Lovie Smith has overhauled the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' roster over the past two years. That's an obvious statement, but it really stands out when you compare the starting lineups. Even adding common positions that may not technically start, like a third receiver, second tight end and slot cornerback, the team has just seven starters who were starting in 2013.
But does that mean that they've actually gotten better, or have the Bucs simply been treading water? Let's go through the Bucs' "starting" lineups, including a few positions that may not technically start, but will still be on the field a lot.
|QB||Josh Freeman||Jameis Winston|
|RB||Doug Martin||Doug Martin|
|FB||Erik Lorig||Joseph Iosefa|
|WR||Vincent Jackson||Vincent Jackson|
|WR||Mike Williams||Mike Evans|
|WR||Kevin Ogletree||Louis Murphy|
|TE||Luke Stocker||Luke Stocker|
|TE||Tom Crabtree||Austin Seferian-Jenkins|
|LT||Donald Penn||Donovan Smith|
|LG||Carl Nicks||Logan Mankins|
|C||Jeremy Zuttah||Evan Dietrich-Smith|
|RG||Davin Joseph||Ali Marpet|
|RT||Demar Dotson||Demar Dotson|
|DE||Adrian Clayborn||Jacquies Smith|
|DT||Gerald McCoy||Gerald McCoy|
|DT||Akeem Spence||Clinton McDonald|
|DE||Daniel Te'o-Nesheim||George Johnson|
|WLB||Lavonte David||Lavonte David|
|MLB||Mason Foster||Bruce Carter|
|SLB||Jonathan Casillas||Danny Lansanah|
|CB||Johnthan Banks||Johnthan Banks|
|CB||Darrelle Revis||Alterraun Verner|
|NB||Leonard Johnson||Sterling Moore|
|SS||Mark Barron||Bradley McDougald|
|FS||Dashon Goldson||Chris Conte|
So maybe it's just me, but I'm not seeing a massive improvement here. I think defensive end is better, but I'm not sure the difference is gigantic: Jacquies Smith and George Johnson are pretty much just as unproven as Adrian Clayborn was at the time. That's actually true across the defense: a lot of unproven players who may be good, or may not be good at a lot of positions. In hindsight, a lot of those players in 2013 didn't work out -- but we tend to overlook that uncertainty this year.
The same is true on offense. Yes, Josh Freeman turned out to be useless but that wasn't necessarily completely obvious at the time. People still had 2010 in their heads and a few good games in 2012, with hopes that he'd improve. I think there's certainly a better chance that Winston succeeds now than that Freeman would have succeeded in 2013, but again, there's a lot of uncertainty there.
Even worse, the offensive line actually looked outstanding in 2013 -- before we knew that Carl Nicks would see his career end thanks to MRSA, and before Davin Joseph's injuries turned out to be serious enough to truly end his career. This year, we have rookies -- which means more question marks -- at two positions. At least the receiving corps is better.
Overall, I'm not sure we can say that this group is definitely better than that of 2013. It certainly has the potential to be, and there's been a lot of turnover since then, but this is not a fundamentally different group.