Steve Wyche recently visited Bucs camp in Tampa, Fla. Here's what he saw.
1. The Bucs are physically bigger -- in a good way. General manager Mark Dominik told me that the team planned to add more size overall -- most notably on the defensive side. Rookie end Da'Quan Bowers, at 280-plus pounds, is a specimen who seriously looks like more of a 3-4 end. Though he's hardly proven to be this type of player, his body type is like that of Arizona's Darnell Dockett. The running backs and receivers also are huge. Dominik told me that they haven't lost any speed or athleticism with the added beef.
2. The team is treating things as if Aqib Talib will be around Despite the stud cornerback facing felony assault charges, Talib is working with the starters and, by all accounts, is having a good camp. Behind the scenes, though, the team is cognizant that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell could discipline Talib. The specter of Talib, who has been suspended before, being sidelined is a reason why there was so much conjecture for Tampa Bay to get a starting-caliber corner in free agency. Instead, they held firm because management and coaches feel that E.J. Biggers and Myron Lewis are capable. That faith better be on point, with the Saints and Falcons poised to unleash multiple-receiver sets at will.
To note, the Bucs plan to wait until the judicial system runs its course before deciding what action to take with Talib.
3. LeGarrette Blount is still hungry. There was suspicion that Blount, who went undrafted in large part because of maturity issues, might get full of himself after his dazzling rookie season and not stay physically diligent during the lockout. The running back spent the lockout training in Arizona and reshaped his body, coming back even bigger and stronger -- and, most importantly, motivated.
"He came back knowing that he has a starting job and he doesn't want to let that loose," offensive tackle Donald Penn said. "He seems like he's grown up. He hasn't been late to any meeting this year. I know that was a problem sometimes last season, but he seems really focused to take that next step."
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4. Blount's backup will be Kregg Lumpkin. Even though Lumpkin had just one carry last season, he's a player the staff is very high on. They are so confident that the big, versatile back can be a factor in the run and passing game that they were fine letting high-character veteran Cadillac Williams walk in free agency.
5. Wide receiver Arrelious (Regis) Benn has been full-go. That's just seven months after major knee surgery. The coaching staff has managed his practice time and will limit him at points in the preseason -- he probably won't play in the opener this week -- but he will be starting alongside Mike Williams.
New guys to watch
» Adrian Clayborn. No player is creating more buzz at training camp -- well, other than quarterback Josh Freeman -- than the rookie defensive end. Everyone knew the first-round draft pick had a great motor, but Clayborn is also disciplined and possesses far more pass-rushing skills than anyone knew. I was told he has the uncanny ability to decipher the depth of the quarterback's drop when he sets to pass, which allows him to take ideal angles.
"He's making me better," Penn said. "We are battling like crazy. He's making me feel like a rookie again, like I'm fighting for a roster spot. He's real quiet, too, almost scary quiet. He gets after it and has great counter moves."
» Mason Foster. Tampa Bay let veteran middle linebacker Barrett Ruud leave in free agency because it thinks it can get immediate bounce from third-round pick Mason Foster from Washington. At 241 pounds, Foster is already 20 pounds or so heavier than Ruud. He's been able to grasp the responsibility as the play-caller and is the needed physical presence coach Raheem Morris wanted to help solidify the run defense.
» Dezmon Briscoe. The Cincinnati Bengals didn't appreciate it when the Bucs poached the wide receiver off their practice squad last season. They plan to showcase Briscoe this season and prove sometimes ruthless swiping of players is worth it. The 6-foot-2, 210-pounder is a solid route runner who might have the best hands on the team. He needs to be more consistent and diligent about his craft, according to a team source, but he could end up being a significant contributor to a youthful receiving corps.
As long as Freeman is healthy, the Bucs have a chance to win the most competitive division in football. I'm still a little wary that they might not have fortified enough on defense, especially in the secondary. Even so, the players have bought in -- especially to Freeman. While getting past the Saints and Falcons won't be easy, the Bucs are a team on the rise.