Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Bucs training camp: 5 players to watch
TAMPA - Quarterbacks are among the most-watched players at training camp, but there's more to see at Tampa Bay Buccaneers camp than the battle for game-day snaps among Luke McCown, Byron Leftwich and Josh Freeman. The Bucs' pass rush needs to improve, the linebackers are going through a transition and the running game should carry the brunt of the offensive workload. With that in mind, here are five non-quarterbacks who should play prominent roles for the Bucs in 2010 and bear watching when the team takes the field Saturday. DE Gaines AdamsEntering his third pro season, Adams has yet to establish himself as the Bucs' best pass rusher, much less one of league's best. His 12.5 career sacks are less than part-timer Stylez G. White produced during the same two years, so the Bucs are looking for a breakout year from their former first-round pick. The problem Adams faces is he's no longer in a system where he will be aided by a pass-rushing under tackle. He'll get help from blitzing linebackers, but to be a star in this league, Adams will have to do it mostly on his own. RB Clifton Smith Smith went from undrafted free agent rookie to Pro Bowl return man in a matter of weeks last year. Now, the Bucs want to see if the former Fresno State back can run the ball consistently. Smith doesn't figure to be a big part of the Bucs' rushing attack, but his speed and maneuverability could prove problematic for defenses geared up to stop power backs Earnest Graham and Derrick Ward. Smith is small at 5-foot-9, 190 pounds and had a habit of fumbling last season. If he can overcome those obstacles, he could work his way into the regular running-back rotation as an option on third down. SS Sabby Piscitelli The jury is still out on Piscitelli. Some see him as another John Lynch, others as another John Howell. The verdict should come this season. With Jermaine Phillips moving to weakside linebacker, the starting strong safety job is Piscitelli's to lose. Though he's had limited playing time, the third-year pro out of Oregon State has developed a reputation for delivering big hits and making big plays. However, for the Bucs to continue working Phillips at linebacker, Piscitelli needs to be more consistent. LB Jermaine Phillips Poor Jermaine Phillips. First he replaced John Lynch at safety, now he replaces Derrick Brooks at weakside linebacker. The good news is Phillips has bought into the Bucs' request to change positions. He's thinking like a linebacker and coaches are happy with his progress. Still, how will Phillips look when he's not facing his own teammates? And how the forearms he's broken three times hold up once the pads go on? Remember, Phillips often does as much damage to himself as others once the hitting starts. WR Michael Clayton Few players were happier than Clayton to see former Bucs coach Jon Gruden leave. Clayton altered his plan to leave the team in free agency as soon as Gruden was fired and Raheem Morris hired, so he has a new lease on life and a new contract that says the Bucs believe in him. That said, Clayton still must prove he's more than a player who will willingly block downfield for his running backs. The Bucs have a hole at slot receiver and Clayton was drafted in the first round five years ago to fill that need. He has the chance to prove Gruden was either too impatient or blind to his true talents.
Reporter Roy Cummings can be reached at (813) 259-7979.