The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have a new coach, a new GM, and have spread a new sense of optimism with a lot of fans, who believe the team is better now than it was under Greg Schiano. And while a change in coaching will certainly help the Bucs take a step forward in the upcoming season, is the roster in better shape than it was under Schiano, Mark Dominik and company?
This series will take a position-by-position look at the roster in Tampa Bay, and consider if the Bucs are better off now than they were just under a year ago at this time. (For consistency purposes, I have used the OurLads 2013 depth chart from June 1st, 2013 as a basis for last year's roster. Offensive linemen who play multiple positions will be listed in multiple editions of this preview series.)
Let's move to the tackle position for our next preview.
Then Versus Now
Here's how the depth chart looked in 2013:
A lack of depth at tackle was a major concern in 2013, as the loss of either Penn or Dotson would have spelled an end for the Bucs' hopes of protecting the passer. Meredith was a backup at almost every position, and would play inside at guard on occasion, meaning that the Bucs didn't really have a true backup tackle to rely on.
Gabe Carimi would not show up until slightly later, and he'd help shore up the depth issue at tackle, but he too played inside quite a bit, limiting the Bucs' ability to field a true "swing tackle" as a backup.
There's a change at left tackle on the 2014 depth chart, but more of the same in the backup spots. Collins represents a younger, cost-effective option at left tackle who has the potential to crush the pass blocking production of Donald Penn. Dotson returns with another year of polish, and has emerged as one of the best right tackles in the NFL.
But Meredith remains the primary backup at tackle, with Kevin Pamphile and Matt Patchan both presenting the Bucs with some potential, but no guarantee of depth.
So whether or not the Bucs are better off then versus now depends on how you feel about Anthony Collins...
There are some very positive things that can be said about Anthony Collins (I said some here) and some very concerning things as well (Cian Fahey of Bleacher Report said some here). So where does the truth lie for the Bucs' new pass protector?
The obvious answer is "somewhere in the middle." Fahey's concerns are legitimate, but it would be interesting to see how that same study would paint most left tackles in the NFL. The job of stopping top pass rushers one-on-one isn't an every-down affair for even the best tackles, as tight ends, backs, and plays designed to limit the rush all play a key role in the modern NFL blocking scheme.
But Collins' primary concerns do come from his usage in Cincinnati, and he'll have a lot to prove when he takes to the field as an unquestioned starter in Tampa. In my article above, you'll note some freakishly good pass protection numbers, mostly earned in limited time at left tackle. Even with a drop off in production, he's still miles ahead of Donald Penn, who declined in 2013.
So should Collins fall flat on his face and play like Penn did, the Bucs are still only paying a middle-of-the-road tackle salary for a middle-of-the-road tackle. Add in Collins' age and "odometer" (snaps played) advantages over Penn, and there's a pretty clear upgrade, even with the question marks.
Dotson's role at right tackle is secure, and he figures to hold that spot for as long as he's healthy and able. Pamphile and Patchan both have work to do, but if either proves to be worthy of the role of "swing tackle" in the next couple of years, it would be a huge boost to the Bucs' depth.
Despite questions about Collins' ability to maintain his incredible production in Cincy, the Bucs are better at tackle in the long-run than they were in 2013, as they now have a left tackle who's not on the decline at the end of his career. The depth outlook remains somewhat bleak, however.