Bucc-ing the trend: NFC South Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have been on a positive trend the last couple of seasons and if they were in any other division would most likely be finishing higher up, easily coming second in many. Having spent a ferry journey talking to one Scottish Bucs fan, I know there are now justifiable positive feelings about the Bucs chances this season. The pieces seem to be there, they may not be able to top the Panthers but can they top the Falcons and the Saints and achieve a winning record this season? Having looked good in the pre-season I have a look at the Bucs prospects for 2016.
This pre-season the Bucs have looked good, though maybe beating the Browns so comprehensively should be looked upon with a bit of a pinch of salt as it was then followed by a storm drenched and sloppy performance loss to Washington. However, last season they were involved in a few close games and at least beat the Falcons twice and the Saints once. They have their franchise quarterback in Winston, they have a solid running back corps in Doug Martin and Charles Sims and a top receiver in Mike Evans. The o-line showed improvements last season as well, helping Doug reach 1402 yards rushing and allowing only 22 sacks. The defense also showed signs of improvements and I am surprised that the Bucs went 6 – 10 last year. Admittedly they finished last season on a four game losing streak and the defense was 26th for least points allowed and the offense was 20th in point scored.
Obviously there wasn’t enough progress made last season and Lovie Smith’s era came to quite an abrupt end in January. Dirk Koetter came in and Mike Smith was named as defensive co-ordinator. This paved the way for a few more personnel changes which is probably why we see the team we have today, despite the pre-season injury list building up.
Most of the focus during free agency was adding defensive pieces, big signings including DE Robert Ayers from the Giants, CB Brent Grimes from the Dolphins and Ravens linebacker Daryl Smith. The defense already looked to be coming together during last season with a few players such as Kwon Alexander, who had an excellent rookie season, and Lavonte David standing out in the front seven and Alterraun Verner still being solid in the secondary. Those extra pick-ups adds valuable experience, strength and depth to an already pretty dangerous defense. The focus on defense continued in the draft, picking up three defensive players in the first four rounds, including Florida’s very talented and versatile CB Vernon Hargreaves III with their first pick. Having two picks in the second round meant they could then add to the linebacking corps with Eastern Kentucky OLB Noah Spence, who dropped further than many thought he would. It was the second pick in the second round that raised eyebrows and was one of yours, dear reader and listeners, most outlandish #OhIsays on twitter that came true. But more on that when I have a quick look at the offense. CB Ryan Smith was then added in the fourth round with only one more defensive player picked up after.
On to the offense. Agreeing terms with Doug Martin was just common sense, he still has a few good seasons left in him and if they cut down his carries by using Sims more (which is likely) then they will certainly get value for money. Come Sunday we will know who will be keeping veteran Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans company on receiving roster. Most likely Donteea Dye will see this season due to his versatility as a return option.
As another option for Winston, Austin Seferian-Jenkins proved capable in his sophomore season with promising development. All in all prior to the draft the Bucs looked pretty solid though my concern is that there is some lack of depth in good targets for Winston and will be relying and hoping both Martin and Evans stay healthy. If you consider other teams in the division, the Bucs may be the weakest in terms of offensive depth though possibly the Saints follow them. If we know that the Panthers can do more than survive without some of their main stars and the Falcons are pretty stacked. So onto the draft. The o-line probably could have done with some more attention but it wasn’t bad last year, having drafted Ali Marpet and Donovan Smith in 2015, many additions to the o-line are still early in their career so building that much valued experience. Saying that this year they did add OT Caleb Benenoch and a full back in Dan Vitale. But let’s go back and talk about the second pick in the second round. Yes the Bucs picked the best rated kicker/punter Roberto Aguayo. I can understand this as they did go through a few kickers last year with one game most certainly lost because of missed field goals. And Roberto impressed on an otherwise underwhelming performance against Washington, when he made a 50 yard field goal in storm conditions. During the pre-season he has shown that he has what it takes, especially with the rule changes in PATs making them not such a sure fire way of getting points. Maybe not a second round pick but obviously a need and trying to ensure that the scoreboard will stay ticking. Personally, I like the pick, I think it was ballsy and Aguayo is indeed a talent, and filled a need that the Bucs certainly found they had last season.
Overall, I like the Bucs team, I love Doug Martin, love watching him run, watching his tapes it’s great to see. I like Winston he has a high ceiling and I am hoping we will see more of his football acumen, movement and passing ability this year. Really like the Bucs defense. My concern is still the depth on the offense, especially receiving options but as long as they don’t pick up any major injuries this is a team that should be competing for the play-offs. My #OhISay was this team makes the play-offs and then probably makes it to the Championship game. It’s possible, especially with what promises to be a good defense.
Crunch time, well I think they could finish second, I see a winning record, with a record of either 9-7 or 10-6. I think 10-6 may see them into the play-offs. Someone in the NFC North or West is going to get a bit of a surprise.