There were no surprises this year when the Bucs got rid of Schiano, Dominik, and the rest of the staff. The Revis saga was unfortunate, but the new staff did their best to get the most that they could out of it. Getting rid of Mike Williams before the draft almost ensured that the Bucs would go receiver with their first pick. While change in jersey and logo gave a fresh new look on things. Leaving the Bucs with solid pieces with decent depth and only a few questions.
The Quarterback Position:
Coming this fall, the Bucs will likely be starting a 35 year old career backup at questionably the most important position on either side of the field. After a quality season starting for the hurt Jay Cutler, Josh McCown was rumored to be going to a number of teams to compete for a starting spot. After being signed to Tampa Bay, there wasn't much time between him being introduced to the media and him being named the starter. Where did that leave last seasons starter, Mike Glennon? Questions arose on whether or not Lovie Smith and Jason Licht were going to trade the young quarterback. It was rumored that the Bucs would be looking toward one of the top signal callers in this years draft, hoping to deal Glennon and groom the young quarterback for the future. Instead, they hold pat on Glennon and name him as the quarterback of the future. Whether or not that title remains, our only hopes at the position are in the hands of a career backup who is approaching his 12th year in the league, or a unproven sophomore who seemed to struggle under pressure. Also on the roster, but unlikely to make any impact, Mike Kafka and Alex Tanney.
The Pass Rush:
Consistently one of the worst, if not the worst part of this team, going into this offseason it wasn't a question of if, but when the Bucs would get another defensive end. When Revis was released, the Bucs used that freed cap room to go after Michael Johnson, a pass rusher a year removed from a double digit sack season. Destined to get paid, Johnson managed to real in a hefty contract in a year that saw many defensive ends getting paid. The question with him was whether or not he could repeat his stats from two seasons ago or if it was just a fluke and he is destined for 3-6 sacks per season.
That isn't even the biggest problem with the defensive end position. Across the line from Johnson is a group unproductive, unheralded, and unproven defensive ends. Adrian Clayborn will likely struggle to move over to the other side of the line after Michael Johnson took his spot due to his Erb's Palsy and his play style. Da'Quan Bowers has been nothing but disappointing his entire career. Whether he is hurt, or just invisible on the field, he has never lived up to his 1st round hype, and 2nd round status. William Gholston showed more promise in his first season then Vernon Gholston showed in his whole career. He could be a surprise start after Bowers or Clayborn disappoint. The dark horse of the group is 2nd year man Steve Means. A personal favorite of mine, Means play style is based on the fact that he doesn't like people touching him so he just throws them aside. Although he is small, he plays with an explosiveness that could get him in the lineup on a lot of passing situations as either a stand up backer or hand down end.
A under the radar star signing for me was the signing of Clinton McDonald. Last season the man played at a high level and likely he will start across from Gerald McCoy at the 1 technique. McDonald adds more pass rush ability compared to last seasons starter Akeem Spence, who will likely spell McDonald. All in all, the position saw a major upgrade with the additions of Johnson and McDonald, but the group as a whole remains unproven.
The Offensive Line:
Going into the opening of free agency, it was well known that the new staff wasn't happy with the play of the line. Not many were surprised when Davin Joseph got released. When Donald Penn was released, the Bucs had already acquired former Bengals swing tackle Anthony Collins. Rumors emerged that the Bucs were looking into signing Evan Deitrich-Smith, a guard/center formerly of the Packers. When he was brought in many assumed that either him or Jeremy Zuttah would be making a move over to guard to start opposite of Carl Nicks. Then the surprise move of the offseason occurred when the Bucs dealt Zuttah to the Ravens for a mere 5th round pick in the 2015 draft. Chump change for a starting quality player. Now the Bucs are left with what is likely their biggest hole at right guard. A group of backups and unknown players are battling for the starting spot. Between the group of Jamon Meredith, Oniel Cousins, Kadeem Edwards, and Patrick Omameh, I would expect Meredith to come out as the top man. This is the Bucs biggest hole in the starting lineup, but many offensive lineman studs have come out of nowhere to become studs so I am not as worried about this position.
Special teams is also a bit of a need. The punting last season was dreadful. The punter is overpaid. People here that the Bucs had a good amount of punts inside the twenty but when you actually look at the net numbers, Koenen ranked in the bottom half of the league in nearly every statistic. Also, the return game needs a lift as well. Hopefully with the new speed additions that Lovie Smith has talked about, the Bucs will be able to find a home run hitter. Between Jeff Demps, Charles Sims, Robert Herron, and a slew of other speedy receivers are likely to compete for the position. Don't let the numbers fool you, last season the Bucs may have finished toward the top of the league in return yards per attempt, but they also ranked toward the top in fair catches and no returns. No longer shall we watch 30 yard kicks get shanked. The man has returned! Connor Barth we welcome you! My hopes are that Barth returns where he left off because he is getting paid handsomely and if he doesn't perform to standards he might get replaced. He should help us win those clutch last second winners and not miss field goals that would put the Bucs up two possessions or something clutch like that.
The Bucs are loaded at the Running Back, Tight End, and Safety position. With Doug Martin, Mike James, Bobby Rainey, Charles Sims, and the newly football focused Jeff Demps, the Bucs have a incredibly deep stable of backs. Martin will likely see the bulk of the carries with Sims spelling him for passing and 3rd down plays. James and Rainey will likely see a fair share of carries. Demps will more than likely be reduced to slot receiving and return duties. Thus, making this the worst team to look for fantasy football relevant players. Last years rookie phenom Tim Wright came out of nowhere to become a good upside tight end, but the Bucs felt like they needed to add more quality players at he position beyond Luke Stocker. After signing Brandom Myers, a well rounded tight end, the Bucs went out and spent their 2nd round pick on Austin Sefarian-Jenkins, an upside pick who was amazing his junior year but fell off in his senior year. These two additions meant that Tom Crabtree, the closest relative humans still have to primates, would be bumped off the roster. At safety, the Bucs picked up Major Wright, who has a good amount of starter time in the NFL. He was signed to play in a reserve and package role as well as insurance for the often penalized and suspended Dashon Goldson.
What does it all mean?
What it means is that the Bucs roster is a lot more rounded out than it used to be. The quality brought in to match the new coaching staff should help this team make a complete 180 on what has happened the last two seasons.
In order for the Bucs to make the leap out of irrelevance they will have to rely on solid play from Josh McCown and whoever is starting at right guard. As long as Gerald McCoy can duplicate his performance from last season and the new additions can do their parts in getting a some pressure on the quarterback, the defense should be able to mesh well and create lots of turnovers to help the offense. If these few things work out well, the Bucs could easily make the worst to first leap that is often seen in the NFC south. Which should see a change in division winner with Carolina not managing to pick up much help at receiver, corner, or left tackle. Leaving the division to a well rounded Saints team, a quickly healing and improving Falcons team, and an up and coming Bucs team.