TAMPA – The folks at HBO and NFL Films really had their work cut out for them putting together that first episode of Hard Knocks this week. After all, if there’s one word that best describes Buccaneers training camp to this point it’s uneventful.
Think about it. With the exception of defensive end Jacquies Smith suffering a setback in his recovery from knee surgery and being placed on the PUP list, everything has gone according pretty much according to script for the Bucs.
Nothing wrong with that. You know the coaches love it. The players, too. They can only hope that everything continues to go as planned all through the preseason, which starts tonight when the Bucs travel to Cincinnati to take on the Bengals.
Part of that plan, according to coach Dirk Koetter, is to play the starters for about a quarter in tonight’s debut, but there are plenty of reasons for even the casual fan to stay tuned in well beyond that. Here are three of them:
The Bucs were actually hoping that either Roberto Aguayo or Nick Folk would have beaten the other one out for this job by now, but that hasn’t happened.
The two kickers have been in a dead heat since camp began. Neither has shown the consistency the Bucs are looking for, however, so now their game performances will fact into the decision.
The only problem with that is that the Bucs have no way of controlling kicking opportunities in games, so it will be interesting to see how they dole out the reps here.
There is little doubt that deep down the Bucs probably want Aguayo to win this job, but if neither he nor Folk can develop the proper consistency, the Bucs may have to look elsewhere for a solution.
There are a lot of moving parts here, especially at slot corner, where former starter Jude Adjei-Barimah may be done for the year after re-injuring his right kneecap in practice earlier this week.
With Adjei-Barimah contemplating what may be season-ending surgery, the chances of Javien Elliott winning the slot corner job have increased. He he still has to prove, however, that he’s better than veteran Robert McClain.
The Bucs are also a little unsettled at safety, where fan-favorite Chris Conte (yes, we’re being facetious) and Keith Tandy have recently yielded some first-team practice reps to rookie Justin Evans and veteran J.J. Wilcox.
The Bucs are set at the two outside corner spots with Brent Grimes, who won’t play tonight because of a laceration on his right leg, and Vernon Hargreaves III, but all the other spots are pretty much up for grabs.
The Bucs have done a good job of evenly splitting the second- and third-team practice reps between the two challengers for the backup quarterback job – Ryan Griffin and Ryan Fitzpatrick.
We’ll find out tonight if their intention is to try to do the same with the game reps, and in order to get a good read on who really is best suited to be Jameis Winston’s understudy, they may have to.
Griffin has looked very sharp so far in camp workouts, but he lacks Fitzpatrick’s experience, which is something the Bucs really value because Fitzpatrick is a guy who off the field can really help Winston.
The feeling here is that the Bucs will wind up keeping three quarterbacks, but if something prevents that then they’ll have to make a tough call, so how Griffin and Fitzpatrick fare in these games really matters.