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Tuesday, Aug 21, 2018
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Bucs training camp questions: How to split the QB reps, position battles and more

TAMPA — Jameis Winston would like to move forward with his career now that he has accepted the NFL's decision to suspend him three games and apologized — for something — to the Uber driver that the league says he touched in an "inappropriate and sexual manner.''

When the Bucs' full squad reports to training camp Wednesday, players and coaches will circle the wagons around Winston. There will be a lot of talk about believing in second chances and a nothing-to-see-here tone will be set.

But the effects of the suspension will be felt every day until Winston returns for the Bucs' game Sept. 30 at Chicago, if not beyond.

Start with the most basic question: how does coach Dirk Koetter decide how to prepare both Winston and Ryan Fitzpatrick to play? How do they split the reps in training camp and the preseason games?

Fitzpatrick is likely to start the first three games of the season. At 35, he has a lot of experience and a year under his belt in Koetter's offense. But Fitzpatrick will need as much work with the No. 1 offense as possible to be prepared to start Sept. 9 at New Orleans.

Winston will miss nearly four weeks of practice by the time he returns from the regular season suspension. At 24, he's a relatively young quarterback, and sitting him out — with a bigger break looming — won't help his development.

The only recent template for this is what the New England Patriots did in 2016 when Tom Brady knew he was suspended for the first four games.

Patriots coach Bill Belichick is a big believer that Brady could get great work in joint practices, so Brady was "a little less of a presence in the games,'' according to ESPN.com's Mike Reiss. (The Bucs have two joint practices at Tennessee).

Also, Brady sliced his finger on a pair off cutters that season, so they held him out of the first preseason game. Here's how the breakdown went:

Preseason Game 1: Backup Jimmy Garoppolo started and played the first half with the No. 1 offense. Jacoby Brissett, the No. 3 quarterback, started the third quarter and finished the game.

Preseason Game 2: Brady sat out the entire game again with the finger injury as Garoppolo started and played the first half and one series into the third quarter.

Preseason Game 3: Normally, the starting quarterback begins the game and plays into the third quarter. But Garoppolo was done after two series and Brady played most of the first half. Garoppolo finished the first half with a two-minute drive and returned for two series in the third quarter.

Preseason Game 4: At this point in the preseason, you protect the starting quarterback from possible injury by not playing him. Garropolo sat out of the game while Brady played the entire first half.

The preseason game breakdown for snaps played went like this: Brady 0-0-16-39 = 55; Garoppolo 39-45-29-0 = 113; Brissett 28-26-23-38 = 115.

Clearly, Brady has vastly more experience than Winston while Garappolo had not started a regular season game prior to '16.

It's hard to prepare one quarterback for the season, much less two. And somewhere Ryan Griffin has to fit in there as the No. 3.

But that's not the only storyline heading into training camp.

Who will emerge as the starting running back?

The Bucs have big plans for Ronald Jones, the second-round pick from Southern Cal. His explosiveness could transform the rushing attack. But Jones is a rookie and has much to learn before he can be trusted in pass protection on third down.

Peyton Barber is a competent inside rusher. The third-down job may be between Charles Sims, Jacquizz Rodgers and rookie Shaun Wilson.

Will Chris Godwin unseat DeSean Jackson as the No. 2 receiver?

Jackson had only 50 catches last season, but his chemistry with Winston and Fitzpatrick should be better in the second year. Godwin looked and played like a starting NFL receiver this offseason and is another big body target for Winston. Jackson will get the first bite of the apple, but he's also been working in the slot in three-receiver packages.

What is the defensive line rotation?

Obviously, Gerald McCoy and Jason Pierre-Paul are locks. But will the Bucs go with free agent Beau Allen or first-round pick Vita Vea at defensive tackle? Does Vinny Curry hang onto the other defensive end job over William Gholston?

It's a good problem to have, but there are starting jobs on the line. How quickly they identify roles and jell as a unit could go a long way to overcoming Winston's absence.

Which rookie will emerge as the third cornerback?

Let's assume that Vernon Hargreaves hangs onto his starting right cornerback spot. When he moves inside to the slot in the sub package when teams go to three receivers, who takes Hargreaves' spot?

Auburn rookie Carlton Davis made a splashy debut in minicamp. At 6-1, he gives the Bucs length and man coverage ability. But M.J. Stewart came on late and will make a challenge.

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