The NFL season is inching closer. Through July, Shutdown Corner will examine three big questions for each NFL team as it heads to training camp.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
Report date: July 25 (rookies) / July 27 (veterans)
Location: Tampa, Florida
1. How will “Hard Knocks” affect the team?
The latest season of HBO’s behind-the-scenes series will focus on everyone’s second-favorite Florida pirates, after that crew over at Disney World, and it’ll make for some interesting times around training camp. “Hard Knocks” can make you a viral star, like it did for profane former Falcons coach Bryan Cox a couple years back, or it can reveal your flaws to the world, as it did to then-Cowboys coach Dave Campo early on in the series. Nobody much likes “Hard Knocks” inside an organization, given how many secrets it can give away and how much accommodation must be made for the cameras, but it’s an institution now, one the NFL will inflict on you like it or not.
Bottom line, if you’re an incoming rookie and the “Hard Knocks” crew pays a lot of attention to you, keep your head on a swivel. You’re either making the team, or you’ve got a dramatic, heartbreaking “Coach wants to see you, and bring your playbook” scene awaiting you in Episode 4.
2. Who’s going to jockey their way into position for key roles?
We know Jameis Winston is the quarterback, and this is his level-up year. He comes through big, and Tampa Bay is on its way back to the playoffs. But he can’t do it alone, and positions up and down the roster remain in flux. For starters, Winston will need a backup, and at the moment it’s a Battle of the Ryans (Fitzpatrick and Griffin) for that honor.
Behind Winston, Doug Martin will miss the first three games of the season with a PED suspension, opening the door for some combination of Jacquizz Rodgers, Charles Sims and rookie Jeremy McNichols (Boise State) to get the bulk of the carries. Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson ought to hold the top two receiver spots, but who gets the nod at No. 3? What combination of players claims the wide-open safety spots? Tampa Bay is top-heavy right now, and the right personnel decisions over the weeks of training camp will determine whether this team can dethrone the Falcons.
3. Who’s going to be the kicker coming out of camp?
“Bringing a new kicker into camp” is a perfect 21st-century metaphor for turning up the heat on someone who’s gotten a bit stale in their job, but in Tampa Bay, it’s no metaphor. When you pick a kicker in the second round, you’ve got to expect he’ll be your kicker for the next two decades. But Roberto Aguayo, drafted 59th overall by Tampa Bay last year, was anything but a lock. He was 22-of-31 on field goals and 32-of-34 on extra points, numbers that would’ve gotten him the boot (get it?) if he wasn’t already such a sunk cost. But the Buccaneers aren’t going to put up with a second year of will-he-come-anywhere-close-to-the-uprights again, so they’ve brought veteran Nick Folk, longtime Giant/Cowboy, to either juice up Aguayo into kicking the way he ought to, or sending him packing once and for all. No pressure, bud.
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Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports and the author of EARNHARDT NATION, on sale now at Amazon or wherever books are sold. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or find him on Twitter or on Facebook.