Last year there was a lot of hype around the Buccaneers. That hype was quickly killed. This year the hype is back – but expectations are realistic. The hype is more about the “future” and less about the “now” which is exactly where it should be after a 2-14 season.
The “future” lies in the hands of the number one over-all pick in this year’s draft: Jameis Winston. Winston came into the league with character issues upon character issues, but the Florida State quarterback has been none-the-less been handed the reigns of the Buccaneers franchise. He has innate leadership abilities on the field and is a polished enough passer at this early stage, to have the confidence of the coaching staff. Pairing up Winston with head coach Lovie Smith, should benefit for Winston early. Smith is a tough-old-school coach, who believes in players on his rosters. Smith will do everything in his ability to not put a lot of stress on the young quarterback, although Winston seemed to look his best in pressure situations while in Florida State. The scariest thing about Winston becoming a pro, has nothing to do with his character though – it has more to do with the last two Florida State quarterbacks who were taking in the first-round: Christian Ponder and E.J. Manuel. Yuck.
Behind Winston is an unsteady group at running back. Doug Martin is looking more and more like a one year wonder and Charles Sims appears to be a guy who is more of a receiving back than a bell-cow. It seems that the Bucs only go to Bobby Rainey when there is no where else to go which makes no sense. Rainey isn’t a world-beater but he’s the best they have at the position.
The lack of success in the running game can’t be all attributed to the ball carriers though. This offensive line was atrocious last season and it seemed that they made a steal in an early trade last season with New England when they acquired guard Logan Mankins, but it was obvious New England gave them damaged goods. The Bucs are depending on two rookies to start right away. Penn State tackle Donovan Smith is a strong lineman who played in a “black and blue” style, but he will have growing pains in trying to protect Winston’s blind side as a rookie. Ali Marpet was drafted out of division three in college and played at Hobart University. Marpet is a product out of Hastings, New York who is being cheered on throughout the nation as the kid from the small school to make the NFL leap. Marpet was a beast in Division III football, but the level of competition he faced was below average. A good Senior Bowl and combine showing, gave his supporters some confidence. He will get his chance early.
The Bucs were happy with their 2014 first-round pick, Mike Evans. Evans became the team’s number-one wide out surpassing 1000 yards and accumulating 12 touchdowns in his rookie season. There was talk the Bucs might cut ties with wide receiver Vincent Jackson, but the veteran (who pulled in 1000 yard season as well) is still here and it’s a good thing. Jackson has been underrated his whole career and he is actually a perfect compliment to Evans. Jackson isn’t afraid of contact and is actually a strong outside blocker as well – Evans can still learn from the veteran.
On the defensive line, Gerald McCoy continues to be a handful against anybody and this year he is joined on the line by Henry Melton who is still young enough to believe that he can resurrect his career hear and get back into Pro Bowl form. The Bucs signed defensive end George Johnson, who may have looked better than he actually was in Detroit, while playing with a great defensive line. Clinton McDonald was acquired from Seattle and pretty much, anybody from that Seattle squad is considered a positive get for any defensive unit.
The Bucs figured they’d better extend the contract of linebacker Lavonte David before it’s too late, and that’s just what they did on August 10th. David signed for $50.25 million in his extension and the Bucs. Last year David totaled 146 combined tackles. Bruce Carter is a Tampa 2 style middle line backer who was signed less for his tackling abilities but more for his zone coverage skills.
The secondary may still be an issue in Tampa as Alterraun Verner is still they’re number one and although is far from washed up, he was not the player they thought they were getting in free agency last year. Johnathan Banks is okay, but at times gets too over confident and jumps routes often. Lovie Smith’s loyalty to former players may be his undoing at the safety spot with former Chicago Bears Major Wright and Chris Conte.
Predicted Record: 6-10
Predicted Pro Bowlers: Gerald McCoy, Mike Evans, Bobby Rainey