Earlier, I profiled the players that are locks to make the 53-man roster, and the ones that are definitely not. In this article, we'll look at the players that could easily go either way when the final cuts come down on Saturday.
Who will be sweating it out? See below.
Why?: Now that Carnell Williams is on the reserve PUP, Darby's chances of making the roster have improved. But he's not a lock, especially when you consider the Bucs may have to split the returning chores between Micheal Spurlock and Dexter Jackson, thereby eating up a precious roster spot. Plus, the Bucs might feel so comfortable with their three vets that they don't see the need to keep Darby.
Will his bubble burst?: No. The Bucs will likely keep four backs, but watch after Week 6 when Williams is eligible to be activated. Darby will be the first to go if Williams is activated.
Why?: Both have had great preseasons, but there's a numbers game at work here. The Bucs typically employ six linebackers in the regular season. I think, besides the starters, that Quincy Black and Ryan Nece are safe, leaving Hayward and McCoy. Hayward has seven tackles in three games backing up Derrick Brooks. McCoy, however, is looked at as Barrett Ruud's backup in the middle, should he make the roster. Nece can play all three positions, so it may come down as much to which position the Bucs feel most comfortable with having a dedicated backup.
Will their bubbles burst?: It's a tough call, because the Bucs have invested a lot in Hayward. But veterans carry weight in Jon Gruden's decision-making and I think it will be Hayward who is on the unemployment line on Saturday night.
QB Josh Johnson
Why?: It's purely a numbers game with Johnson. The Bucs are facing tough decisions at returner (and, by extension, wide receiver) along with special teams, eroding their roster flexibility. The Bucs will keep Jeff Garcia, Brian Griese and Luke McCown and that's all they'll need this season. The Bucs want to keep Johnson for the future, but it's difficult to make the case to keep him on the active roster right now.
Will his bubble burst?: Yes. But only if the Bucs are sure that Johnson will clear the release process and can sign him to the practice squad. Otherwise, he might make the active roster anyway.
Why?: Both players have seen little action in the preseason. In fact, John Gilmore — who had a reputation as a blocking tight end — has the most catches among TEs with four. Stevens has one catch and Troupe none. It's hard to believe the Bucs will keep more than three tight ends this time around, even though Gruden loves to have plenty of stock at the position.
Will their bubbles burst?: Stevens will make the roster because of his year of familiarity with the offense. Troupe will be looking for work.
DT Dre Moore
Why?: When the offseason started, I thought this guy would end up being the primary backup to DT Jovan Haye. What no one counted on was Haye's injury early in training camp and the subsequent emergence of veteran Ryan Sims, who has seen most of the reps and started two preseason games. With most of the defensive line set entering the final week, Moore needs a standout performance on Houston to secure a roster spot.
Will his bubble burst?: Yes, but the Bucs will go to great lengths to sign him to the practice squad.
WRs Micheal Spurlock and Chad Lucas
Why?: Spurlock is locked in a battle with Dexter Jackson for the return job. I don't see the Bucs cutting a second-round pick, so Spurlock has to prove he can catch passes and be a solid return option. Spurlock at least has the edge right now as a receiver, but they're practically even in the return game. Lucas has six catches for 52 yards and a touchdown, though he really hasn't had the chance to use his speed downfield.
Will their bubbles burst?: Spurlock will make it because Gruden will want options in the return game, since neither Spurlock nor Jackson has proved they can handle both jobs. But keeping both Spurlock and Jackson likely means keeping seven receivers, meaning Lucas will be out of work.
CB Elbert Mack
Why?: This guy has had a great preseason and the Bucs have noticed. He had eight tackles, provides consistent play on special teams and has an interception. Secondary coach Raheem Morris just loves the guy.
Will his bubble burst?: I don't think so. Even though I think the Bucs already have eight DBs they intend to keep, special teams coach Richard Bisaccia will convince Gruden to keep Mack for his special teams work. The team has been looking all offseason for someone to replace special teams stalwart Kalvin Pearson. Mack may be the guy.
Matthew Postins is the editor and publisher of bucsblitz.com.