Heading into training camp before the end of this month, there are a few storylines that are worth following. First on that list is something a lot of Buccaneers fans have questioned and that is the ability to perform in the trenches. More specifically, the offensive trenches.
Many fans were somewhat disappointed/outraged/disgusted when Bucs GM Jason Licht re-signed left tackle Donovan Smith to a three year, $41.25-million dollar contract. Smith, who has never missed a start, has been the target of angry Bucs fans for a while but what many couldn’t do was offer a replacement option for Smith had Licht let him walk in free agency. Smith would have been the best left tackle on free agent market and there were no “franchise” left tackles in the draft. Ultimately, it was the best decision moving forward.
As far as training camp goes, here is the thing to begin watching for; cohesiveness.
The Buccaneers have 80% of their starting offensive line returning to the same position a second year in a row for the first time in recent memory. The biggest question - and one that we will likely get a quick answer to - is what are they going to do at right guard?
The Bucs signed former Cardinal Earl Watford to a one year, $805,000 contract to come in and compete for the job. He has a few advantages for sure. For starters, he’s familiar with Bruce Arians’ style and offense. He started 22 games in Arizona while playing for Bruce, twenty of which were in two seasons. After not seeing the field in 2018 in Cleveland, Watford is going to have the opportunity to show the NFL that he can still play at a high level before becoming a free agent again next year.
Watford has to be the odds on favorite to win the starting job as his competition consists of Alex Cappa, Ruben Holcomb, and Zack Bailey. Unless one of them really shocks the coaching staff, Watford is the guy.
It’ll also be interesting to see the continued development of Ryan Jensen and Jameis Winston’s chemistry. The relationship between the center and quarterback is one of the most important on the team and heading into year two there will be even more comfort and trust between the two. Jensen was upset with the amount of penalties called on him last season and will be making it a point to cut those down in a big way.
Finally, looking at the most important change and that is in the staff. Joe Gilbert is now taking over as the offensive line coach under Bruce Arians which is music to Bucs fans’ ears following a brutal tenure by George Warhop. Gilbert comes from the Indianapolis Colts where he was the offensive line coach from 2012-2017. In 2012 as assistant offensive line coach, the Colts went 11-5. The following three seasons as offensive line coach the Colts were 11-5, 11-5, and 8-8. His final two seasons in Indy he was back to assistant offensive line coach as the team struggled with injury.