TAMPA – The medical news coming out of One Buc Place on Wednesday wasn’t all bad.
While the team announced that defensive end Jacquies Smith has been placed on the Active/Physically Unable to Perform list, it has received some good news regarding three of their top rookies.
Second-round safety Justin Evans, third-round linebacker Kendell Beckwith and fifth-round running back Jeremy McNichols were all given medical clearance to return to practice when workouts begin on Friday.
Smith won’t of course, and that’s a bit of a blow for the Bucs, who are hoping Smith can give their pass rush a boost. It’s clear, though, that Smith needs more time to heal from his 2016 season-ending knee surgery.
The news regarding the rookies is big, though, because the Bucs are counting on them to possibly play significant roles this year and there had been some question as to when or if they would be able to do that.
Evans missed lengthy parts of the offseason workout program after suffering an undisclosed injury early on while Beckwith (knee surgery) and McNichols (shoulder surgery) sat out all the offseason workouts.
The return of Evans, a Texas A&M product, sets up what will easily be one of the most contested battles in all of camp as he tries to earn a spot in the starting lineup at either free or strong safety.
McNichols, out of Boise State, will of course add some depth to the running back corps, and that’s something the Bucs will need early on while Doug Martin serves out the last three games of his PED suspension.
As for Beckwith, out of LSU, he’s expected to battle 2016 sixth-round draft pick Devante Bond for the starting strong-side linebacker’s spot, but most believe Beckwith’s future lies elsewhere.
Had it not been for the knee injury, Beckwith likely would have been drafted in the second round because most scouts see him as a good fit in the middle of any front or possibly as a weak-side backer in a 4-3 front.
He’s a fit almost anywhere with the Bucs because they’ll mix up their scheme a lot under coordinator Mike Smith, but it’s possible the Bucs have bigger plans for Beckwith.
They can get out of the Lavonte David contract a year from now without suffering a major cap hit and when you consider some of the players they’ll have to sign in the next year or two, they may have to.
Wide receiver Mike Evans, guard Ali Marpet, left tackle Donovan Smith, quarterback Jameis Winston and linebacker Kwon Alexander are all likely to command some pretty big deals.
It’s possible that, should they get into a cap crunch, the Bucs might have to move a contract or two, and if Beckwith can fill the void on the weakside, David could be the odd man out.
Surely that will be a move of last resort. The Bucs are planning to make better use of David’s skill set this year by having him attack the line of scrimmage more so his value is likely to increase, not diminish.
Still, if Beckwith proves to be the player many believe he can be, it will good for the Bucs to have a solid backup for both David and Alexander.