Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Lavelle Hawkins

TAMPA, Fla. – On a day near the middle of training camp, Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Lovie Smith walked into his post-practice news conference and delivered a message.

"There's nothing really I can give you today," Smith said.

Smith wasn't being condescending or rude to the media. He simply was being truthful. Tampa Bay's camp hasn't had any major news or controversies. It has been downright boring at times -- but it beats the alternative.

We saw the other side of things last year, and it wasn't pretty. There was plenty of news and a ton of distractions. Former coach Greg Schiano and quarterback Josh Freeman were in the early stages of a feud that would end in divorce one month into the season. And it wasn't just Freeman who was having issues with Schiano's style. Numerous players had problems with Schiano's rigid ways and never fully bought into the coach.

That quickly caught up to Schiano, who was fired after two lackluster seasons. Enter Smith, who is the anti-Schiano in just about every way. Smith is calm and treats his players like adults, and you already can see the results of that. There have been no controversies.

Amid the tranquility, players are singing the praises of Smith. The coach brings back memories of Tony Dungy, who guided the Bucs to their first era of sustained success. That's no coincidence. Smith was the linebackers coach in Dungy's early years in Tampa Bay and has an approach similar to Dungy's.

People already are comparing defensive tackle Gerald McCoy to Warren Sapp and linebacker Lavonte David to Derrick Brooks. Smith's hiring has brought enthusiasm to a fan base that hasn't had much to be excited about in recent years. But that fan base has pleasant memories of what things were like in the Bucs' glory days.

On several occasions, Smith has said that one of his goals is to make the Bucs relevant again. If things go according to Smith's plans, the Bucs might be boring, but they'll be good.

THREE REASONS FOR OPTIMISM

1. Smith is known for being a defensive coach, and he has some good ingredients to start with. McCoy and David were All-Pros last year, and they play two of the most important positions in the Tampa 2 defense Smith is bringing back to the Bucs. McCoy and David give Tampa Bay a nice start, but some other players are going to have to come through. The coaching staff believes strong safety Mark Barron is ready to be a star. If some role players come through, this could be a very good defense.

[+] EnlargeDoug Martin
Hannah Foslien/Getty ImagesDoug Martin is back from a shoulder injury, but he shouldn't have to shoulder all of the load in a deep backfield.
2. Doug Martin is back from a shoulder injury that kept him out for about half of last season. That should provide a huge lift for the offense. Martin rushed for more than 1,400 yards as a rookie in 2012, and he has looked sharp in training camp. Under Schiano, the Bucs often overused Martin. That’s not going to be the case with Smith. The Bucs have made it clear that Martin will remain as the feature back but that they’ll rotate in some other backs to keep him fresh. Rookie Charles Sims, Bobby Rainey and Mike James could be in the mix for playing time.

3. After using their first two draft picks on wide receiver Mike Evans and tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, the Bucs have one of the biggest receiving corps in the league. Williams, Seferian-Jenkins and Vincent Jackson each are at least 6-foot-5. They're going to present coverage challenges for defensive backs.

THREE REASONS FOR PESSIMISM

1. The offensive line hasn't looked very good in the preseason, and that's a huge cause for concern. The Bucs are especially thin at guard. All-Pro Carl Nicks left the team after not being able to recover from a toe injury. That leaves four guys without a lot of experience vying for two starting spots. Oniel Cousins, Jace Daniels, Patrick Omameh and rookie Kadeem Edwards have been rotating at the guard spots, and two of them will emerge as starters, unless the Bucs bring in some help from the outside.

2. Smith went out on a limb when he signed quarterback Josh McCown as a free agent and immediately named him the starter. McCown, 35, has been a backup most of his career, but he did play well in Chicago last year when Jay Cutler went out with an injury. McCown threw 13 touchdowns with just one interception. It's too much to expect him to keep up that kind of pace, especially with an unsteady offensive line. Smith, who coached McCown in Chicago, believes he can be successful over the course of a full season. But that's something McCown has never done.

3. Smith's philosophy is to play great defense and be efficient on offense. That worked well enough to get Smith to a Super Bowl with the Chicago Bears. But that philosophy might be antiquated. The league has become quarterback-driven. The Bucs are in the same division as New Orleans' Drew Brees, Carolina's Cam Newton and Atlanta's Matt Ryan. McCown and this offense might not have enough firepower to stay competitive in the division.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • McCoy has had an outstanding training camp. He consistently has gotten into the backfield as a pass-rusher and has been stuffing running plays. But it remains to be seen whether McCoy's excellent play is simply the byproduct of the weakness at the guard spots.
    [+] EnlargeVincent Jackson
    AP Photo/Bill KostrounVincent Jackson, in his third season with the Bucs, will have a third starting QB throwing to him.

  • The chemistry between McCown and Jackson has been noticeable. In addition to the offseason program, the two spent a lot of time in the spring and summer working out at a local high school.

  • The Bucs have gotten almost nothing out of defensive end Da'Quan Bowers since taking him in the second round in 2011. But they are trying something new with Bowers this year. They're going to use him inside at defensive tackle in obvious passing situations.

  • The Bucs have high hopes for sixth-round draft pick Robert Herron. But don't look for the receiver/return man to get a lot of playing time early on. Herron has had ball-security issues in camp. He needs to hold on to the ball if he's going to earn playing time.

  • Herron will make the 53-man roster. So will Jackson, Evans and Chris Owusu. Eric Page also probably will stick thanks to his return skills. That probably leaves one spot to be filled from a group of receivers who have shown promise in training camp. Tommy Streeter, Louis Murphy, Lavelle Hawkins and Solomon Patton all have shown flashes, but at least a couple of them won't make the roster.

  • Hamstring injuries have kept cornerbacks Alterraun Verner and Mike Jenkins out for a big chunk of training camp. But there's a flip side to that, and it's positive. Second-year pro Johnthan Banks has gotten a ton of work with the first team and has looked good. Banks didn't have a great rookie year. But his performance in camp probably will keep him in the starting lineup.
TAMPA, Fla. -- Wide receiver might be the position group I'm most intrigued to see in Friday night's Tampa Bay Buccaneers' preseason game (7:30 ET) with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

That's because there's some very good competition for the fourth, fifth and possibly sixth receiver spots. The Bucs have Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans as their starters and Chris Owusu seems to be a lock to make the team.

After that, it's anybody's guess.

"We've got a group of guys that don't necessarily have big names," receivers coach Andrew Hayes-Stoker said. "They're hungry to prove their opportunity. Competition at the highest level every day."

Rookie Robert Herron was a draft pick, so he also is likely to make the team. That leaves a group that includes Tommy Streeter, Solomon Patton, Louis Murphy, Lavelle Hawkins, Skye Dawson, Eric Page, Solomon Patton and Russell Shephard competing for the final roster spot or spots.

Each of those guys has shown promise at various points in training camp. But whoever steps up the most in the preseason games could end up making the roster.

Buccaneers Camp Report: Day 2

July, 26, 2014
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TAMPA, Fla. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Tampa Bay Buccaneers training camp:
  • The Bucs, who had their practice abbreviated by lightning Friday, got their first full workout of camp in Saturday evening and the results were predictable. There was good and bad. No series summarized that more than a couple of plays near the middle of practice. On one play, quarterback Josh McCown threw an interception to strong safety Mark Barron. On the next play, McCown bounced back and hit Vincent Jackson with a perfectly thrown ball. Coach Lovie Smith said he expects the team to be more precise when it puts on pads for the first time on Sunday.
  • Speaking of first practices, Saturday marked the true debut of rookie tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins. He missed the offseason program due to NCAA regulations and was very limited in the rookie minicamp by a foot injury. But Seferian-Jenkins said his foot is fine now and he practiced with no limitations. After missing so much time, though, Seferian-Jenkins might be a little behind the other tight ends – Brandon Myers, Tim Wright and Luke Stocker. “He’s playing catch-up,’’ Smith said. “But he’s catching up.’’
  • It’s usually tough to get players to talk about specific goals, but defensive end Michael Johnson broke that rule of thumb. Johnson set one goal for himself and one for the entire defense. He wants to get back to double-digit sacks like he had in 2012 with Cincinnati. He also said the Bucs want to have the best defense in the league. Those two goals kind of go hand in hand. There’s been a lot of talk about how defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and linebacker Lavonte David compare to Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks, who were the cornerstones during Tampa Bay’s glory years. But a lot of people forget the Bucs didn’t fully get over the top until they got Simeon Rice as an outside rusher. If Johnson can make an impact anywhere close to what Rice did, the Bucs could end up being a very good defense.
  • I came into camp very skeptical about Tampa Bay’s depth at wide receiver after Jackson and rookie Mike Evans. But I’m starting to warm up to this position group. No one stood out, but guys like Tommy Streeter, Solomon Patton, Russell Shepard, Louis Murphy, Robert Herron, Lavelle Hawkins, Eric Page, Skye Dawson and David Gettis each had some bright moments. I think one of those guys will step up and claim the No. 3 job. That may be all the Bucs need because I’m not anticipating a lot of four-receiver sets from this offense.
  • Read into this whatever you want, but Jamon Meredith worked as the first-team left guard and Oniel Cousins worked at right guard. After the departure of Carl Nicks, I think the Bucs still are trying to figure out what they’re going to do at guard. I wouldn’t be surprised if Patrick Omameh and rookie Kadeem Edwards get some looks with the first team.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have made a low-risk move that could come with a high reward.

The team signed wide receiver David Gettis, who participated in last week’s minicamp on a tryout basis. If Gettis can get back to full health, he could be a steal.

As a rookie with Carolina in 2010, Gettis showed great potential, catching 37 passes for 508 yards and three touchdowns. But Gettis hasn’t caught a pass since due to a series of injuries.

Gettis said last week that he’s fully healthy. If that’s the case, he has a chance to make the opening-day roster. The Bucs have Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans as their starters. But things are wide open after that.

Gettis will have a chance to compete with Chris Owusu, Robert Herron, Louis Murphy, Lavelle Hawkins, Eric Page, Skye Dawson, Russell Shepard and Tommy Streeter.
We continue our pre-draft position-by-position look at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with the wide receivers.

Where things stand: The Bucs have Vincent Jackson and not much else after trading Mike Williams to Buffalo. There is hope that guys like Chris Owusu, Skye Dawson, Lavelle Hawkins, Tommy Streeter and Louis Murphy can emerge as role players. But none of them are legitimate candidates to start.

What to watch for: The short story is the Bucs need to emerge from the draft with a starting wide receiver. They could even look for a No. 3 receiver in the draft. There is a very good chance the Bucs will use their first-round pick on a wide receiver. Sammy Watkins and Mike Evans are the top two receivers in the draft. Most mock drafts have Watkins gone before Tampa Bay picks. But, if Watkins somehow slides, he would be a great fit for the Bucs. If Watkins is gone, Evans is a definite possibility. He’s not the speed receiver the Bucs need, but he’s very similar in stature and style to Jackson.
Although the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are about $13 million under the salary cap, general manager Jason Licht has been maximizing the team’s position by taking advantage of the veteran minimum benefit.

Wright
I just got a look at the details of the contracts for the two most recent signings by the Bucs -- safety Major Wright and wide receiver Lavelle Hawkins. In both cases, Licht used the veteran minimum benefit, which allows a player to count less against the salary cap than he actually makes.

Some people were wondering how Wright, who was a starter in Chicago, fit into the safety situation with Dashon Goldson and Mark Barron. Wright’s one-year contract makes it very clear the Bucs view him as a backup.

Wright's deal includes a $730,000 base salary and a $65,000 signing bonus. But the minimum benefit allows Wright to cost only $570,000 against the cap.

Hawkins signed a similar deal. His one-year contract features a $730,000 base salary. Hawkins will receive a $65,000 bonus if he’s on the 53-man roster for the opening game. But Hawkins will only count $570,000 against the cap.

Checking on the salary cap

April, 8, 2014
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It’s time for one of our periodic checks on where the Buccaneers stand in relation to the salary cap.

They’re still in excellent shape with flexibility to make more moves. The Bucs are $13.2 million under the cap. They’ll need to keep somewhere around $3 million to $4 million to sign their draft class and they’ll also want to keep a cushion in case they have injuries during the season.

But Tampa Bay still has plenty of room to make moves in what’s left of free agency. The Bucs did sign wide receiver Lavelle Hawkins on Monday. But they still have a glaring need at receiver after trading away the troubled Mike Williams. There’s not much on the market, but the Bucs can pretty much have their pick of what’s available.

The Bucs also could use some of their cap room to add another competitor for the starting right guard job. They have Jamon Meredith and Oniel Cousins, but they might want to add one more guard to the mix.

The Bucs could use depth at most other positions. The good news is they still have enough money to buy plenty of depth.

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