NFL Nation: Jonathan Casillas

PHOENIX -- When J.T. Thomas racked up 12 tackles and recovered a fumble in the end zone for a touchdown in the Jaguars' Week 13 victory over the New York Giants, he likely didn't realize the extent to which he was trying out.

"Thomas played very well against us," Giants coach Tom Coughlin recalled Wednesday. "And a lot of times, quite frankly, there's no better information as you get looking into free agency than people who've done well against you."

The Giants use a lot of advanced stats and rely heavily on their scouts when deciding which players to pursue in free agency, but they also do this thing Coughlin's talking about, where they kind of over-inflate a player's performance in a game against them when making their evaluation. Running back Rashad Jennings, who had 107 yards from scrimmage in a 2013 game against the Giants and signed a four-year contract with them last offseason, is a recent example.

So Thomas got a three-year, $10 million contract from the Giants on the first day of free agency this year, and Coughlin foresees a big role for him in the defense -- possibly as the starting weakside linebacker.

"We think Thomas could be a Will 'backer," Coughlin said. "[Fellow free-agent signee Jonathan] Casillas is basically the same kind of guy. Both are outstanding special-teamers. They'll make contributions in both ways. They'll both get plenty of opportunities. I just say that there's more information about Thomas in normal down-and-distance situations than Casillas."

Thomas played all three linebacker spots in Jacksonville and, as Coughlin intimated, has more experience on defense than Casillas has. So if you want to call him the favorite to start on the weak side, I'm not going to stop you. The Giants hope their linebacker lineup features a healthy Jon Beason in the middle with Thomas or Casillas on the weak side and some combination of Devon Kennard and Jameel McClain on the strong side. If Beason's healthy, McClain likely becomes a Swiss-army-knife backup at all three spots. If Beason once again struggles to see the field, either McClain or Kennard would play in the middle.

But assuming they can do what they want with Kennard, Coughlin also has some ideas about how new defensive coordinator can use him.

"A lot," Coughlin said. "If Jon comes back and Jon's healthy and Jon can play, then you've got Kennard maybe in a stronger position, rushing the passer more, the whole deal that way, and that's going to make you better."

Kennard had 4.5 sacks in the Giants' final five games and is hoping to build on a strong rookie season. Coughlin was asked if they might even be able to spot him in at defensive end if need be.

"You can. You can," Coughlin said. "That depends on who the other defensive ends are."

And that's a different blog post for a different time.

The New York Giants reached agreement on a three-year, $10.5-million contract with former Patriots linebacker Jonathan Casillas, my friend and colleague Adam Caplan informs me. They also have an agreement with former Cowboys wide receiver/return man Dwayne Harris, whose agent broke that news on Twitter. Harris is getting a five-year deal for $17.5 million that includes $7.1 million guaranteed, according to sources.

Casillas
Casillas
Harris
Both signings are expected to help the Giants significantly on special teams. Casillas is a strong performer on coverage teams. Harris excels there as well and is also among the better kick returners in the NFL. The Giants' lack of roster depth, brought on by years of unproductive drafts, forces them to patch special-teams holes in free agency, and they seem to sign a player or two every year with that purpose in mind.

But given what the Giants are paying these guys, you can expect to see them on more than just special teams. Harris didn't get to play much as a receiver in Dallas' offense, but he could get a chance to contribute on offense for the Giants, especially if Victor Cruz struggles to recover from the significant knee injury that sidelined him in Week 6 of the 2014 season. The Giants had been hoping to beef up their wide receiver group to guard against the chance that Cruz doesn't make it back. Harris helps do that, but he also offers significant value in the return game even if he doesn't have to play on offense.

Casillas is a weakside linebacker and could be the replacement for Jacquian Williams, who is off somewhere else in free agency. The Giants also have Jon Beason, Jameel McClain and Devon Kennard at linebacker, but none of them really fits in that weakside coverage linebacker spot, so there's a chance for Casillas to contribute on defense.

The Giants could move on from McClain and save $3.1 million against the cap by doing so, but I'm told they have no such plans at the moment (even with a $400,000 roster bonus due Thursday for McClain), mainly because concerns about Beason's injury history make McClain valuable as a capable Beason replacement. Having the four of them gives the Giants some depth at a position where they haven't had much depth in recent years, and allows them to deploy Kennard strategically in pass-rushing situations.

More to come, obviously.
TAMPA, Fla. -- Both of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' starting wide receivers are listed as questionable for Sunday’s game against Baltimore. But don’t go shuffling your fantasy team just yet.

Jackson
The signs were encouraging Friday as Vincent Jackson (ribs) and Mike Evans (groin) participated on a limited basis in Friday’s practice. Coach Lovie Smith seemed optimistic Jackson and Evans will be able to play.

Smith wasn’t as optimistic about safety Dashon Goldson (ankle) and linebacker Jonathan Casillas. They both have been ruled out for Sunday. Defensive end Larry English (hamstring) participated on a limited basis and is listed as questionable.

Center Evan Dietrich-Smith also is listed as questionable. Dietrich-Smith was ill Friday, but Smith said he is confident the center will play Sunday. Quarterback Josh McCown (thumb) is listed as doubtful.

Middle linebacker Mason Foster, who missed three games with a shoulder injury but has practiced fully three times this week, is listed as probable.
TAMPA, Fla. -- Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Jonathan Casillas said Monday he violated a team rule, which resulted in him being held out of Saturday’s preseason game at Buffalo.

Casillas
Casillas
Casillas wouldn’t go into detail about the rule he violated. But he did imply that a miscommunication caused him to not be somewhere at the proper time.

"That’s basically what it was," Casillas said. "If anybody knows me you know my track record speaks for itself. I’m not a person that violates a code of conduct or anything like that. It’s something that happened. I take full responsibility for everything that I do on the field and off the field. I think it was handled appropriately. Me and (coach) Lovie (Smith) talked it out and I’m back to work and looking to get better."

Casillas did not make the trip to Buffalo, and Danny Lansanah started in his place at strongside linebacker.

"I don’t really think it was that big of an issue," Casillas said. "Of course, the team did. It’s understandable. I made a mistake, a bad mental decision on my behalf. It happens. I’m not perfect. I try to do things the right way here like I’ve always done in my career. I made a mistake and it got dealt with."

Observation Deck: Buccaneers

August, 23, 2014
8/23/14
7:38
PM ET
 

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Lovie Smith said earlier this week that he wanted to see more sacks and takeaways. Mission accomplished.

Tampa Bay’s first-team defense forced three turnovers in Saturday’s 27-14 victory against the Buffalo Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium.

Lavonte David forced a first-quarter fumble by C.J. Spiller that was recovered by Mason Foster. Tampa Bay’s offense punched the ball in for a quick touchdown. Tampa Bay’s offense was far from spectacular, but the defense more than made up for it.

The defense produced a touchdown of its own. As Adrian Clayborn sacked Buffalo quarterback EJ Manuel, Michael Johnson reached in and knocked the ball loose. Defensive tackle Clinton McDonald picked the ball up and ran it in for a touchdown with 8:21 left in the second quarter.

All of Buffalo’s points came in the second half after Tampa Bay’s starting defense had left the game. The Bucs held a 24-0 lead at halftime.

Some other observations:
  • Tampa Bay’s offense hadn’t been putting together long drives this preseason. That finally changed late in the second quarter. The Bucs had an 11-play drive that covered 82 yards and ended with a touchdown pass from Josh McCown to Mike Evans. That shows the Bucs can sustain a drive. But it’s important to remember that we’ve seen only a very small sampling of coordinator Jeff Tedford’s offense. The Bucs are saving most of that for the regular season.
  • I’ve got a feeling what we saw Saturday will be repeated a lot during the regular season. The Bucs played fantastic defense and were rather ordinary (but opportunistic) on offense. That’s not flashy, but that fits Smith’s philosophy perfectly.
  • Smith said he wanted to take an early look at recently acquired defensive end Larry English. He did, putting English into the game early. He responded with two sacks. The former first-round pick by San Diego still faces an uphill battle to make the team but might be gaining ground on Da'Quan Bowers, who missed the game with a groin injury.
  • Smith said he wanted to play his starters into the third quarter. He did play his starting offense into the second half, with one notable exception. Backup quarterback Mike Glennon replaced McCown to start the third quarter. That was a smart move. With the offensive line still a work in progress, there’s no sense in exposing McCown to possible injury before the regular season starts.
  • Linebacker Jonathan Casillas did not play for the Bucs. He was held out for a disciplinary reason, according to a team official. Danny Lansanah got the start in his place and played well. Lansanah has had a strong preseason and appears to have secured a roster spot.

Minicamp questions for the Bucs

April, 22, 2014
4/22/14
8:00
AM ET
As the Tampa Bay Buccaneers begin a three-day minicamp Tuesday, let's explore some of the biggest questions facing the team.

Is there really a competition at quarterback? Not in minicamp, where most of the time is spent installing the offense. Josh McCown will get the first-team work and Mike Glennon will work with the second team. If Glennon is going to have any chance at surpassing McCown, he’ll have to thoroughly outplay him in training camp and the preseason. Unless the Bucs draft a quarterback in the first round, this is McCown’s job to lose.

Will the offensive line be better? It probably can’t be worse than last year when the line’s play was a major disappointment. The Bucs blew up that line and they’ve overhauled it with additions like left tackle Andre Collins and center Evan Dietrich-Smith. Still, the biggest question is whether guard Carl Nicks, who missed almost all of last season with an injury, can get back to full strength. If Nicks is totally healthy, he might be the best guard in the game and he makes everyone around him better.

Who starts at wide receiver opposite Vincent Jackson? Let’s be brutally honest. That player isn’t on the roster yet. The Bucs may open minicamp with someone like veteran Louis Murphy running with the first team. But Murphy will be competing for the fourth or fifth receiver spot before all is said and done. This team still needs to add a second and third wide receiver.

Who’s the tight end? The answer to that one may come in plural form. Tim Wright did some nice things as a rookie last season. But Wright is limited as a blocker. That’s why the Bucs brought in Brandon Myers. He can contribute as a blocker and a receiver. The Bucs aren’t likely to use a fullback very often, which means there could be a lot of two-tight-end sets.

Aside from Lavonte David, what’s the situation at linebacker? David is set as the weakside starter, which is the most important linebacker spot in coach Lovie Smith’s defense. Mason Foster is the favorite to remain the starter in the middle, but he needs to show he can drop into coverage much more frequently than he’s done in the past. Jonathan Casillas appears to be the favorite to start on the strong side.

Free-agency primer: Buccaneers

March, 7, 2014
3/07/14
11:00
AM ET
» AFC Free-Agency Primer: East | West | North | South » NFC: East | West | North | South

Key free agents: LB Adam Hayward, FB Erik Lorig, LB Jonathan Casillas and WR Tiquan Underwood.

Where they stand: The Buccaneers don't have any huge names among their own free agents, but they'd like to keep some of them as role players. Hayward is a key special-teams player and Lorig is important as the lead blocker for Doug Martin in the running game. If Casillas returns, he's a candidate to start at strongside linebacker. The major need on defense is for a pass-rusher. On offense, the team may look to overhaul its offensive line. Tight end and depth at wide receiver also are big needs.

What to expect: The Bucs were 4-12 last season and they have a new coaching staff and general manager. That means there will be significant changes. The Bucs have $18 million in cap room, so they’re going to be active in free agency, even though they've stated their goal is to build through the draft. Look for connections to the new regime to play into free-agent signings. Return man Devin Hester and cornerback Charles Tillman played for coach Lovie Smith in Chicago and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier worked with defensive end Jared Allen in Minnesota. All of those players could be prime targets. A veteran quarterback also could be added to the mix, with Josh McCown and Michael Vick as possibilities.

Pricing the market: Arthur Moats

February, 18, 2014
2/18/14
5:00
AM ET
With the free-agent signing period approaching, we'll take a closer look at each of the Buffalo Bills' free agents, finding the closest matches in last offseason's free-agent class:

Pending Bills free agent: Arthur Moats
Position: Linebacker
Experience: 4 seasons
2013 stats: 16 games played (12 starts), 54 tackles
2013 snaps: 25.6 percent (defense)

Last offseason's closest match: Akeem Jordan
Experience: 6 seasons (entering 2013)
2012 stats: 14 games (7 starts), 44 tackles, 2 forced fumbles (for Philadelphia)
2012 snaps: 31.5 percent (defense), 61.4 percent (special teams)
Signed with: Kansas City Chiefs
Contract: 1 year, $715,000 base salary, $10,000 signing bonus
Overview: Andy Reid brought Jordan along from the Eagles, where Jordan had been a fill-in starter since 2007. The deal -- which came at the veteran minimum, giving the Chiefs a slight cap credit -- paid off. Jordan started 10 games, notched 67 tackles and tied his career high with two forced fumbles.

Last offseason's second-closest match: Jonathan Casillas
Experience: 4 seasons (entering 2013)
2012 stats: 14 games (1 start), 31 tackles, 1 pass defensed (for New Orleans)
2012 snaps: 21.1 percent (defense), 59.9 percent (special teams)
Signed with: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Contract: 1 year, $1.1 million base salary, $150,000 roster bonus
Overview: The Buccaneers moved quickly to sign Casillas, who was a defensive role player and core special teams player for the Saints. He wound up starting four games in Tampa, recording 23 tackles, two passes defensed, and one forced fumble.

Verdict: Moats' value on the open market will depend on two factors: (1) How teams view his 12 starts last season, and (2) If teams consider him to be a core special teams player. Moats started 12 games but played in only a quarter of defensive snaps, which has been an increasing trend among "third" linebackers in the NFL. Since he wasn't part of the Bills' sub packages, Moats was relegated to a run-stopping role on early downs. Because of that, teams aren't likely to view Moats as anything more than a part-time player on defense, which could limit his next contract. It's also unlikely that teams value Moats' impact on special teams as highly as that of Casillas'.

Bucs' free agents: Nos. 1-5

February, 12, 2014
2/12/14
3:00
PM ET
Let's complete our look at Tampa Bay's potential free agents with Nos. 1 through 5.

1. Adam Hayward, linebacker. As a linebacker, Hayward has limited value as a backup. But Hayward was the captain for Tampa Bay’s special teams last season. New coach Lovie Smith places a premium on special teams, so it would make a lot of sense to bring Hayward back.

2. Erik Lorig, fullback. The Bucs are going to be a run-first team. Lorig is a decent lead blocker, so it makes sense to try to keep him around.

3. Jonathan Casillas, linebacker. Casillas could be a candidate to start at strongside linebacker. He also has plenty of value on special teams.

4. Tiquan Underwood, wide receiver. He ended up starting after Mike Williams was injured last season. Underwood is not a guy you want in the starting lineup every week, but he could fill a role as the third or fourth receiver.

5. Jamon Meredith, guard. Injuries propelled Meredith into the lineup last season. The Bucs are likely to try to upgrade their offensive line this offseason, but Meredith could have some value as a backup.

Locker Room Buzz: Buccaneers

November, 17, 2013
11/17/13
5:34
PM ET
TAMPA, Fla. -- Observed in the locker room after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 41-28 victory against the Atlanta Falcons.
  • Rainey
    Although he gave his life story the other day, running back Bobby Rainey had to do it again in the locker room Sunday. Rainey was swarmed by the media. That’s understandable, because he rushed for 163 yards and two touchdowns, and also caught a touchdown pass. Rainey, who joined the team three weeks ago, was playing only because Doug Martin and Mike James have been lost to season-ending injuries. Coach Greg Schiano said part of the reason Rainey has fit in so well is because he played in a similar offense at Western Kentucky.
  • Linebacker Dekoda Watson has seen his playing time dwindle recently in favor of Jonathan Casillas. But that might change because of what Watson did Sunday as he drew strong praise from Schiano after the game. On special teams, Watson blocked a punt. On defense, he sometimes lined up as a rush end. Watson either hit Matt Ryan's arm or tipped the ball on Mason Foster's interception that was returned for a touchdown.
  • Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy recorded sacks on back-to-back plays in the first quarter. McCoy said the last time he had sacks on back-to-back plays was in high school.

Projecting the Buccaneers roster

August, 30, 2013
8/30/13
3:15
PM ET
Roster cuts don’t have to be made until 6 p.m. Saturday. But let’s have a little fun in the meantime.

Let’s take a look at my best guess as to how the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ 53-man roster will shape up:

Quarterbacks (3): Josh Freeman, Mike Glennon and Dan Orlovsky

Analysis: A rough outing by Glennon in the preseason finale might have convinced the Bucs it’s best to keep Orlovsky around.

Running backs and fullbacks (5): Doug Martin, Brian Leonard, Mike James, Peyton Hillis and Erik Lorig

Analysis: Hillis is very much on the bubble. The fact he doesn't play special teams could hurt him. But he also could stick around because he has the size to be a backup for Lorig at fullback and could be a valuable short-yardage rusher.

Tight ends (3): Luke Stocker, Tom Crabtree and Nate Byham

Analysis: The Bucs may have to keep Danny Noble if Crabtree’s ankle injury is going to keep him out for an extended period.

Wide receivers (5): Vincent Jackson, Mike Williams, Kevin Ogletree, Tiquan Underwood and Eric Page

Analysis: Page has emerged as the return man and that should earn him the final roster spot.

Offensive line (9): Davin Joseph, Carl Nicks, Donald Penn, Demar Dotson, Jeremy Zuttah, Gabe Carimi, Ted Larsen, Jamon Meredith and Cody Wallace

Analysis: The Bucs could carry an extra lineman if it looks like Nicks will be out for an extended period.

Defensive line (10): Gerald McCoy, Akeem Spence, Adrian Clayborn, Daniel Te’o-Nesheim, Da’Quan Bowers, Gary Gibson, Trevor Scott, William Gholston, Steven Means and Derek Landri

Analysis: The last few spots are very competitive and the Bucs could look to bring in a defensive tackle from the waiver wire.

Linebackers (6): Lavonte David, Mason Foster, Dekoda Watson, Jonathan Casillas, Adam Hayward and Najee Goode

This position is pretty clear-cut unless the Bucs bring in someone off waivers.

Defensive backs (9): Darrelle Revis, Johnthan Banks, Dashon Goldson, Mark Barron, Leonard Johnson, Danny Gorrer, Michael Adams, Rashaan Melvin and Cody Grimm.

Analysis: Melvin and Grimm are very much on the bubble.

Specialists (3): Michael Koenen, Andrew Economos and Rian Lindell.

Analysis: Kicker Lawrence Tynes still is recovering from a staph infection and could end up on injured reserve.

Buccaneers to audition kickers

August, 20, 2013
8/20/13
1:22
PM ET
TAMPA, Fla. -- Buccaneers coach Greg Schiano touched on a variety of subjects after Tuesday’s practice. Let’s take a run through the highlights:

Kicking it. Schiano said the Bucs will bring in several veteran kickers for auditions. Lawrence Tynes has been slow to recover from a toe injury. That’s left Derek Dimke as the only kicker in camp. If Tynes can’t get healthy, the Bucs could end up going with a kicker who is not presently on the roster.

Track or football? The Bucs made a trade for return man Jeff Demps, knowing that his short-term future was in track and field. It sounds like Schiano is getting a little impatient that Demps has yet to join the team.

“Supposedly he’s coming,’’ Schiano said. “I don’t know. I don’t worry about guys that aren’t here. Guys that aren’t here, they can’t help us win right now. He’s not helping us get better right now. He’s running track somewhere. When he gets here, if he can help us win, he’ll be a part of it. If he gets here and he can’t help us win, he can go back and run track. We’re here to win games and that’s what we’re going to do.’’

Cluster at tight end. Schiano said the competition at tight end has been a little clouded because Luke Stocker has been bothered by an injury.

“It’s hard to tell because Stocker hasn’t practiced very much,’’ Schiano said. “It seems like every time he gets going, something happens. It’s not his fault. It’s bad luck or whatever you want to call it. That has hurt the position. [Tom] Crabtree has worked his tail off. Nate Byham has worked his tail off. It’s just going to have to sort itself out. One of the key guys that we were counting on hasn’t done much.’’

Room for two. Schiano said the competition for strongside linebacker is very close between Dekoda Watson and Jonathan Casillas.

“They’ve taken turns going with the [first team],’’ Schiano said. “They’re driving each other. If we play two of them, that’s fine with me, too. They’re both key special-teams contributors. Jonathan does a little more in our sub package. I think there are going to be plenty of plays to go around for those guys, but they’re two key guys in our entire picture.’’
TAMPA, Fla. -- There’s a perception out there that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers can’t wait to let quarterback Josh Freeman walk away after this season.

Trace it to coach Greg Schiano’s hesitance to firmly endorse Freeman at the end of last season or chalk it up to the quarterback’s lack of consistency or look at the fact that the Bucs are letting Freeman go into the last year of his contract without an extension. But nothing could be further from the truth.

“I have a lot of confidence in Josh," general manager Mark Dominik said. “I know Coach has a lot of confidence. That position is the position in the National Football League. Win or lose, regardless of if you get too much blame or not enough kudos when you do win and people take it for granted, the more time you have to evaluate that player at that position, the more of a chance you have to be correct. I think Josh is looking at it with a confidence and saying he believes in himself and there were some parts of last year he wasn’t happy with, but there were good parts last year. We’ve talked to Josh and his agent, and we feel like we’re at a good spot. Everybody feels comfortable with where we’re at."

Even though they used a third-round draft pick on Mike Glennon, the Bucs desperately want Freeman to succeed. If he plays well, that probably means the team will be in the playoffs for the first time since the 2007 season. That would give Dominik and Schiano job security.

It also would give Freeman job security, because the Bucs probably would turn around and reward him with a big contract before free agency starts. That would fit the team’s plan of building from within. (If things go as expected, 18 of Tampa Bay’s 22 starters this year will have come through the draft, off the practice squad or through free agency.)

But it will all come down to Freeman’s performance. He needs to avoid slumps like the three-game stretch late last season when he threw 10 interceptions. He needs to play the way he did when the Bucs got off to a 6-4 start.

“He knows it," Dominik said. “We know it. But I think the thing that’s kind of been lost is some of the great things he did last year. Some of the big games where he played really well and showed he can do it. I think what he’s doing in camp right now is playing really smart with the football. You can’t underestimate the second year in a system. Continuity is so important. If you keep it together, that gives you a chance to have more success."

If Freeman plays well the Bucs will wrap him up, and they’ll have continuity at quarterback. If consistency continues to be an issue, the Bucs will have to start from scratch next year and Freeman will be playing for another team.

THREE HOT ISSUES

[+] EnlargeDashon Goldson
Mike Carlson/AP PhotoVeteran Dashon Goldson, who was signed as a free agent this offseason, should provide some depth at safety for the Bucs.
1. Secondary matters. The Bucs poured a ton of resources into their secondary in the offseason. They traded for cornerback Darrelle Revis, signed safety Dashon Goldson as a free agent and used a second-round draft pick on cornerback Johnthan Banks. Those are the types of things you have to do when you’re coming off a season in which your pass defense ranked last in the league.

That should be enough to bring about some dramatic changes. All indications are that Revis is healthy and, if he is, he’s the best cornerback in the league. Banks could start immediately and, if he doesn’t, will be the third cornerback. Goldson’s arrival at free safety means strong safety Mark Barron, last year’s top draft pick, should be able to concentrate on playing more in the box -- where he’s at his best.

The Bucs believe in building from within. But they went outside to patch up the team’s biggest weakness.

2. The pass rush. This goes hand in hand with the secondary. If the defensive backfield really is going to shine, it’s going to need some help from the pass rush.

The Bucs let defensive end Michael Bennett, last year’s leading sacker, walk away in free agency. But that was a calculated move. The Bucs believed Bennett already had hit his full upside. But the team thinks third-year pros Da’Quan Bowers and Adrian Clayborn are ready to blossom to heights that Bennett never approached.

That’s a leap of faith, because Clayborn is coming off a knee injury and Bowers wasn’t a full-time player in his first two seasons. However, if the Bucs are right about Bowers and Clayborn, the pass defense is going to rank a lot better than No. 32 in the league.

3. The tight ends have to come through. The Bucs have done a nice job of surrounding Freeman with plenty of talent at running back, receiver and offensive line. But at tight end, the cupboard looks close to bare. The team didn’t re-sign last year’s starter, Dallas Clark. Luke Stocker, who seemed to have the inside track to the starting job, has missed a lot of camp with a calf injury.

But the Bucs are quietly optimistic about Tom Crabtree, whom they brought in from Green Bay. The Bucs aren’t going to throw to their tight ends as much as Atlanta and New Orleans do, but they need Stocker or Crabtree to be a threat in the passing game to take some coverage away from the wide receivers.

REASON FOR OPTIMISM

[+] EnlargeDoug Martin
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsThe Bucs have done well stockpiling young talent such as running back Doug Martin.
The team has a surprising amount of individual talent. Revis, Goldson, guard Carl Nicks, guard Davin Joseph, defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, running back Doug Martin and receiver Vincent Jackson have been to the Pro Bowl. Plus, the Bucs have plenty of other young talent -- guys like Freeman, Barron, linebackers Lavonte David and Mason Foster, and receiver Mike Williams.

Tampa Bay has been rebuilding ever since coach Jon Gruden was fired following the 2008 season. There’s no such thing as a finished product, because you’re always looking to upgrade your roster. But the Bucs no longer are in rebuilding mode.

They have enough talent to get to the playoffs.

REASON FOR PESSIMISM

Schiano still is somewhat new to the NFL and to his players. His hard-edged approach drew all sorts of attention last year, and he has said he’s relaxing things a bit now that he has changed the culture of the locker room.

But this team isn’t completely past the culture shock that came with Schiano. That’s why it’s critical for the Bucs to get off to a fast start. If they do, the players will fully embrace Schiano’s ways.

If the Bucs start poorly, players won’t buy into Schiano and things could fall apart in a hurry.

OBSERVATION DECK
  • The Bucs are ecstatic with what they’ve seen from McCoy this offseason. He earned a Pro Bowl trip last year, and that seems to have taken his motivation to another level. He worked out harder than ever and came to camp about 10 pounds lighter than last season. He’s emerging as a leader of the defense, and the Bucs think he can become one of the league’s most dominant interior linemen.
  • When the Bucs brought in Gabe Carimi, some fans thought he might end up starting ahead of Demar Dotson at right tackle. That’s not going to happen. Carimi is being looked at as an insurance policy behind Dotson and Penn at left tackle. Dotson is having one of the best camps of any Tampa Bay player, and the Bucs believe he’s only starting to scratch the surface of his potential.
  • Martin had a phenomenal rookie season, but I’m expecting him to be even better this year. Martin rushed for 1,454 yards with Joseph missing the entire season and Nicks missing half of it. With the two guards back, Martin should be an even better runner. Martin also caught 49 passes as a rookie, and I can see that number going up because the Bucs have been throwing to him a lot in camp.
  • The Bucs brought in veteran Peyton Hillis as insurance behind Martin. But Hillis, who hasn’t done much the past two seasons, isn’t a lock to make the roster. Veteran Brian Leonard looked good in the preseason opener, and the Bucs believe sixth-round draft pick Mike James has the potential to be an all-around back.
  • Strongside linebacker was expected to be one of the more competitive spots in camp. But veteran Dekoda Watson has taken the mystery out of that battle. He started off ahead of free-agent pickup Jonathan Casillas and has widened the gap with a strong performance in camp.
  • Kevin Ogletree appears to have the lead over Tiquan Underwood and Chris Owusu in the competition for the third receiver spot. But Underwood and Owusu have had strong showings that could earn them some playing time. Without a lot of certainty at tight end, the Bucs could resort to some four-receiver sets.
  • The addition of veteran Spencer Larsen made me wonder if fullback Erik Lorig's job was in jeopardy. But that’s not the case. Lorig is safe as the starter. The Bucs were very impressed with Larsen’s workout and view him as a quality backup and special-teams player.
TAMPA, Fla. -- Friday marked a rite of summer at One Buccaneer Place. For the first time this season, we have a depth chart.

It’s officially unofficial, but it’s a starting point. Unlike the regular season, this depth chart is a guesstimate by the media relations staff and isn’t coming straight from the coaching staff.

There are no major surprises, but there are a few things worth noting.

Let’s start with the quarterbacks, because they always draw the most interest. As you would expect, Josh Freeman is listed as the starter. But rookie Mike Glennon is ahead of veteran Dan Orlovsky. I think that’s clearly a sign of things to come.

The rest of Tampa Bay’s rookies are being brought along slowly, at least according to the depth chart. Cornerback Johnthan Banks is listed on the second team, behind Leonard Johnson. Defensive tackle Akeem Spence is listed second behind Gary Gibson. In both cases, I think that’s just a courtesy to the veterans. I think Spence and Banks have very real chances to be starters on opening day.

Other positions of interest include strongside linebacker, where Dekoda Watson is listed ahead of Jonathan Casillas; right tackle, where Demar Dotson is ahead of Gabe Carimi; and tight end, where Luke Stocker is ahead of Tom Crabtree.

In other news from Friday's practice, coach Greg Schiano said Banks and receiver Mike Williams have strained hamstrings. Schiano said Williams could return as early as Saturday, but Banks likely will miss a few days.
The fifth round of the NFL draft is over, so let’s take a look at what the NFC South teams did.

At No. 144, the New Orleans Saints selected Oklahoma wide receiver Kenny Stills. The Saints have Marques Colston and Lance Moore, but they’re revamping their depth after those two. Stills will get a chance to compete with Nick Toon and Joseph Morgan for playing time.

At No. 147, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers drafted University of Buffalo outside linebacker Steven Means. The Bucs have an opening on the strong side after releasing Quincy Black. Free-agent pickup Jonathan Casillas probably will get the first shot at that job, but Means could at least be in the competition and he’ll probably be a regular on special teams.

At No. 148, the Carolina Panthers chose Iowa State linebacker A.J. Klein. He can play inside and outside and can provide depth behind Luke Kuechly, Jon Beason and Thomas Davis. But Klein’s initial role is likely to be as a special-teams player.

At No. 153, the Atlanta Falcons traded up and drafted TCU defensive end Stansly Maponga. That came after the Falcons took defensive end Malliciah Goodman in the third round. It’s pretty obvious the Falcons are taking a scatter-shot approach and hoping one of their young defensive ends can provide a pass-rush complement to Osi Umenyiora.

SPONSORED HEADLINES