The voluntary portion of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ offseason workout program is over. For the next three days, attendance is mandatory.
The occasion is the final minicamp of the offseason, which begins Tuesday at One Buc Place and serves as a training camp preview.
From the workout schedule to the starting lineup, most everything the Bucs do this week will mirror their plans for the start of training camp.
With that in mind, we take a look at five areas that bear watching as the team wraps up its first offseason under new head coach Lovie Smith.
The offensive line
This remains the biggest area of uncertainty, and it’s all because of the uncertainty surrounding projected starting left guard Carl Nicks. Nicks is still recovering from the foot problems that cost him the better part of the past two seasons and he was not a regular at the voluntary workouts. He’s not expected to practice this week, either, but if he doesn’t even bother to show up, it might be an indication he won’t be ready for the start of training camp. That, in turn, could trigger a major change in plans for the interior of the line.
The Bucs’ top two receivers, veteran Vincent Jackson and rookie Mike Evans, have been sidelined by hamstring strains the past few weeks. It would be good to see both back on the field, but there’s a good chance one or both will continue to sit out. If so, the focus will shift to those who are taking their places. There’s a good battle going on for the third receiver spot between Chris Owusu and rookie Robert Herron, but Tommy Streeter, Jeff Demps and rookie running back Chris Sims could all push for playing time there.
The defensive line
The four starters are pretty much set, with the Bucs almost certain to go with Michael Johnson at right end, Gerald McCoy at under tackle, Clinton McDonald at nose tackle and Adrian Clayborn at left end. But who will be rushing the passer on obvious passing downs such as third-and-long? Bucs defensive line coach Joe Cullen said last week those opportunities have to be “earned,’’ so we should get an idea this week of who has earned first crack at rushing the passer on the money downs when the games start to count.
Lavonte David will man the weak side, Mason Foster the middle and Jonathan Casillas the strong side. That is, unless Dane Fletcher steals a job. Versatile and good enough to start, Fletcher is a player to watch in this camp and again in training camp. He’s going to get a chance to unseat either Foster or Casillas. And if Dane unseats Foster, Foster could eventually unseat Casillas. The only lock here is David. Everyone else is fighting for playing time.
The Bucs have admitted to trying to keep coordinator Jeff Tedford’s scheme under wraps this offseason. Little by little, though, details have slipped out. For example, we know it is going to be an “up-tempo’’ scheme designed to quickly get the ball into the hands of the playmakers. And just last week, Tedford suggested the Bucs might make regular use of a two-minute attack. The search for more clues continues this week with an emphasis on the specific elements that will comprise the two-minute attack and how regularly it will be employed.