 2017. And, circling back to Pierre-Paul, he hopes to change that starting Sunday.

And, while it will be weird for him to dress in the visiting dressing room at MetLife Stadium and stand on the visiting near sidelines, he’s ready to put all of that aside, try to help the Bucs climb off the canvas and get a win in the Big Apple.

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

What is status of Bucs LB LaVonte David’s injured knee?

Florida Football Insiders

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Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been a rough enough last seven games for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, now comes word that another prominent defender may miss this week’s match-up with the Giants. A report Tuesday afternoon said that linebacker Lavonte David has been diagnosed with a knee sprain and his status is in doubt. That may not be the case, though. More on that in a moment.

First, Jenna Laine, the ESPN reporter for the Bucs, reported Tuesday afternoon about David’s injury from Sunday:

David was injured in the third quarter of Sunday’s lost to the Redskins, while making a tackle. He was examined underneath the “mysterious blue tent” and was initially diagnosed as being questionable to return to the game. He did return and played in the fourth quarter of the 16-3 loss to Washington.

And, a source with knowledge of David situation told F.F.I. on Monday that David had been examined, and it was not believed to be a serious injury. Further, the source told us that David would wear a knee brace this week in practice and be able to play in the game on Sunday.

The seven year veteran and two-time Pro Bowler is one of the key players on the Buccaneers defense and currently has 71 tackles with nine of them for losses. And he’s being counted on more heavily after Pro Bowl middle linebacker Kwon Alexander tore his ACL in an October game with Cleveland and will miss the rest of the season.

The Bucs have also seen starters in the defensive backfield Vernon Hargreaves and Chris Conte already placed on injured reserve back in September. Also Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy missed two games with a calf strain and has not looked a hundred percent in the last two games with Carolina and Washington since coming back from the injury.

If David is unable to play or is limited on Sunday, the Bucs will count more heavily on reserve linebacker Devante Bond. Bond has seen more playing time after Alexander’s injury and will be asked to increase his responsibilities in the middle of the Buccaneers defense, as well.

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Buccaneers revolving door of kickers turns to Cairo Santos

Florida Football Insiders

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Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

In what has become an all-too-familiar situation, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers once again got rid of a kicker on Monday afternoon and will, once again, try to get some consistency out of their latest signing.

Gone is former offseason free-agent acquisition Chandler Catanzaro, who missed two critical field goals in Sunday 16 – 3 lost to the Redskins. The latest misses were part of six missed kicks (either field goals or extra points) over the course of the last five Buccaneer games by Cantanzaro.

Enter free agent Cairo Santos, who kicked in two games earlier this year for the Los Angeles Rams. Santos has been well-traveled himself having kick previously in 2017 in both Chicago and Kansas City.

He originally entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent out of Tulane in 2014 with the Chiefs and made 89 of 105 field goals for 85% in his K.C. career.

Santos coming in the door as Cantanzaro leaves, is nothing new for the Buccaneers and their fans. This is the seventh kicking change Tampa Bay has made, since the start of the 2014 season.

Seven. In just five seasons.

The Buccaneers very famously drafted Roberto Aguayo out of Florida State trading up in the second round of the 2016 draft to try to correct the kicking problems. However, Aguayo was erratic in his rookie season, including leading the NFL in missed extra points.

Aguayo was released after the first preseason game of 2017 when he missed two field goals against Cincinnati. The Bucs at that time gave the kicking job to veteran Nick Folk, but Folk only lasted four games himself-making just six of 11 field goals, as he had privately been battling a leg injury from the start of the season.

Tampa Bay then turned back to their 2014 kicker, Patrick Murray, who ended up making 19 of 23 field goals over the course of the final 12 games.

That led Bucs GM Jason Licht, who had drafted Aguayo, to go after Cantanzaro, who had kicked successfully for the Cardinals and the Jets. And, they gave him a $10 million dollar contract, including $3 million guaranteed in the first year.

Cantanzaro became more inconsistent, as the last few weeks wore on, and he had a three game stretch against Atlanta, Cleveland and Cincinnati, where he missed an extra point in each game. In the Browns game he missed the potential game-winning field goal in the last play of regulation, only to redeem himself with a 59-yard field goal for the win in overtime.

The final straw that ended his tenure with the Bucs was his two missed field goals in Sunday’s defeat. The first from near point blank range at 30 yards out (above) in the second quarter and then, a 48-yard attempt that would have tied the game at 6-6 in the third quarter.

Back to Santos, he kicked two games for the Rams in the absence of their kicker Greg Zuerlein who had a minor injury, making five of six field goals and also five of six extra points.

The Buccaneers coincidentally signed him on his 27th birthday Monday:

If there’s one thing Buccaneer fans have learned, it’s don’t get too attached to the new guy kicking the ball towards the yellow goal posts.

That’s because, there’s been plenty of them over the last five seasons.

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