The 2014 season is upon us and the excitement over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is at a fever pitch.
The excitement began with the signing of former Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith. Smith is a familiar face in the Tampa Bay area having spent 5 years with Coach Tony Dungy as a linebackers coach and is an expert on the famous Tampa 2 defense that produced one of the greatest defenses of all time.
In the off season the team also added a new GM, a new offensive coordinator and 11 free agents, so what is fair to expect from this team this coming year?
I have broken down what my thoughts are about the team and what fans can expect to see from the Bucs should key players remain healthy.
At 1st glance the schedule may seem difficult since the Buccaneers face 2 of the league’s best defensive lines right out of the gate in the 1st two weeks when they face the Carolina Panthers and the St Louis Rams. Upon closer examination you realize that Carolina has a quarterback on the mend in Cam Newton who is coming off surgery during the summer and has a hairline fracture in his ribs, in fact Newton’s status for the opener is in doubt.
The Rams lost their starting quarterback in week 3 of the preseason so it is possible that much like the Kansas City Chiefs of last season; the Buccaneers have a chance to play against backup QB's for consecutive weeks to start the season.
There are some rough spots on the schedule but overall the Buccaneers schedule is relatively favorable being riddled with teams that were 7-9 or 8-8 last year or worse.
Granted the Buccaneers were 4-12 last year but this team bears no resemblance to the 2013 team.
Lovie Smith was the Bears head coach from 2004–2012 where he went to a Super Bowl, won 3 division titles and went 84-66 overall. Coach Smith is considered a defensive genius by many and I believe that for the 1st time in several years the Buccaneers will not be out coached every game on the schedule.
Jeff Tedford was a former head coach for the University of California where he was able to lead the program to several top 25 seasons nationally and 5 bowl wins in his 10 years at the University. He also is known as a quarterback guru having coached several quarterbacks who were drafted by the NFL Including: Joey Harrington, Akili Smith, David Carr, Kyle Boller, Aaron Rodgers and Trent Dilfer while he was at Fresno State.
Leslie Frazier was a former head coach for Minnesota and an assistant under Tony Dungy at Indianapolis the year they won the Super Bowl. There will be no confusion regarding the Tampa 2 system and expectations of this defense due to the similar linage Frazier and Smith have.
While Tedford is unproven at the moment, Smith and Frazier are not and I believe this is a strength for the team.
This defense is going to be very good, with a chance of becoming a top 5 defense this year.
The team has an All Pro or Pro Bowler at every level of the defense and they are being coached by defensive specialists Smith and Frazier.
On the line, Gerald McCoy is considered by many as the best defensive tackle in the league. His play in the preseason has been nothing short of dominant and looks to be even better than he was last season when he had 35 tackles, 15 assists and 9 sacks.
Lavonte David quietly had an amazing season in 2013 and is looking to follow up on that success. The All Pro collected 107 tackles, 38 assists, 7 sacks, 10 passes defended, 6 interceptions and 2 forced fumbles last season. This puts him in elite company as a linebacker and will provide McCoy and the rest of the line much needed support once players get by the line.
In the secondary the Buccaneers acquired pro bowl defensive back Alterraun Verner who had 5 interceptions with the Titans in 2013. The sometimes unheralded Verner was considered by many to be one of the top free agents this off season; this move adds a dependable play maker in the secondary for the Bucs.
This defense is going to keep most games close and has a chance to be exceptional. I did not even discuss the addition of DE Michael Johnson, DT Clinton McDonald or either of the hard hitting safeties (Goldson and Barron) that roam the deep secondary area looking to blow up backs and receivers that venture back there. With the pieces they have in place combined with the scheme and coaching this defense will dominate many teams and will even score several times during the year.
The offense is in flux this season but here are my thoughts.
The Offensive Line looked terrible in the first 2 games of the preseason. In the third game they showed marked improvement and played well against the Buffalo Bills 1st team defense. Even with the improvement however the Buccaneers decided to make a move to bolster the offensive line by trading for 6 time Pro Bowl guard Logan Mankins.
This moves solidifies one guard spot and allows the other two "starters" to compete against each other for the last starting guard spot.
At running back the Bucs will feature Pro Bowl running back Doug Martin whose season was cut short by an injury in 2013. Bobby Rainey filled in nicely for Martin last season and will be called upon to give Martin some breathers during most games.
What I am interested in seeing is how the Buccaneers use the Tight Ends and Receivers on this team. On one side the Bucs have 3 time Pro Bowler Vincent Jackson, on the other side rookie Mike Evans and at tight end I expect to see Brandon Meyers, Luke Stocker and Austin Seferian-Jenkins being used in different situations during the game.
What really strikes me about this offense is the size they bring to bear. Seferian-Jenkins, Jackson and Evans are all 6'5", they all can run well and they all can catch. NFL teams typically have to design schemes that involve movement, unusual formations or isolating receivers against linebackers to get a mismatch, but the Buccaneers look like they can line up in a base offense and still be a mismatch for most teams.
Most NFL corners are between 5'9" and 6'1" and even Richard Sherman, who is considered a "big" corner is 6'3", a full 2"smaller than any of the three players mentioned above. It will be interesting to see what the offense will be able to do with jump balls with these large receivers going against smaller defensive backs, especially with the NFL's new focus on illegal contact down field.
The most uncertain position to me on offense is the quarterback position. Josh McCown is a veteran that had amazing stats when given the opportunity to start last year, yet as soon as the starter was healthy, McCown was relegated back to the bench. In addition he has been in the league for 12 seasons and for most of those seasons he has been a backup, I do not think that is a coincidence.
If there is going to be an issue it is going to be here that the Buccaneers are exposed.
I look for the Buccaneers to vastly improve on last year’s 4-12 record, I believe that the defense will be dominant, the coaching will be sound and effective and the offense will be "good enough" to win games. I feel that the schedule (based on last year) is favorable and I also feel that the size of the receivers and tight ends on the team will be a nightmare for some teams.
I predict a 9-7 finish and #2 in their division behind the Saints.