With a couple of weeks of Tampa Bay Buccaneers training camp in the books, enough time has passed for impressions to be made. There is still plenty to be determined before the Bucs begin the regular season against the New York Jets on Sept. 8, but some players have emerged as ones to watch as the preseason schedule continues.
As expected, there is a mix in experience. There are veterans, and there are young players. There are proven assets, and there are others who are trying to catch hold and show that they can be trusted contributors.
Here are five players who have impressed in training camp so far, as work continues before the Bucs play their second preseason game Friday against the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium.
1. Chris Owusu, wide receiver, second year
It was rare that a day did not pass without Owusu making at least one play that drew positive reviews. The 6-foot-2, 200-pound Stanford product has shown multiple flashes of athleticism, though he sustained an ankle sprain in a preseason loss to the Baltimore Ravens last Thursday that somewhat stunted his momentum.
Relatively unknown before camp, Owusu joined the Bucs from the San Diego Chargers practice squad last September. He played in five games last season and had one catch for 24 yards against the New Orleans Saints on Dec. 16.
Coach Greg Schiano has acknowledged Owusu as a camp standout, admitting that the 23-year-old has impressed in moments even when Schiano isn’t studying him. Kevin Ogletree, a fifth-year player, figures to be the favorite for the third wide receiver spot. Still, Owusu has pushed Tiquan Underwood, another player fighting for the third wide receiver spot, with his solid play.
Schiano Quotable: “Certainly a much better player than he was last year. … Sometimes you think you’re ready and when you get in (a game) it’s a whole different world. That gives you that motivation, that extra motivation, and he’s improved.”
2. Rashaan Melvin, cornerback, rookie
If Owusu has been a rising star on offense, Melvin fits a similar mold on defense. The Bucs signed the 6-2, 193-pound Northern Illinois product as an undrafted free agent in April, and he used the fact that he went unselected as motivation to prove his value.
Mission accomplished so far. Melvin has impressed with his confidence in the secondary, and as a result, he has earned more practice reps as days have passed. That time has included experience against the first- and second-team offense, which could prove to be valuable as the 23-year-old continues to acclimate himself with the defense.
He had one tackle in the loss to the Ravens, and Schiano described the performance as “solid” but “not as outstanding as he has played at times in practice.” Still, Melvin is someone worth watching in the coming weeks.
Schiano Quotable: “He’s a good player. He’s got physical tools. He works very hard at his preparation mentally. He’s got a good temperament, and I think he’s got a good chance to become a good player. Now, that’s a lot of pressure on an undrafted rookie, but every day he goes out there and practices, (and) does a good job, if he can start stacking those on top of him, he’s got a chance.”
3. Vincent Jackson, wide receiver, ninth year
Jackson is the Bucs’ clear No. 1 option, and he has produced many “Wow” moments in camp. At 6-foot-5, 230 pounds, he has the look of an elite pass-catching threat, and if he can carry over some of the chemistry he has shown with quarterback Josh Freeman in camp, then the Bucs will be in good shape throughout the season.
Jackson should have no shortage of incentive to do so. Despite earning a career-high 1,384 yards receiving with eight touchdowns last season, he has received challenges from former Bucs players such as Warren Sapp and Keyshawn Johnson, who recently told reporters he thought Jackson was merely “OK.”
For Jackson, the attention comes with the territory, though. The Bucs have an offense that is strong enough to reach the playoffs. He is one of the top reasons why.
Schiano Quotable: “Yeah, he made some catches today, didn’t he? I’d say that would be one of the better ones that I’ve seen.”
4. Josh Freeman, quarterback, fifth year
A hot-and-cold figure among many who follow the Bucs, Freeman likely will have detractors throughout the season. For a variety of reasons, his low-key demeanor among them, criticism is quick to follow him, and the drafting of quarterback Mike Glennon in the third round last April led to more static surrounding his situation.
But Freeman has been the obvious answer in training camp sessions. On most occasions, he has carried himself confidently on the field. He has shown an ability to fit passes into tight windows as well, perhaps the most encouraging sign for Tampa Bay.
Of course, Freeman has a long way to go to quiet all the noise that follows him. Encouraging steps have been taken in camp, though.
Schiano Quotable: “I think Josh has done everything that (meets) my expectations so far.”
5. Derek Dimke, kicker, second year
Lawrence Tynes was thought to be the front-runner to earn kicking duties after Connor Barth was lost for the season after tearing his right Achilles tendon before training camp. But Dimke has emerged with Tynes missing time because of an ingrown toenail.
Dimke has received most of the kicking duties of late, including making field goals of 29, 35 and 45 yards in the preseason loss to the Ravens. Signed by the Bucs as a free agent last June, he has impressed while Tynes’ workload has decreased.
What does Dimke’s emergence mean for the kicking competition? Expect it to remain competitive throughout the preseason. The more chances Dimke receives, the better his prospects look.
Schiano Quotable: “It will continue to heat up, and like every other position, that competition at the end will make us better. I hope for a very, very hard decision there and that would mean that we’re going to be in good shape.”