We’re going through the Tampa Bay Buccaneers roster position by position to see whether they improved compared to last year. Today: safety.
2015 roster: Chris Conte, Bradley McDougald, Major Wright, Keith Tandy, Kimario McFadden, Gerod Holliman
2016 roster: Chris Conte, Bradley McDougald, Major Wright, Keith Tandy, Ryan Smith, Kimario McFadden, Isaiah Johnson, Elijah Shumate
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers had an interesting year in terms of safeties last year. Chris Conte, Bradley McDougald and Major Wright all got significant playing time, with Keith Tandy occasionally rotating in, especially in the red zone. None of these players stood out, positively or negatively. The team was outstanding at preventing deep plays — no team allowed fewer 25+-yard passes — but these safeties didn’t make any impact plays, either. That must have hurt a turnover-focused coach like Lovie Smith.
This year, the Bucs are bringing back the exact same players. The sole improvement in terms of personnel has to come from fourth-round pick and small-school player Ryan Smith. I know the Bucs got a quality defensive starter out of their fourth-round pick last year, but that’s not likely to happen again. Look for him to be a special teamer only as a rookie, and maybe get some playing time in sub-packages if he stands out.
Realistically, if the Bucs are better at this position than they were last year, it’s almost entirely because of the scheme and coaches. That’s a lot to ask, especially given the fact that Mike Smith’s scheme isn’t that different from Lovie Smith’s. It’s still a 4-3-based defense with few blitzes, and every NFL team runs the same coverage. There’s a little more focus on a box safety in Mike Smith’s scheme, and he does ask some more aggressiveness out of their defensive backs, but this is not going to be a drastically different situation for Conte and co.
Though the team is unlikely to be worse, this isn’t really a place where they improved.