Another long NFL off-season is over - too long for fans of the downtrodden Tampa Bay Buccaneers. While the more successful franchises play late into January, the Bucs are usually wrapping up another disappointing season by New Year's day and their fans are left watching old DVDs of playoff years past.
Sobering thought: It's been 9 years since the Bucs made the playoffs (2007). Its been 14 years since they won a playoff game (Super Bowl XXXVII). Who would of thought that January afternoon in 2007 when the Bucs were upset by the eventual Super Bowl Champion New York Giants at Raymond James Stadium that this would be the last playoff football Bucs fans would see for nearly a decade?
In the last eight seasons, the Bucs won 7 or more games only three times. They've had only two winning seasons. They're on their fourth coach in eight years.
So why does it feel like this year might be different? Why does it feel like the long wait may finally be over?
Certainly, every fanbase feels this way (well, except maybe Browns fans). Everyone is 0-0 with dreams of a turnaround or sustaining last year's success.
It's the time we all overestimate the positive parts of the team while ignoring some of the glaring weaknesses. Yet, it's a bit different than last year isn't it? Last year, even the owners said it was "a growing year". Of course, that for-knowledge did nothing to save Lovie Smith.
Perhaps it was that little taste of relevancy we had in December last year? The Bucs were in the playoff chase before the wheels came off and the team collapsed to a 6-10 finish, ending the disappointing tenure of Smith. (Note to Dirk Koetter, finish strong.)
Perhaps its the knowledge that even with Smith's dismissal, the Bucs were able to maintain continuity on the offensive side of the ball and bring in an excellent defensive mind in Mike Smith to re-energize a defense that was a square peg in Lovie Smith's round hole defense?
Or is it Jameis Winston? His infectous optimism, dedication and confidence has breathed life into this floudering organization and given Bucs fans a reason for hope. The old football adage is, "If you have a quarterback, you have a chance."
The Bucs, I think, have themselves a quarterback. I expect big things from Jameis this year. Tampa Bay Times writer Greg Auman put together an outstanding article on second year quarterbacks. (Ironically, I was actually compiling the same data for a similar article for BucsNation, but Greg beat me to the punch).
I don't think it's unrealistic to hope for Jameis to follow Derek Carr and Blake Bortles by significantly increasing his touchdown pass output while decreasing his interceptions.
What line would I like to see from #3? How about 4,200 yds passing, 28 TDs, 12 ints?
For any team, its always about the health. The Bucs (like most teams) have depth in some places while being thin in others.
GM Jason Licht made it his personal mission to turn cornerback from a major weakness to a strength by bringing in Brent Grimes, Josh Robinson and drafting VH3.
There's hope that the new coaching staff (which in some media members estimation is a dramatic upgrade over the previous regime) can resurrect the careers of Johnthan Banks and Alterraun Verner.
Safety I think remains a major concern on the defense. Bradley McDougald had a very rough 2015 and I've never been a huge fan of Chris Conte. Behind them is Keith Tandy and a rookie. Yikes.
The Bucs hope they found their pass rusher in Noah Spence. It will be interesting to see what, if anything, Spence can contribute. Even J.J. Watt only had 5.5 sacks his rookie season. Same for Justin Houston.
I predict a Buccaneer will finally end the Simeon Rice curse in 2016.
I think Lavonte David will return to being Lavonte David. A playmaker. An Impact player. Someone who will make offenses take note. I missed that Lavonte David under Lovie Smith. I'm hoping he'll be back.
Offensively, the Bucs hope the Dougernaut stays motivated, Mike Evans rediscovers his friend - the end zone and Seferian-Jenkins gets his head out of his ASJ. There is the great hope that is Kenny Bell finally living up to the underwear football promise.
There's Kevin Pamphile, filling in for the ailing JR Sweezy (a back issue per Pewter Report), trying to fill the shoes of Logan Mankins on the o-line while Donnovan Smith and Ali Marpet move into their second seasons. I think the line will be okay.
The Bucs are also hoping Charles Sims can make even more impact this year.
All of this is well and good but it does pretty much come down to Jameis and the defense doesn't it? Jameis has to be really good and the defense has to at least keep teams under 21 points to give Tampa Bay a fighting chance.
The schedule argument has never been a valid one to me. If you're a good team, you win, no matter whose in front of you. Do you think the Patriots or the Seahawks give a darn whose on their schedule? No, they go and try to kick the crap out their opponent, be it the Arizona Cardinals or the Jacksonville Jaguars.
If the Bucs go 2-0 to start the season, beating division rival Atlanta and Super Bowl favorite Arizona on the road, they will be the talk of the NFL. If they go 0-2, people will shrug and say "same old sorry Bucs". The truth of it will be in between somewhere.
With a quarterback, you have a chance. That's the bottom line. I think the Bucs have too much talent to continue to be double digit losing seasons bad. They have impact players at every level of the offense and the defense. Hopefully, they now have the coaching that can get the most out of that talent.
So enjoy training camp Bucs fans! The Bucs are back! And maybe, just maybe - they're really back - to the post season.