Antoine Winfield Jr
There’s a growing concern that Antoine Winfield Jr might not begin the season healthy enough to play.
Usually that would feel fatal, especially with how depleted the safety room was earlier this offseason. Winfield and Nolan Turner were the only guys returning from last year’s team, but the Bucs found some potential studs to fill out the position and possibly create one of the best safety groups in the league.
Ryan Neal was heralded as a sleeper to be a top free agent steal when all is said and done almost as soon as the ink dried on his deal with the Bucs. He comes over from a brooding Seattle defense and will look to add that attitude to one that’s already pretty gnarly in Tampa Bay.
The real start of the offseason was Christian Izien. The undrafted rookie out of Rutgers made an impact early on, earning the endorsement of Winfield who said that he was reminded of himself when watching the young safety play. Izien backed that up by playing so well in the preseason that Todd Bowles wasted no time in already naming him the starting nickel cornerback for Week 1’s game against the Vikings.
Izien isn’t the only undrafted rookie who left an impression. Iowa’s Keavon Merriweather projects to be the fourth man in the safety room to start the season, bringing with him a hard-hitting style and an ability to play in multiple coverage schemes. The Bucs reportedly had a draftable grade on Merriweather, so it’s no surprise they pounced on the chance to add him. He rewarded that gamble during training camp, and the Bucs have taken a group that looked lost when the offseason began and crafted one of the best units on the entire roster.
Special Teams (3)
Next to the tight end group, it was hard to find drama with the core special teams unit. The only question revolved around whether Chase McLaughlin could hold firm on the Bucs kicking job while he competed with Rodrigo Blankenship at training camp.
That battle ended after the second preseason game when the Bucs released Blankenship following a 1-for-3 night. Outside of that battle, the Bucs special teams unit will once again be headlined by Jake Camarda, who established himself as one of the most valuable players on the team last year who turned in an impressive play Bucs fans still find themselves thinking about.