TAMPA, Fla. — Many eyes, no doubt, will follow prominent names like Gerald McCoy, Lavonte David and Vincent Jackson throughout Tampa Bay Buccaneers training camp. Then there are lesser-known players worth watching in the team’s work toward Week 1.
Wide receiver Chris Owusu is no stranger to the under-the-radar title, and he will be an intrigue in the coming weeks. Other offensive players like tight end Brandon Myers and running back Jeff Demps also have the potential to own productive roles in Tampa Bay’s offense. Then there’s kicker Connor Barth, who returns to give the Bucs greater field-goal range after missing all of last season.
With so many storylines to follow, take some time to keep an eye out for these lower-profile players when the Bucs begin training camp July 25:
WR CHRIS OWUSU
A surprise standout in training camp last year, the 6-foot, 196-pound target has a chance to do the same this summer. Rare was the day in 2013 when a session went by without Owusu making fans scramble for the nearest roster to see who had just made a spectacular catch. As the days passed, the relative unknown from Stanford became a popular interview subject and a topic of conversation for then-coach Greg Schiano.
Owusu should aim for the same training camp outcome this year, of course. But his goal must include something deeper: Making an impact once the play counts in the regular season. He appeared in nine games last season and was largely underwhelming in totaling 13 catches for 114 yards. There’s opportunity to compete for Tampa Bay’s third wide receiver slot, behind top targets Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans, but Owusu must make his athleticism translate to when the pressure’s on.
TE BRANDON MYERS
Much attention will be paid to another tight end, Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who was taken as the Bucs’ second-round pick (38th overall) this spring. But Myers is an intriguing addition who will be worth watching to see how he fits in Tampa Bay’s offensive plans.
The 6-foot-3, 256-pound target had a career-high 806 yards receiving and four touchdowns in 2012 with the Oakland Raiders. He followed that season with 522 yards receiving and four touchdowns with the New York Giants last year. The five-year veteran offers experience that Seferian-Jenkins clearly lacks. In the modern NFL, a successful tight end owns a variety of skills: Sound hands, solid blocking techniques and an ability to stretch the field. Myers, a Bucs target early in free agency, must show he has those traits and more to thrive within coordinator Jeff Tedford’s offensive scheme.
RB JEFF DEMPS
Demps has made a renewed commitment to football, and the Bucs will be better for it if the track star becomes an X-factor either on offense or special teams (or both). He teased at times in his rare appearances with Tampa Bay last season — he had one carry for 14 yards, three catches for 21 yards and four kickoff returns for 93 yards. But he has the potential to do much more, and it will be interesting to see how he fits into the Bucs’ vision.
Speed is one thing. Speed as part of maximizing the greatest possible outcome that Demps can provide is another. He will benefit best from a nuanced approach to mold his gifts. Coach Lovie Smith is eager about using Demps, so expect the 24-year-old Florida product to be placed in situations to create fireworks if the opportunity presents itself.
K CONNOR BARTH
Barth’s presence was missed last fall after he sustained a season-ending Achilles tendon tear in his right foot before training camp. First, the Bucs signed veteran Lawrence Tynes before he was sidelined because of a serious bout with MRSA in the preseason. Then veteran Rian Lindell was brought on board, though he was inconsistent in converting 23 of 29 field goals.
Barth is a strong and proven asset for the Bucs. He has made 101 of 120 field goals throughout his career, including a career-long 57-yard conversion with Tampa Bay in 2012. It’s rare that special teams players are considered conversation pieces in the modern NFL, but expect the Bucs to have more peace of mind when presented the chance to kick long field goals this season. Barth has said there are no lingering effects from his injury last summer. If that’s the case, the Bucs will be better for it.