Welcome to the next edition of our Training Camp Previews, where we go position by position to give you a look at how we feel each group of Bucs will look heading into the regular season. We continue the series with a look at the Buccaneers’ linebackers.
The plan is to take a look at each player and position, and see what they’ve done in the past, and what sort of role we can expect from them in 2013. We’ll use our traditional “Good, Bad, Likely” format to give all possible outcomes for each position, and today we take a look at the linebacking corps.
There are only two sure things at linebacker for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Lavonte David and Mason Foster. Lavonte is going to start at weakside linebacker, and Mason is going to start in the middle. David is coming off an incredibly impressive 2012 where he dominated against the run as a rookie. He is a tackle for loss machine who took a leadership role with the defense, and figures to be even better in 2013 as he grows into being a professional linebacker and gets more used to the speed of the game.
Mason is another story, as his future with the Buccaneers will likely be defined by his performances in 2012. He’s done fairly well so far in his career, but there’s an element of inconsistency and an attitude of disappointment given his recent play. He has the opportunity to impress in 2013 and earn the starting job for the future, and remain on the field for all three downs. But if he doesn’t show he’s capable of handling the full responsibilities of a middle linebacker in a 4-3 defense, he might move outside to strongside linebacker, or be relegated to the bench.
The Good: The best case scenario for Lavonte and Mason is full health and defined roles heading into 2013. If they learn how to best work together in running and passing situations, they could be a very solid core for the linebacking group for a long time to come.
The Bad: I don’t see any way these guys aren’t the bona fide starters to begin the year, but if Mason has any missteps in the preseason, that won’t help as we head into an important season for the defense.
The Likely: These guys are good. They’re starters.
After the top two, there is nothing but uncertainty on the Bucs linebacker depth chart, as there is a position without a starter, and uncertainty as to who the primary backups would be depending on who wins the job on the strong side. Dekoda Watson, Adam Hayward, and Jonathan Casillas all seem to be rumored as options at SLB for the Bucs, and one of the best battles in camp and the preseason will determine just who gets the job. Watson is an athletic special teams ace who has yet to “put it all together” on defense. Hayward is a versatile special teams leader who lacks any spectacular traits, but was called upon frequently last year after Quincy Black was injured. Casillas is an undersized strongside linebacker who could still compete for this position while contributing in other ways to the Buccaneers’ defense.
The Good: I believe that Watson has the best skillset for the position, and I believe it would be ideal if he was so good this preseason that he won the starting job easily, and held on to it all season long. This would leave Casillas to be used as a backup for David and a potential key figure in passing situations should Mason Foster not cover well enough. Adam Hayward would continue to be a special teams leader and solid backup.
The Bad: Camp and the preseason games reveal nothing about the players in this position battle, and no clear starter emerges. Hayward starts because he had the most experience at the position last year, but there is uncertainty all season long.
The Likely: I think Hayward is probably the most likely opening day starter. Hopefully for the Bucs, he earns the job, rather than simply being given the job because of the failure of others.
The Final Spot
After the first five players, there is likely only room for one more linebacker. Casillas and Hayward can play both outside positions, so whichever one loses out on the job at SAM linebacker will likely remain on the roster as a backup. Should Watson win the job, Casillas and Hayward will both be backups.
So who remains in the camp battle for the final spot? Jacob Cutrera, Ka’lial Glaud, Najee Goode, and Joe Holland will be in contention, and it’s really as open as can be. Goode and Cutrera seem to have a leg up on the compeition, as Goode is a recent draft pick, and Cutrera (along with Goode) saw the field last season with the Buccaneers. Cutrera can also contribute on special teams, which might provide another advantage for him.
The Good: Goode or Cutrera provide worthwhile contributions in the preseason, and earn a job as a backup and a role on special teams.
The Bad: No one stands out, and Goode gets the job because he was a higher draft pick.
The Likely: I think Goode and Cutrera will be split across the roster and practice squad, so it will be an interesting battle to watch at the bottom of the roster.