Breaking down Bucs battles as final cuts draw near

TAMPA, Fla. — A countdown is on to the NFL’s final-cut deadline, which is 6 p.m. Saturday. Rosters will be down to 75 players by 4 p.m. Tuesday, but there is still much to be determined before the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ 53-man roster comes into focus.
 
Who are the bubble players to watch? What about key starting jobs to be decided?
 
A few players such as running back Peyton Hillis, safety Cody Grimm and kicker Lawrence Tynes are on the edge. Meanwhile, others such as guard Gabe Carimi, defensive end Daniel Te’o-Nesheim and kicker Derek Dimke are fighting for starting jobs.
 
On Thursday, the Bucs close the preseason against the Washington Redskins at Raymond James Stadium. Here is a closer look at those to watch in the coming days.
 
Battling for Roster Spots
 
Peyton Hillis, RB: The Bucs signed Hillis on July 23 to see how much was left inside the six-year veteran. Tampa Bay seems deep at this position, with Doug Martin as the obvious No. 1 and Brian Leonard and rookie Mike James in competition to earn the No. 2 role. Hillis does not have deep special teams experience, which hurts his case to make the final roster. Hillis has 86 yards on 22 carries through three preseason games, with most of his looks coming late in games.
 
At this point, it would seem Hillis’ bubble will burst come the final-cut deadline. There was nothing wrong with the Bucs’ decision to invite him to camp, but Tampa Bay appears more than fine with Martin, Leonard and James.
 
Cody Grimm, S: A bubble player in 2012, Grimm could see his time with the Bucs end this year. Tampa Bay is deep at safety with the signing of Dashon Goldson, plus the returns of Mark Barron and Ahmad Black. Grimm is a versatile player who has shown his value on special teams, and coach Greg Schiano has praised Grimm’s work ethic and football smarts in recent months.
 
Still, Grimm has some off-the-field factors working against him. He was arrested in May in Leesburg, Va., on misdemeanor public intoxication charges, two months after he was arrested for the same charge in Christiansburg, Va. Shortly after the incidents, Grimm’s decision-making clearly disappointed Schiano. Will non-football issues work against Grimm? We’ll find out soon.
 
Lawrence Tynes, K: Little has gone right for Tynes in his short time with the Bucs. He was signed July 17 to be a veteran presence when Connor Barth was placed on the reserve/non-football injury list because of a torn right Achilles tendon. He made a brief appearance in training camp before he was sidelined with an ingrown toenail on his right foot. Then it was revealed that he developed a MRSA infection on the foot that required surgery last week.
 
Tynes’ future appears uncertain. He remains out indefinitely, although at this point, with Derek Dimke receiving most of the reps in training camp and former Buffalo Bills kicker Rian Lindell signed last Wednesday, the Bucs could choose to place Tynes on the non-football injury list.
 
Battling for Starting Jobs
 
Gabe Carimi, G: The former first-round draft pick from the Chicago Bears was signed June 10, and he could be placed into a starting role at left guard. Carl Nicks remains out indefinitely with an infected blister on his left foot, and as long as the two-time Pro Bowl player stays sidelined, Carimi could slide into the vacated role.
 
Clearly, the Bucs would prefer to have a healthy Nicks line up with Davin Joseph, a two-time Pro Bowl player. But Carimi was seen at left guard in place of Nicks during the early portion of practice Tuesday. Carimi has 16 starts in two seasons, but he only appeared in two games last year because he has battled issues with his right knee. Before Nicks’ infection, he appeared to be on track to play against the New England Patriots in the Bucs’ second preseason game. At the time, he was confident that he would start Week 1 against the New York Jets. Now, Carimi could be asked to take on more responsibility.
 
Daniel Te’o-Nesheim, DE: Da’Quan Bowers’ struggles have been Te’o-Nesheim’s gain. Bowers was assumed to be a starter at defensive end opposite Adrian Clayborn, but Bowers has had visible performance problems throughout training camp and in the preseason. Te’o-Nesheim lined up at right starting defensive end in the early portion of practice Tuesday. Meanwhile, Bowers played with the second team.
Te’o-Nesheim, at 6-foot-3, 263 pounds, is smaller compared to Bowers’ 6-4, 288-pound frame. But Te’o-Nesheim could prove to be more effective, especially with the endurance problems Bowers has shown throughout this month.  
 
Derek Dimke, K: He has received the bulk of work in training camp and preseason games with Tynes’ issues. So far, so good for the 23-year-old, who was signed June 4. He is 5 for 5 on field-goal attempts and 3 for 3 on extra-point attempts in the preseason.
 
Meanwhile, Lindell made a 38-yard field goal in the victory over the Miami Dolphins on Sunday. The Bucs could choose to go the veteran route with Lindell, who is in his 14th season. At the very least, Dimke has made a positive impression on Schiano, who has been impressed with the kicker’s efficiency so far.
 
Tom Crabtree, TE: Entering camp, the Bucs had visions of Luke Stocker rising to take on a larger role after Dallas Clark left the picture, but his time has been limited because of a calf injury. Crabtree, formerly of the Green Bay Packers, was signed March 18 to bolster Tampa Bay’s tight-end depth. But he has received more looks in recent weeks because of Stocker’s health issues.
 
Of course, the Bucs would have liked to see Stocker more in training camp and in preseason games. They see potential in him, but Crabtree has three catches for 71 yards in the preseason while Stocker has no production to show in the same span. This spot will be an interesting call.
 
Kevin Ogletree, WR: He has appeared to create distance between him, Tiquan Underwood and Chris Owusu for the Bucs’ third wide receiver spot. Early in training camp, this figured to be tight competition, especially with Owusu’s emergence after a strong impression in drills.
 
Recently, Ogletree has become a valuable target, though. He has a team-high 10 catches for 114 yards with one touchdown in the preseason. By comparison, Underwood has three catches for 49 yards and Owusu two catches for 48 yards. Ogletree, formerly of the Dallas Cowboys, was signed March 14 as a possible complement to Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams. Those visions are coming into shape. With Week 1 looming, Ogletree has placed himself in good position.

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