By STEPHEN F. HOLDER St. Petersburg Times Staff Writer
TAMPA — For a team that faces as many questions as the Bucs, every day of training camp brings new revelations. Now, after a week’s worth of work, some things are becoming more clear. Jobs are being won and lost, and newcomers are establishing themselves. Will there be a new strong safety? How about a change at left guard? The answers to those and other crucial questions are coming into focus.
Which safety will step up?
When the Bucs signed Eagles free agent Sean Jones in the offseason, it was with the intention of providing competition for Sabby Piscitelli.
Jones is off to a solid start, and Piscitelli has done his best to raise his game, which was sort of the point. The result is what the Bucs say is a pretty close competition for the opportunity to start opposite Tanard Jackson.
The Bucs are looking for the complete safety, one who covers skillfully but is adept at playing near the line of scrimmage, too. The physical aspect is particularly important to coach Raheem Morris.
“They’re going to have to be the eighth man in the box and come down and put their face on somebody,” Morris said. “We play (the Rams’) Steven Jackson this year and a bunch of really good running backs. We play Jerome Harrison. Nobody knows him, but he’s in Cleveland and he ran for a bunch of yards at the end of last year. You have to be violent. You have to be physical.”
Jones believes he fits the bill and, after a week, has been everything the Bucs expected.
“I came here for a reason and that’s to help this team win football games, and I can’t do that on the sidelines,” he said. “I’m going to take full advantage of this opportunity I’ve been given. I want to be the total safety.”
Which receiver will emerge?
At this point, rookie Mike Williams has established himself as the starting split end and Sammie Stroughter is a likely candidate to start at flanker. But there will be ample opportunity for other receivers. But who?
Rookie Arrelious Benn has been slow to learn the offense, and as a result he hadn’t seemed comfortable or been playing at full speed. But that is changing. On Friday, his best day of camp, he showed his ability to make plays in the red zone. The extra work with receivers coach Eric Yarber is paying off.
But Benn has competition. There is a pack of receivers that hasn’t begun to separate yet, one that includes Maurice Stovall, Reggie Brown, Michael Clayton and Micheal Spurlock. But none of those players has distinguished himself on a regular basis.
Preseason games will ultimately determine where this position goes, but Benn looks like the early leader.
Left guard shuffle?
The acquisition of Keydrick Vincent last month barely made a ripple in Tampa Bay, much less around the NFL.
But after one week of camp, Vincent, a former Panther, has made waves. He is sharing first-team snaps with Jeremy Zuttah, last season’s starter at left guard, and there’s every reason to think Vincent will emerge as the starter.
While Zuttah is athletic and agile enough to pull, Vincent’s strength is just what the Bucs need: the power game. The imposing 6-5, 325-pound 10-year veteran plays with authority.
“Have you walked by him?” Morris asked. “I always knew he was big when we played him in Carolina. But I don’t want to get that close to him right now because I don’t want to be the coach on ‘When Bears Attack.’ He’s a big man. He’s able to move people. “
None of that is meant to suggest Zuttah is not an asset. If he doesn’t win the starting job, he fits nicely as something of a sixth man, a lineman who can fill in at any position when injuries hit.
But the Bucs have maintained they want to get back to a power running game, something they lacked last season. And Vincent seems the most likely candidate to take them there.
Which back will get more touches?
The Bucs have established Cadillac Williams and Derrick Ward as their first two options in the offensive backfield.
But there is room for a third back who often has a package of plays specific to him. For the past season and a half that player has been Clifton Smith, who is also an extraordinary return man. But his propensity for fumbling and the emergence during this camp of Kareem Huggins has made things interesting.
Huggins (5-9, 198) has a bit more bulk than Smith (5-9, 190), which presumably makes him more durable, but it doesn’t come at the expense of any speed or quickness. Roster spots will come into play here as Smith has shown the potential to fill multiple roles, but Huggins has return ability, too, making him an asset. This will be an area of particular interest in the preseason.
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