It’s just about time to kick things off for real.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will open the regular season on Sunday, September 13 at home against the Tennessee Titans. Today, we preview each facet of this year’s team.
After last year’s dismal performance, this is the unit that will get the most attention. The biggest addition, of course, is Jameis Winston, taken by the Bucs with the top overall pick in this year’s draft. The rookie had his ups and downs during the preseason. He did not throw a touchdown pass in the three games he played in, though he did rush for a pair of scores. He actually has a real-life offensive coordinator this year in Dirk Koetter, who comes over from division-rival Atlanta. Here’s a thought: get the ball in the hands of Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson as much as possible.
The second most-watched group will be the offensive line. With a rookie quarterback running the show, it will be up to this group to take some of the pressure off Winston, and open up holes in the running game. Last year, these guys were awful in both categories.
Speaking of that, will Doug Martin bounce back, in what could be his final season in Tampa? In his rookie season in 2012, he was fantastic. Since then – not so much.
Lavonte David and Gerald McCoy are the leaders of this group. There is no doubting that. Tampa Bay improved in the secondary even more by signing two-time Pro Bowler Jim Jennings just this week. Dashon Goldson, Mason Foster, Michael Johnson and Da’Quan Bowers are all gone.
For the second year in a row, the Buccaneers have a rookie kicker. Kyle Brinzda won the starting job over last year’s kicker, Patrick Murray, and former Buc Connor Barth (remember him? He’s briefly re-joined the team after Denver cut him.) Brinzda made two field goals over 50 yards in the preseason finale against Miami to seal the deal.
The team also has a new punter. Michael Koenen is no more. The new guy in town is Jacob Schum, who was claimed off waivers from the Jets. Hopefully he will be an upgrade from Koenen, who struggled big-time last year.
The whole unit needs to be much better than last year, especially on kickoff and punt returns. We the fans are sick of seeing a flag for illegal block in the back on nearly every return.
Is Lovie Smith on the hot seat in just his second year? If the Bucs get off to a slow start, I say the answer is yes. Admittedly, this season could be also be challenging because of a rookie starting quarterback. But if the team doesn’t at least show some improvement, then the fire’s going to start burning a lot more under the head coach.
Photo Courtesy: USA Today
Now that the Buccaneers have reached the midway point of the 2014 season, it’s time for a midterm report card. As you might expect, there are more bad grades than good ones on a team that’s 1-7. I’m not going to grade each and every player, because that would take forever.
LOVIE SMITH AND JASON LICHT: F
When the Bucs hired Smith almost immediately after firing Greg Schiano, there was a sense of hope among Tampa Bay fans, a sense that things would start to turn around. There was hope that Smith’s defense would be as fierce as what we saw in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. Licht and Smith brought in a ton of free agents on defense (while letting Darrelle Revis go.) They spent their entire 2014 draft on upgrading the offense. Eight games into the season, the Bucs are second from the bottom in both total offense and defense. Some of the pundits predicted the Bucs could be a sleeper team for the playoffs. I was just hoping for some improvement. It hasn’t happened. We should’ve known something was up when they dropped their first two games at home to backup quarterbacks. Even coming off a 4-12 year, the Bucs have been a major disappointment in my opinion.
OFFENSE – OVERALL GRADE: D
The Bucs started the season with Josh McCown as the starting quarterback. In 2 ½ games, he threw two touchdowns, four interceptions, and put the ball on the turf a number of times. He’s been sidelined with an injured thumb suffered during the Thursday night debacle in Atlanta.
Enter Mike Glennon. He’s completed 57% of his passes so far. At times, he’s looked OK. Other times, like Sunday in Cleveland, he looked terrible. Now, he’s in danger of losing his job back to McCown. While the quarterback position is hardly the only problem on this team, it should be priority #1 in next year’s draft.
OFFENSIVE LINE: F
This group has also been a big disappointment. Remember back to just before the season began, when Tampa Bay acquired pro bowl guard Logan Mankins from the Patriots? That hasn’t helped a unit that has struggled in both the running game and pass protection. Left tackle Anthony Collins and center Evan Dietrich-Smith have not played well at all. The line has given up 21 sacks through the first eight games, and that doesn’t count all of the times the quarterback has been running for his life. It’s worth noting that Smith and Licht also overhauled this unit from last year as well.
MIKE EVANS: B
He was the Bucs’ first-round draft pick this year, and we’ve gotten a glimpse of what he can do. While he hasn’t been perfect, he leads the receivers in yards (460) and touchdowns (4) and is tied with Vincent Jackson for the team lead in receptions. He has the potential to be a star down the road, no question about it.
DEFENSE – OVERALL GRADE: D-
Let’s think back to the defensive players Smith brought in: Michael Johnson, Alterraun Verner and Clinton McDonald come to mind. Have any of them made an impact? I don’t think so. I hadn’t heard Verner’s name much at all until Sunday, when he was beaten soundly for the winning touchdown in Cleveland. This is the guy who supposedly has to fill Revis’ shoes in the secondary. As mentioned early, Tampa Bay is 31st in the league in total defense behind only Atlanta. They’ve given up the third most points; only Jacksonville and the Jets are worse. They’re near the bottom of the league in sacks. And turnovers – something Smith prides himself on – have not come as often as the fans would like. Oh, and former first-round pick Mark Barron is now with the Rams.
GERALD MCCOY: B+
I’m giving McCoy a grade, because he’s one of the leaders of this defense, and recently signed a 7-year, $98 million contract. He has been one of the few bright spots on defense. His five sacks lead the team. And this guy was playing with an injured hand for a few games.
LAVONTE DAVID: A
You mean there’s a player on a 1-7 team that deserves such a grade? Like McCoy, David is a leader on defense. He leads the team in tackles. This guy is everywhere on the field. I look forward to watching #54 in person when I travel to Ray-Jay this weekend to see the Bucs play the Falcons.
SPECIAL TEAMS: D
Rookie kicker Patrick Murray has been so-so this year. He is 8-of-12 on field goals. He’s had two kicks blocked, one of them coming in the most recent loss to the Browns. The mistakes on special teams on Sunday actually caused me to lower this grade from a C to a D.
Photo Courtesy: AP
For the second year in a row, the Buccaneers are off to an 0-3 start. Last year’s team began 0-8, and if Lovie Smith’s players aren’t careful, they could be heading for that same fate in 2014.
First, they lost to a backup Carolina quarterback. Then they let a third-string QB from the Rams beat them. That was followed by the debacle in Atlanta on Thursday night against Matt Ryan (“debacle” is putting it nicely, actually.)
After three games, Tampa Bay is 30th in total offense (including dead last in passing yards) and 27th in total defense.
So, how does Tampa Bay turn this mess around?
Let’s start with the offense. Josh McCown, who injured his hand against Atlanta, may not play against the Steelers in Pittsburgh. If he’s out, then this becomes Mike Glennon’s team. He has a chance to seize the starting job if he’s effective, despite Smith’s insistence that McCown is his guy. But this team needs a spark, and Glennon needs to provide it. Hopefully Doug Martin can return to action. Bucs fans would love to see the Martin of two years ago. And when the Bucs took Mike Evans with their first-round pick, wasn’t the goal to make him and Vincent Jackson a formidable deep threat in the passing game? We haven’t seen that yet, either.
Oh, and please stop turning the ball over. That would help.
Defensively, it’s time to switch things up. The Tampa 2 is not working. The defensive line is getting no pressure on the quarterback whatsoever (four sacks in three games.) When that’s the case, the opposing quarterback will complete passes against this defense all game long. They need Gerald McCoy and Michael Johnson back in a hurry. There’s no way any single player could’ve stopped the onslaught that took place at the Georgia Dome. But McCoy is the leader of the defensive front, and he needs to take charge once he’s healthy.
On special teams, I thought all eyes would be on rookie kicker Patrick Murray when he won the starting job. But the Bucs have had both punts and field goals blocked through the first three games. And the kick return coverage has been abysmal, punctuated by Devin Hester’s performance last Thursday.
Last year, the Carolina Panthers started out slow, and then rallied to win 11 of 12. Wouldn’t it be great if Tampa Bay could pull off a similar feat, as bleak as things may look right now?
Photo courtesy: USA Today
What a week it has been for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. That’s not much of a surprising statement, given that the start of free agency always results in a lot of activity around the league. But I wasn’t expecting it to be quite like this.
It all started even before free agency began, when word leaked out that the Bucs were shopping Darrelle Revis. He ended up signing with New England. One year and $16 million later, he’s out of Tampa. That didn’t take long.
So who’s new? They picked up cornerback Alterraun Verner from Tennessee, and defensive end Michael Johnson from Cincinnati. Verner had five picks for the Titans last season. And two years ago, Johnson had 11 1/2 sacks for the Bengals. Throw in former Seattle defensive tackle Clinton McDonald, and it’s clear Lovie Smith and Jason Licht are overhauling just about everything on the defensive side of the ball. A few extra sacks this season would be a nice return on this investment.
There is also a change on the offensive line. Donald Penn is gone, and Anthony Collins is now a Buc. Like Johnson, Collins spent the past few years in Cincinnati.
But the biggest surprise may have come at the quarterback position. Josh McCown signed a two-year, $10 million contract. Signing a QB may not be a shocker. What is surprising, is that Lovie Smith has pretty much named McCown the starter already. So there won’t even be any competition with Mike Glennon? Will the Bucs draft a rookie QB in the draft? Who knows if we’ve heard the last of this quarterback situation.
Photo Courtesy: tbo.com