That question may now have an answer. When
Given that the fourth and final preseason game on Thursday will be played almost exclusively by reserves, there won't really be an opportunity for any other guard candidates to get first-team action. If a change at either guard spot is going to be made before the regular-season opener on September 7, it will have to be decided exclusively on the practice field.
The Buccaneers will have their roster pared to 75 players by Tuesday. On Saturday, Tampa Bay and the other 31 teams will further trim down to the regular-season limit of 53. The following week, the Bucs will release the depth chart they intend to apply to the Carolina game. Only then will we know for sure that Omameh and Cousins have rounded out the starting O-Line five, but for now that seems like the obvious outcome.
Some other position battles remain, however, even as the final preseason week begins and those Saturday cuts loom. Here are five depth chart questions that still need to be answered.
1. Third Receiver
This issue isn't as simple as determining who the absolute third-best receiver on the roster is. The player who rounds out the three-receiver sets will likely be playing in the slot most of the time, with the enormous Jackson-Evans duo on the outside. Head Coach Lovie Smith has said on several occasions that this slot receiver is usually a smaller player, one with quickness and shifty moves. That would seem to describe rookie
This is one battle that will get a chance to play out in Thursday's game. With three receivers waived on Sunday and Jackson and Evans unlikely to see much action, all the work will go to the quintet of Herron, Owusu, Murphy,
2. Right cornerback
As was pointed out during Smith's day-after-game press conference on Sunday, second-year player
That very well may true, but it would be interesting to know if the preseason would have played out differently if
“We still go on what has happened and his play has been good," said Smith of Banks. "I’m not saying he’s not going to be [a starter], or he won’t be. His play has been good. I like everything about him – his size, how he competes, his toughness. He didn’t play as well [Saturday] as he will, but yeah, I can see why he would think [he's a starter], and when we brought Mike Jenkins in, it’s not like we just handed the position to Mike. We feel like Mike is getting close to being ready to come back, but we’ll see how that plays out.”
There is no battle here, of course, until Jenkins is healthy, and he may miss Thursday's game, as well. Still, it's possible that somewhere down the road Jenkins will at least get a chance to unseat his younger teammate.
3. Kick returner
Make no mistake, undrafted rookie Solomon Patton has taken the lead here, and the release of incumbent return man Eric Page on Sunday means the team won't just stick with the status quo. Patton was elevated to the top spot on the depth chart at both return positions after he performed well in an extended opportunity in Game Two against Miami, and he got the majority of the work on Saturday in Buffalo. The way that game unfolded, however, Patton didn't get much of an opportunity to build on his prior work.
“[He's] in a better position, but still, we’ve just decided on the 75 right now, or are deciding on the 75 right now," said Smith of Patton's chances of sticking past the cut to 53. "There are still more evaluations to be made through practices this week, and of course, through the game, but Solomon didn’t hurt himself or anything like that. Every time we’ve given him an opportunity, we feel like he’s stepped up to the plate.”
Even with Page gone, there are other kick-return candidates, and one of the factors Buccaneer coaches need to consider is which players will be among the 46 active men on game days. As an example, running back
4. Defensive end depth
As coaches in general – and Lovie Smith in particular – often say, you can never have enough of this.
Many candidates remain for depth on the edge even after the Buccaneers released undrafted rookies Ryne Giddins and Chaz Sutton on Sunday.
That has provided some more playing time for the likes of
“We know Michael and Adrian Clayborn, what their roles would be for us," said Smith. "Will Gholston, we wanted to look at him a little bit more. Some other guys – Scott Solomon, of course Larry English, Steven Means, those are players we need to take steps and we’re seeing baby steps of improvement, but we’ll be constantly working at defensive line trying to get it right.
“Bowers, he’s been out a while, you kind of forget a little bit, but when he was out there, Da’Quan did some good things. William Gholston also did some good things. I just felt like the direction he was headed, good size for a six-technique, a guy that will be playing over the tight end the majority of the time, none of that has changed. We just needed to get those guys out [on the field]. They did enough before they went down with injuries for us to really like what we saw.”
5. Third tight end
Judging by the starting lineups and the early playing time in preseason games, it seems clear that free agent acquisition
The Buccaneers will surely keep at least three tight ends on the 53-man roster. It's possible that they'll expand that number to four if they see too much potential in both Tim Wright and
While Tim Wright seemed like the obvious third tight end when camp started after his surprising 50-catch season as a rookie in 2013, it no longer looks as clear as the preseason nears its end. Stocker is still battling for that job, and it could come down to whether the team wants to emphasize pass-catching or blocking at that third tight end spot.