Plenty of major names will take the field when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers open camp next Thursday. Much of the Bucs’ hopes to improve upon a 7-9 record and reach the postseason for the first time since the 2007 campaign rest with a few key individuals: Josh Freeman, Vincent Jackson, Dashon Goldson and Darrelle Revis, among them.
But there are other lesser-known players, potential under-the-radar contributors who may play substantial roles in Tampa Bay’s effort to compete in the NFC South. They are found on both sides of the ball, and in these days before work begins toward Week 1, they may be overlooked by larger presences or more high-profile acquisitions added in the offseason.
Here are five of the less-publicized players who could make an impact.
WR Kevin Ogletree
Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams will be the Bucs’ top two options at wide receiver, but Ogletree could become a factor as an effective No. 3 if he wins the job. Ogletree signed a two-year deal with Tampa Bay in March, after spending his first four years in the league with the Dallas Cowboys.
He had a career-high 436 yards receiving with four touchdowns on 32 catches last season. At 6-foot-1, 198 pounds, he will receive competition from Tiquan Underwood, who had a career-high 425 yards receiving with two touchdowns last season. Jackson and Williams will garner plenty of attention, but if Ogletree emerges as the No. 3 option, he could play a key role. Also look for him to be considered as a kick/punt returner.
LB Dekoda Watson
Watson appears to be a leading candidate to win the strongside linebacker slot left vacant after Quincy Black’s serious neck injury last season. Watson, who stands at 6-foot-2, 240 pounds, will receive competition from free-agent signee Jonathan Casillas, formerly of the New Orleans Saints, and veteran Adam Hayward, who started five games with Black’s absence late last fall. Still, Watson received time with the top unit at this position in offseason workouts. A fourth-year veteran with his entire career spent with the Bucs, Watson could become an asset with his speed and agility if he emerges as the starter.
OT Demar Dotson
Dotson is the returning starter at right tackle, but Gabe Carimi, traded to the Bucs in June, will push him in training camp. At 6-foot-9, 315 pounds, Dotson is a huge presence who could become an asset within an offensive line that expects to welcome back guards Carl Nicks and Davin Joseph from injuries last season.
A right knee injury early in his career stunted the development of Carimi, the 29th overall pick in the 2011 NFL draft. Carimi should push Dotson, but if Dotson wins the job, he will become an important member of what should be a strong offensive line.
CB Eric Wright
Darrelle Revis is the obvious No. 1 cornerback for Tampa Bay entering the fall. Although the former New York Jets star worked on the side during offseason drills, coach Greg Schiano has said he expects Revis to be on the field during training camp. For now, Wright appears to be the favorite to be the Bucs’ No. 2 cornerback, though he could receive competition from rookie Johnthan Banks.
Wright comes off a disappointing season that included a four-game suspension because he violated the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing substances. Wright restructured his contract in the offseason, but he must elevate his play to earn the coaching staff’s trust.
DT Akeem Spence
Spence is an unknown at this point. The Illinois product was drafted in the fourth round, 100th overall, in the spring as a potential replacement for Roy Miller, who signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars in the offseason. At 6-foot-1, 307 pounds, Spence has a large, physical frame that could serve the hole-plugging role that Miller did so well.
Expect veterans Gary Gibson and Derek Landri to provide competition in camp, but Spence’s selection makes it clear that Tampa Bay coaches envision a future for him as a run-stopper. He could also grow into someone who can help free up Gerald McCoy.