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Thursday, Apr 19, 2018
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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bucs training camp: 5 players who must come through

QB Josh Freeman
This training camp could be the beginning of the end of Freeman's career as a Buccaneer. He's entering the final year of his rookie contract, and the Bucs are prepared to move on after drafting Mike Glennon out of North Carolina State with their third-round pick in the 2013 draft. At the same time, this could be the start of something truly big for both Freeman and the Bucs. Freeman is only 25, and the Bucs are hopeful his four years of experience, a strong supporting cast and a second season in coordinator Mike Sullivan's offense will finally allow him to play with the consistency necessary to be an elite quarterback. Freeman has provided flashes - a lot of them, really - of the player the Bucs need him to be. But if he's going to lead Tampa Bay to the playoffs, he needs to get into a groove and stay there.
CB Darrelle Revis
Revis is nothing short of a bona fide superstar, the best pass defender in a pass-happy league driven largely by quarterbacks. Revis was all that, at least, until he suffered a season-ending knee injury early last year. The Bucs have bet two draft picks, including their 2013 first-round selection, that Revis can regain that form. We'll start to find out this week if their gamble will pay off. The Bucs say Revis, who has been rehabbing diligently, is in outstanding physical shape, but they really have no idea how his knee will hold up once the pads go on and balls start flying. Revis will arguably be the most watched player during this year's training camp. If he can make it through the preseason without suffering a setback, he will become one of the true focal points of the Tampa Bay defense.
DE Adrian Clayborn
Plenty of NFL insiders are still wondering why the Bucs didn't go after an established pass rusher such as Cliff Avril, Dwight Freeney or John Abraham in free agency. Well, the answer is Clayborn. Though he's coming off a season-ending knee injury, the Bucs' 2011 first-round draft pick is still on the front side of his career. Tampa Bay believes he can rush the passer at least as well, if not better, than any of those three free agents. They certainly need him to. The Bucs tied for 30th in the league with 27 sacks last year. Their lack of a pass rush was a big reason they came within only a few yards of having the worst pass defense in NFL history. The Bucs are convinced Clayborn can transform their pass rush from a weakness into a strength.
DE Da'Quan Bowers
The Bucs drafted Bowers in the second round three years ago with the idea of making him their starting left end. They didn't let the emergence of Michael Bennett last season alter their plans. Though Bennett led the Bucs in sacks with nine in 2012, the team let him leave for Seattle in free agency, convinced Bowers will prove to be an upgrade. The controversial decision put added pressure on Bowers, who is still trying to prove he can avoid injury and play at a high level. His first season was slowed by recovery from a knee injury, and the start of his second was delayed by an Achilles' tendon tear. Not that Bowers seems averse to pressure. He put plenty on himself during the offseason, saying he'll be a disappointment if he fails to generate at least 10 sacks this year. Considering the Bucs' need for pressure on the passer, it's hard to argue with him.
S Mark Barron
Barron, the Bucs' first-round draft pick in 2012, played a bit out of position last season. He worked primarily at the free safety spot, but Barron is a big hitter the Bucs envision playing a strong safety role, much like John Lynch did years ago. That means spending a lot of time in the box near the line of scrimmage, particularly on running downs. With safety Dashon Goldson now on board, Barron will get a chance this year to play to his strengths. The Bucs had the best rush defense in the league last year, and Barron's play will go a long way toward determining whether they can hold their ground there. Like Revis, Barron is a key figure in a revamped secondary that has to play better if the Bucs hope to win more.
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