The Tampa Bay Buccaneers haven’t been in the playoffs since the 2007 season when they lost to the New York Giants in a wildcard game. Jon Gruden was the Head Coach then, and they have had three Head Coaches since Gruden was fired after the 2008 season. Raheem Morris followed Gruden and held the job for three seasons. The Bucs then hired Greg Schiano who lasted a total if two seasons. This past January, former Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith was handed the reins and it’s his job to turn the Bucs into a playoff contender. Smith hasn’t coached a game yet, but he has done a great job acquiring new talent through free agency and the draft. He hired a very experienced coaching staff, and it looks as though the Bucs are headed in the right direction.
A year ago, Mike Glennon was a third round draft choice and looked to be the Bucs quarterback of the future, especially with his strong play the end of the 2013 season. That may not be the case anymore. When Smith came in, he didn’t exactly endorse Glennon and then signed free agent Josh McCown who had an outstanding season in Chicago last year when Jay Cutler went down.
At 34, McCown doesn’t have many years left so he has to take advantage of this opportunity. I feel that under new offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford, McCown has a chance to flourish. As for Glennon, he has to show he has a future during the pre-season, otherwise, Tampa Bay may be looking for a quarterback in the 2015 draft.
Most NFL clubs would rather have a rotation at running back than have a single “bell cow” runner. The lead back in Tampa is 2012 first round pick Doug Martin. He ran for over 1400 yards as a rookie but only played in six games a year ago. Martin has the talent to be a consistent 1000 yard rusher in the NFL. The backups will be rookie Charles Sims, who has excellent receiving talent, and second year man Mike James. James ran for 295 yards and a 4.9 average per carry as a rookie. This trio will give the Bucs a lot of flexibility.
Receivers and Tight End
The Bucs have talent at the receiver position. The main returning veteran is Vincent Jackson who caught 78 passes a year ago. The player who has everyone excited is first round pick Mike Evans. Evans has the size and speed to be a Brandon Marshall-type receiver. The slot receiver could very well be rookie Robert Herron who is a quick and fast receiver with excellent run skills. Chris Owusu will also challenge for the slot receiver position.
Going into training camp, the tight end could very well be Brandon Myers, a free agent who was with the Giants a year ago. Myers has had over 120 receptions the last two seasons. The player I expect to be the top tight end coming out of camp is rookie Austin Seferian-Jenkins from Washington. Seferian-Jenkins has size and speed and was a first round talent. He value dropped a little because of a broken foot that was discovered at the Combine.
The new staff felt the offensive line needed some upgrades and took care of that problem in free agency. They signed for Cincinnati Bengal Anthony Collins to play left tackle and former Packer Evan Dietrich-Smith to play center. This will give the Bucs experience and leadership. At right tackle is Demar Dotson.
Left guard Carl Nicks was recently cleared to play and will be a big help. The right guard should be second year man Patrick Omameh. This group has to stay healthy as the depth is average.
On paper, the defensive line has some talented players. In the past, they all haven’t played to their talent level. Defensive line coach Joe Cullen demands high effort, so I look for those who underachieved to step it up. Tampa Bay needed an edge rusher and signed former Bengal Michael Johnson to play right end. While his sack total was off last year, he had a total of 17.5 sacks in 2011 and 2012. The other end will be Adrian Clayborn who played on the right side last year. The Bucs are hoping that Da’Quan Bowers will step it up this year. He has been a disappointment but has talent.
The key defensive line position in Smith’s defense is the 3-technique. The Bucs have a good one in Gerald McCoy. He has the quickness and explosiveness to be a very good inside pass rusher. The nose tackle will most likely be former Seahawk Clinton McDonald. He will play in a rotation with second year man Akeem Spence. Spence doesn’t have ideal nose tackle size but is very quick.
Just as the defensive line needs a top 3-technique, the linebacker group has to have a top Will. The Buccaneers have that player in Lavonte David. He can do for the Bucs defense what Lance Briggs did for the Bears under Lovie.
The Mike will probably be Mason Foster who has improved every year. He will be pushed by former Patriot Dane Foster who was signed as a free agent. The Sam positon belongs to Jonathan Casillas who should be a good fit.
Smith cut Darrelle Revis, who was one of the best corners in the game because his cap number was out of whack. To replace Revis, the Bucs signed Alterraun Verner form Tennessee. Verner is a perfect fit for Smith’s defense and has great ball skills.
The other corner will be the winner of the camp battle between free agent signee Mike Jenkins and second year man Jonathan Banks. If Jenkins plays to his potential he should be the starter, but Banks is also a talent and just needs to play with consistency. Former Bear D.J. Moore could figure in as a key reserve.
Tampa Bay is strong at safety with Dashon Goldson and Mark Barron. Both have ideal size and are physical players. Another former Bear who played well under Smith is Major Wright. He should be the third safety and get a lot of play time in sub packages.
I look for the Bucs to be a much improved team in 2014, but I think they are still a year away from challenging for the NFC South title. The NFC South has three other teams that will all compete for a playoff spot in Carolina, New Orleans and Atlanta. The NFC South and the NFC West may be the two strongest divisions in the NFL.
Follow Greg on Twitter @greggabe
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