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Sports Illustrated
Sports Illustrated
Albert Breer

Buccaneers Training Camp: Don’t Count Out Akiem Hicks and Julio Jones

TAMPA—Back on the road, and with the 20th team I’ve seen this summer. And on the Tuesday I attended, Tom Brady was back out there and looked like, well, himself. What else did I see?

1. Akiem Hicks has had a fantastic camp—and at 340 pounds looks like he’s going to be an impact pass-rusher. He’s 32, of course, and has had his share of injuries, which is part of why things went sideways in Chicago. But over the past month, he’s been borderline unblockable in practice, and the Buccaneers have been judicious in managing his workload. Put him together with Vita Vea, who’s had a nice summer, too, and that’s a 700-pound problem for offenses. If the Bucs can keep him healthy, Hicks could represent a nice upgrade over Ndamukong Suh at the three-technique spot, which is more than most thought they’d get when they acquired him.

Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports

2. Julio Jones has also shown he has plenty left in the tank. Part of the deal with the former Falcon and Titan is that he has to be paced, and the Bucs have done that in setting up a two-days-on, one-day-off cadence to his training camp. But when he’s practiced, he’s looked smooth, and determined to show last year was an aberration. And he’s come in humble, too, which won’t be much of a surprise to those who’ve been around him. The challenge for the Bucs at receiver will be figuring out the numbers game—and other teams have already taken note, and tried calling on their receivers (because Chris Godwin’s coming off the torn ACL, and Jones and Mike Evans are older, Tampa values its depth there).

3. Third-round rookie Rachaad White is one to watch. Brady always had a passing-down specialist in the backfield in New England (from Kevin Faulk to Danny Woodhead to Shane Vereen to James White), and along those lines, the new guy here from Arizona State might be the best receiver out of the backfield he’s had as a Buccaneer. White’s a taller, more upright runner, who is smooth, can run routes from all over the formation, and has good quickness and speed. He’ll have a role behind Leonard Fournette if things go according to plan.

4. Rookie tight ends Cade Otton and Ko Kieft could wind up getting on the field, too. Otton’s more of a traditional tight end, while Kieft is more of a blocking type, and with the team a little older there—starter Cam Brate is 31, and newcomer Kyle Rudolph is 32—there’s a good chance depth will come into play at that spot. The good news is both draft picks (Otton was a fourth-rounder, Kieft was a sixth-rounder) are steadily improving, and getting opportunities in camp.

5. The obvious problem spot is the interior of the offensive line. Shaq Mason, an old teammate of Brady’s imported via trade, is entrenched at right guard, so the Bucs are good there. How a trio of others (second-year guys Robert Hainsey and Nick Leverett and rookie Luke Goedeke) fill out the other two spots is the question, with the likelihood being that Hainsey is at center and Goedeke at left guard on opening night in Dallas on Sept. 11. 

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