Key Position Battles in Tonight's Bucs-Patriots Game
Training camp may be over for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but the competition is just heating up. As the Bucs take on the New England Patriots tonight in Foxborough, a number of key positions are still up for grabs.
Starting Right Tackle
After starting 15 games last season and signing a new four-year contract this offseason, Demar Dotson entered training camp penciled in as the starter.
But some competition has emerged from former first-round pick Gabe Carimi, who has seen time this week with the first-team offense in practice.
Now that Carimi is finally healthy and reunited with his college offensive line coach, Bob Bostad, is this the point in Carimi's career where he finally takes off? Or will Dotson, who beat out Jeremy Trueblood last year to win the starting job, do it again?
Starting Strongside Linebacker
Up until this point, Dekoda Watson had been practicing with the team's first unit, but now that Jonathan Casillas has mastered the defensive playbook, he's putting the heat on Watson.
Watson's always been a physical specimen, but at times, he has struggled to master the cerebral aspects of the game, an area where Casillas, who spent four years with the Saints and was mentored by Jonathan Vilma, has an edge.
Kevin Ogletree led the Bucs receiving corps last week with an impressive five catches for 65 yards receiving. He was slowed earlier this week by an ankle injury, however.
Ogletree is expected to play tonight, but Tiquan Underwood, who found his way into the slot role last year, could make his move and emerge as the third receiver behind Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams.
Underwood was slowed earlier in camp by a hamstring injury, but did manage to play last week, recording a 6-yard catch.
Given that he was cut last year by the Bucs after the preseason and he's playing in front of the team who infamously cut him on the eve of the Super Bowl, there's some additional motivation for Underwood to have a breakout game -- not that he's a guy who really needs it.
A third receiver in the mix that's worth mentioning has been Chris Owusu, although he suffered an ankle injury during last week's preseason game and did not make the trip for this game.
Veteran Derek Hagan, who made some notable plays in practice, didn't have a particularly strong game last week.
Backup Running Back
The Bucs need a solid backup running back who has the same all-around abilities as starter Doug Martin and can punish opposing defenses in between the tackles and in the open field.
Brian Leonard had a solid performance last week, rushing for 23 yards on 6 carries and catching a 2-yard pass. Right now, this looks to be his job, especially with Peyton Hillis tending to a hyperextended knee.
Others in the mix include Michael Smith, a seventh-round draft pick out of Utah State last year, and rookie Mike James, a sixth-round pick out of Miami.