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Bucs face tough choices at final cutdown day approaches

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For the Tampa Bay Bucs, the final exams are important for the guys at the end of the roster.

It’s the fourth preseason game, which means you won’t see much of Jameis Winston, Mike Evans or Doug Martin. Instead, the conversation will be on the fourth- and fifth-receivers, on the third running back, on the backup defensive backs and linebackers.

Just like everywhere else.

The Bucs will play the Washington Redskins at 8 p.m. at Raymond James Stadium Wednesday night.

Consider the receivers: Evans, Vincent Jackson and Adam Humphries have the team made. But how about after that. Russell Sheppard has had his moments. So has Donteea Dye. But also competing for work are Kenny Bell, Freddie Martino, Bernard Reedy and Jonathan Krausse. It is also possible that the Bucs decide they like someone on another roster better than any of them.

“It’s bunched up and you can take almost any guy out there and pick a day that that individual has shined,” said Bucs’ coach Dirk Koetter. “We tend to lean towards consistency and guys that have shown they can make plays and make plays in game situations and then been consistent players, so we’re still looking. It’s down to the end here and a decision is going to have to be made.”

Then there is the running back. Martin and backup Charles Simms are in, obviously. After that, it pretty much depends on the body type and the set of skills involved. Mike James, Peyton Barber and Russell Hansbrough are competing.

“That’s kind of like the wide receiver thing in that all those guys have had their moments,” Koetter said. “Also, as we’ve mentioned in here before, running back is a position that takes a pounding. We try to protect them out there when we’re practicing against ourselves, but in the game those are pretty violent hits those guys are taking, so we’re a little banged up at running back right now. Of course we try to keep Doug and Chuck out of harm’s way here this week, so I’d say there’s still some work to be done there.”

What the Bucs do at tight end will be interesting, too. They’ve kept three, but you could make an argument for four with Cameron Brate, Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Luke Stocker, Brandon Myers and Dan Vitale. Kivon Cartwright and Alan Cross are also competing.

It will also be interesting what the Bucs do on the defensive line, at linebacker and in the secondary as they get to the 53-man roster. Last year, several players made the roster after being cut in years past.

“Just do the math,” Koetter said. “When you go from 90 to 75 and 75 to 53; 32 teams, the number of good football players – not just that cut yesterday, but are going to get cut at the end of the week – it’s a lot of good players. And the guys that you just mentioned, one thing it does is it says something about player development. There’s really two ways you can go: you can churn the bottom of your roster and continually bring guys in – there’s people that have done it that way and done it successfully.

“And then you can also, if you like the guys that you have on the bottom and you have to make some tough decision and let them go, you can continue to develop those guys, bring them back hopefully on the practice squad, continue to develop them, continue to coach them. And those players still get better, those guys still improve.”

Gary Shelton is one of the most recognized and honored sportswriters in the history of the state. He has won the APSE's national columnist of the year twice and finished in the top 10 eight times. He was named the Florida Sportswriter of the Year six times. Gary joined SaintPetersBlog in the spring, helping to bring a sports presence to the website. Over his time in sports writing, Gary has covered 29 Super Bowls, 10 Olympics, Final Fours, Masters, Wimbledons and college national championships. He was there when the Bucs won a Super Bowl, when the Lightning won a Stanley Cup and when the Rays went to a World Series. He has seen Florida, FSU and Miami all win national championships, and he covered Bear Bryant, Bobby Bowden and Don Shula along the way. He and his wife Janet have four children: Eric, Kevin, K.C. and Tori. To contact, visit garysheltonsports@gmail.com.

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