Let’s be honest with each other, shall we? There are going to be a lot of different position battles in training camp this year. I am going to attempt to break down a couple of the major ones.
Our most glaring weakness last season may very well have been in the secondary, and safety to be more specific. As a man who played safety in high school, I know just how valuable the position truly is.
Tampa Bay finished 16th in passing yards allowed last season, giving up 245 yards per game through the air, allowing opposing quarterbacks to amass over 4,000 yards and torched our secondary to the tune of 41 touchdowns. If we have any hopes of making a legitimate playoff and super bowl run, these numbers obviously need to come down substantially. I understand there were injury issues with our secondary all season, but you won’t make it long in the NFL if you are giving excuses instead of working on the problem. Therefore, the injury excuse won’t fly with me. We were terrible, plain and simple.
During the off-season, the Buccaneers re-signed Chris Conte and brought in J.J. Wilcox, previously of the Dallas Cowboys, via free agency, while also drafting a stud safety in the second round out of Texas A&M, Justin Evans. Let’s break these down a little, shall we?
Let me start off by saying, I’m not a fan of Conte, he was just too inconsistent to be seen as a reliable starter. In my opinion, he was simply brought back as a backup, mainly for depth at the safety position. Wilcox, on the other hand, started 38 out of 58 games since he came into the league as a third-round draft pick of the Dallas Cowboys in the 2013 NFL draft. At A&M, J.J. only played one season at the safety position after starting his college career as a running back. Even with the lack of experience at the safety position, the Cowboys were ready to name Wilcox the starter at free safety his rookie year. Sadly, just before his first training camp as a professional, his mother passed away. Understandably, J.J. took some time to deal with this tragic ordeal and missed some necessary time during training camp to help learn the position, therefore forcing Dallas to start Will Allen in his place. It took Wilcox almost half of his rookie season to get caught up and supplant Allen on the depth chart as starting safety. In the 38 games that he did play in, Wilcox compiled 214 tackles, with 15 passes deflected, 1 forced fumble and 5 interceptions. His best season to date was his second year in the league, the 2014 NFL season in which he finished with 78 tackles and 3 interceptions. I think he and Conte will be backups for the eventual starters, Justin Evans and incumbent Keith Tandy.
Tandy started 5 games for the Buccaneers once Conte went down to injury. In those 5 games, Keith compiled 45 tackles with 4 interceptions. If you watched the games he played last season, you saw how he was all over the field making plays. Evans, our stud second round draft pick out of Texas A&M is a hard hitting safety that can also cover and make plays in the passing game. In his 2 years at A&M, Evans compiled 165 tackles and 5 interceptions. If you watched the LSU/A&M game last season, you ad saw the potential he has with the way he took on and lit up running back Leonard Fournette. These two should really make passing downfield a headache for opposing teams.
Finally, let’s go to the battle that will be front and center throughout training camp, the kicking battle between second-year player Roberto Aguayo and veteran newcomer Nick Folk. Folk is an 81% career field goal kicker and made 87% of his field goals last season. It’s well documented how inconsistently terrible Aguayo was last year in his rookie campaign. He made just 22 of the 31 field goals he attempted, a less than mediocre 71% and even missed 2 extra points. Roberto was drafted in the second round of the 2016 draft because statistically speaking, he was the best kicker in college football history. I think Nick should be the motivation Roberto needs to become the level of player he was expected to be coming out of college. It goes without saying, this is a make or break year for Aguayo. Folk isn’t coming in just to light a fire under Roberto, he is coming in to earn the starting kicker spot on our 53 man roster.
Head coach Dirk Koetter has said numerous times that he will only keep one kicker on the team. This is going to be a hotly contested, fun battle. Folk doesn’t have many seasons left, he has a family to feed and knows how important his time in a Bucs uniform could be. Aguayo better be ready to compete day in and day out, because Folk certainly will. The chirp out of One Buc Place is that Roberto has made strides and is kicking much more consistently. That’s good because wasting a second round pick on a bust isn’t fun. Even though the reports this off-season reading Aguayo have been positive, I still feel Nick Folk will end up being our kicker next season. He’s a veteran of the league, he’s been there and done that, and isn’t ready to hang up his cleats yet. As devastating as it may be to know we basically threw away a second round pick, if Nick makes the kicks that matter, and helps us win, well, then can we really complain?
Any way you dice it or slice it, we are in for a year none of us will soon forget. Let’s hope this upcoming season is a winning season, one where we progress rather than regress. What are your thoughts Bucs fans?
Edited by: Harmeet Kapur