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.)
We'll finish the offensive line previews with the center position.
Then Versus Now
This is what the Bucs' depth chart at center looked like at this time last year.
Zuttah was the obvious starter, and Larsen was a versatile backup who could play multiple spots on the interior of the line. The Bucs were set at this spot with no concerns about depth or quality.
One year later, here's what the depth chart looks like.
There is once again a clear cut starter, but the depth is a bit more of an issue. Jace Daniels has been a camp body in Tampa previously, but has been used at center some during minicamp. Josh Allen is an undrafted rookie who seems to be little more than a camp body, as well. So who is the Bucs backup center heading into 2014?
It might not seem like a huge concern, but not having a second player who can reliably snap the ball to the quarterback is a bad situation for a football team to be in. Similar to the guard position, the Bucs are almost certainly not done with the depth chart at center, as they need a backup to fill in for Evan Dietrich-Smith should he get injured or become otherwise unavailable.
There are no real concerns over the long haul at center, at least not at starter, as Dietrich-Smith is set to be the man atop the depth chart for the next few years. Whether he's better than Jeremy Zuttah will be up to your discretion.
The backup spot at center needs to be addressed in some way, preferably by adding a versatile guard/center combo who can add depth along the line. You know, like a Jeremy Zuttah. The guy who was traded away for a fifth round pick in next year's draft.
The decision to ditch Zuttah looms large for the Bucs' front office, who must prove that the guard and center positions have sufficient depth to merit giving away a reliable, versatile lineman for next to nothing. There's money left to spend in Tampa, so it's curious to see Zuttah gone when there's nothing else at the position worth writing home about.
I believe that Dietrich-Smith is a better center than Zuttah, but the lack of a backup is concerning. I'll call it a push, but if forced to pick a side, I'd say the 2013 depth chart is better because I like the flexibility it provided.