Competition for complementary roles highlights Bucs as camp approaches

Position battles are a healthy part of any team's evolution from July's what-ifs to September's kickoff, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will seek stability at key positions.

Running back Mike James showed plenty of promise last season before getting injured.

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TAMPA, Fla. -- Position battles are a healthy part of any team's evolution from July's what-ifs to September's kickoff, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will seek stability at key positions.

The Bucs will benefit from veteran anchors like quarterback Josh McCown and defensive tackle Gerald McCoy on their respective sides of the ball. But complementary players will be determined in the coming weeks.

Important questions to be answered: Who will serve as the primary backup to running back Doug Martin? What will become of the contenders at guard? Who will emerge as a significant receiving threat outside of top targets Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans?

"We have a lot of new players coming in," Bucs coach Lovie Smith said at the end of minicamp.

"Let's just see how it turns out."

With an eye toward the Bucs' start to training camp July 25, here are some notable position battles to come:

NO. 2 RUNNING BACK

From left: Mike James, Bobby Rainey and Charles Sims. 

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Mike James vs. Bobby Rainey vs. Charles Sims

No shortage of intrigue here. Doug Martin figures to be the Bucs' top option at running back, but where does Tampa Bay go from there? Mike James ran for 295 yards on 60 carries last year before becoming injured, and Bobby Rainey had 566 yards rushing on 150 carries with five touchdowns as the Bucs' top option at the position late in the season. James has a higher ceiling than Rainey, though Rainey showed an underdog's fight when given his chance in 2013.

The good news for Smith's staff: The Bucs appear deep. Charles Sims, Tampa Bay's third-round selection, is an interesting addition as a rookie. He could carve a niche as a versatile pass-catching threat out of the backfield. Count on offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford to use all running backs at his disposal, so the No. 2 title could become irrelevant with plenty of work coming everyone's way. But the competition will be interesting to follow.

NO. 2 CORNERBACK

Johnthan Banks (left) and Mike Jenkins (right). 

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Johnthan Banks vs. Mike Jenkins

Johnthan Banks was given a valuable NFL tutorial as Darrelle Revis' understudy last season, but there's no guarantee the Mississippi State product will keep the No. 2 cornerback spot this year. Banks had a typical rookie campaign -- at times, he was beaten and looked overmatched, though he showed flashes of potential with his 6-foot-2, 185-pound frame. The talent is there, but seasoning is required. He had 55 tackles, three interceptions and five passes defensed. He must show growth with his instincts this fall.

Mike Jenkins, meanwhile, arrives to the Bucs with a Pro Bowl resume after appearing in the event after the 2009 season. With six years in the NFL, he has a veteran's eye that should enhance the Bucs' defense in a transition to Smith's scheme. He had 65 tackles, two interceptions and six passes defensed with the Oakland Raiders last season. Expect him to become a factor in the Bucs' plans.

STARTING GUARDS

From left: Carl Nicks, Kadeem Edwards, Jamon Meredith and Oniel Cousins. 

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Carl Nicks vs. Kadeem Edwards vs. Jamon Meredith vs. Oniel Cousins

There are so many questions here. How healthy will Carl Nicks be? If he's healthy enough to play in Week 1, will he finally last an entire season with Tampa Bay? If not, do the Bucs have enough depth at guard to protect McCown?

Nicks was a rare sight around One Buc Place in the offseason, so he remains one of Tampa Bay's most significant questions entering training camp. Jamon Meredith should be a favorite to earn a starting spot no matter Nicks' availability. But Oniel Cousins and Kadeem Edwards will be given chances to earn playing time. Don't count out Patrick Omameh as well.

It's hard to fathom that Nicks has played in just nine games since joining the Bucs before the 2012 season. Given his history, and the fact that he spent so little time in the offseason with Tampa Bay outside of mandatory minicamp, the Bucs should prepare as if he won't play throughout the entire fall.

NO. 3 WIDE RECEIVER

Chris Owusu (left) and Louis Murphy (right).

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Chris Owusu vs. Louis Murphy

Perhaps more names will rise to become top receiving options behind Jackson and Evans, but Chris Owusu and Louis Murphy will be worth watching from the start. Owusu is no stranger to creating memorable impressions in training camp, though his play declined last year once he was given chances to perform in the regular season. He finished with 13 catches for 114 yards in nine games with the Bucs.

Murphy, meanwhile, comes to Tampa Bay after producing a career-low 37 yards receiving with one touchdown last season with the New York Giants. He had 336 yards receiving and one touchdown with the Carolina Panthers in 2012. The Bucs mark his third team in three years after leaving the Oakland Raiders following the 2011 season.

This race appears wide open, with more potential challengers to come. Don't be surprised if rookie tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins serves as a de facto No. 3 wide receiver as well.

You can follow Andrew Astleford on Twitter @aastleford or email him at aastleford@gmail.com.