NFL 2015 Season Preview: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Last year’s record: 2-14
Head coach: Lovie Smith
Core players: Gerald McCoy (DT), Lavonte David (LB), Vincent Jackson (WR), Mike Evans (WR), Doug Martin (RB), Logan Mankins (OG), Major Wright (SS)

2015 is about… Whether or not Jameis Winston can show he’s a true franchise quarterback. The Bucs used the first-overall pick to select the Florida State star and expectations are high. Is there enough talent around him besides wide receivers Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson for the Bucs to be successful during the 2015 campaign? Probably not, but they should be a great deal more competitive than they were last season. Winston will have to learn to manage games at the pro level if he wants to become the first consistent, long-term Bucs quarterback since…uh, Josh Freeman? Jeff Garcia? Brad Johnson? Trent Dilfer? The Bucs don’t have the best history with quarterbacks do they? No pressure, Jameis.

They lost… Dashon Goldson (DB), Josh McCown (QB), Adrian Clayborn (DE), Michael Johnson (DE), Anthony Collins (OT), Mason Foster (LB). So, really, they didn’t lose that much. Defensive end Johnson was a failed experiment in Tampa and despite signing a five-year deal last March, the Bucs cut the big man earlier this year and he’s now back with the Bengals. Using a first-round pick in 2011 to draft Clayborn seems like a regrettable choice in hindsight.

Yeah, but they got… As mentioned above, top pick Winston needs to carry this team. If he can get decent protection and support from his running backs, Winston has nothing but upside. Two players that can go a long way towards easing the pressure on Winston are second-round picks Donovan Smith (LT) and Ali Marpet (RG). Word out of camp is both are performing well.

Another addition that should help Winston tremendously is new offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, who spent the last three seasons with the Atlanta Falcons. He’s familiar with the NFC South and as a former quarterback himself, knows the passing game well.

Sixth-round pick Kaelin Clay (WR) out of Utah has the tools to be a weapon on special teams. The Bucs are going to need big production in the return game because giving a rookie QB and young offence poor field position isn’t a recipe for success.

On defence they added D.J. Swearinger (S), Bruce Carter (LB), Jacquies Smith (DE), Sterling Moore (CB) plus safety Chris Conte, defensive lineman Henry Melton and corner Tim Jennings, all of whom are reunited with their former Bears coach Lovie Smith.

Growing from within… Lavonte David, a second-round pick in 2012, has already established himself as one of the best linebackers in the league and he’s only getting better. Same goes for defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, who is coming off three consecutive Pro Bowls. These two monsters need to be galvanizers on defence.

Mike Evans burst onto the scene last year with a terrific rookie campaign and with a healthy Vincent Jackson on the opposite side of the field these towers of power represent one of the most deadly wide receiver duos in the league.

Austin Seferian-Jenkins is looking to take his game to the next level and will be a red zone target for Winston. Koetter said early in camp the second-year tight end reminds him of Tony Gonzalez, which is the highest praise a young TE can receive. Koetter worked with Gonzalez in Atlanta and Bucs tight ends coach Jon Embree had Gonzalez in Kansas City.

Why this team? What they lack in depth they make up for with potential. The Bucs aren’t going to make the playoffs this season and likely won’t get near the .500 mark, but the defence led by McCoy and David will be tougher to play against than you might think. In fact, they might have the second best defence in their division behind Carolina – the Falcons and Saints defenders really aren’t too intimidating.

Why not? They’re straight up not very good right now. Unless Winston can somehow muster a rookie campaign similar to the ones Russell Wilson, Andrew Luck, RG3, Cam Newton or Andy Dalton had, the playoffs aren’t a realistic goal.

Perfect for fans of… Bruno Caboclo because they are two years away from being two years away.

How much hope? 3/10. That rating of three is just for this season. The future looks promising.

Will you be mocked for front-running? No. It hasn’t been cool to be a Bucs fan since that 2002 John Gruden squad that had the most badass defence on the planet. If you’re going to hop on the Bucs bandwagon do it now so if they’re an NFC contender in four years you can say you were ahead of the curve.

A Meme to Remember:


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