New coach, old concerns as Bucs near start of training camp
There's a pervasive sense of cautious optimism around the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as they approach the start of their first year under former longtime Chicago Bears head coach Lovie Smith.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are counting on Lovie Smith to make their disastrous 2013 season a distant memory.
Kim Klement / USA TODAY Sports
By Andrew AstlefordFOX Sports Florida
TAMPA, Fla. -- A new regime. A new attitude. A new beginning.
All signal new reasons to follow the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' evolution from sticky summer afternoons to fall's chill.
Forget what the calendar says. Summer is over. With the Bucs beginning training camp practices Friday, fall's feel will be in full swing, with a new-look coaching staff guiding a new-look roster to ... what exactly?
Optimism about coach Lovie Smith's hire comes with unknowns. Despite all the talk about fresh outlooks and a cleansed atmosphere throughout One Buc Place, there remain reasons to tap the breaks. Caution can be healthy.
Among the developments to watch: Questions about quarterback Josh McCown; doubts about the offensive line, specifically at guard; curiosity about offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford's scheme; and wonder surrounding all the free-agency bets, including big-ticket signees like offensive tackle Anthony Collins and defensive end Michael Johnson.
No doubt, this time of year is fun. There's reason to believe in camps throughout the country. There's a special spark reserved for watching something grow from the ground up, like the Bucs have done since their scorched-Earth firings of then-coach Greg Schiano and then-general manager Mark Dominik last December.
That's old news, though. All the wild dips from last year are far in the rear-view mirror. There are plenty reasons to stay occupied by keeping eyes fixed toward the future.
Here's a look at how the Bucs shape up with training camp practices starting Friday ...
WR Mike Evans (first round, Texas A&M): A tall target at 6-foot-5, 231 pounds, Evans could become Vincent Jackson 2.0 with grooming. He fills a clear need after the trade of Mike Williams to the Buffalo Bills. Some question Evans' ability to break away from defenders in the open field, but he should be given plenty of chances to grow within Tedford's system.
TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins (second, Washington): Another tall addition to the Bucs' pass-catching options, Seferian-Jenkins could prove to be a savvy selection in the second round. Standing at 6-5, 260 pounds, the John Mackey Award winner became the third member of the Bucs' "Triple Towers" with Tampa Bay's selection of him as the 38th overall pick. He missed most of the Bucs' offseason work because of Washington's academic schedule, and recovery from February surgery on his left foot to repair a stress fracture also hampered him. Training camp and preseason work will be key.
RB Charles Sims (third, West Virginia): A curious addition in the third round, given the Bucs' depth at running back, Sims figures to be a versatile weapon at Tedford's disposal. He ran for 1,095 yards and caught 45 passes for 401 yards at West Virginia last season. Sims' arrival could signal that the Bucs plan to ease some of Doug Martin's workload and spread out playing time among all their running backs, a group that also includes Mike James and Bobby Rainey.
G Kadeem Edwards (fifth, Tennessee State): Believe it or not, Edwards could vie for ample playing time if the health of veteran guard Carl Nicks prevents him from starting all season. The Bucs' guard situation stands as one of their largest questions entering training camp. Tampa Bay better hope Edwards is a quick study.
OT Kevin Pamphile (fifth, Purdue): He remains raw in his movement and blocking instincts, but Pamphile can provide depth on the Bucs' offensive line. Tampa Bay spent large money in free agency on Anthony Collins, formerly of the Cincinnati Bengals, to become their signature addition at left tackle. But Pamphile can make a solid first impression with a strong camp.
WR Robert Herron (sixth, Wyoming): At 5-9, 193 pounds, Herron is a small target who has received mixed reviews about his toughness across the middle. He ran a respectable 4.48 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine, but he must become more consistent to be a top-tier pass-catching option within the Bucs' receiving corps.
KEY FREE-AGENT SIGNEES
OT Anthony Collins (Cincinnati Bengals): He's the Bucs' centerpiece signing in their revamp of the offensive line. He allowed zero sacks, one quarterback hit and 12 quarterback hurries last season.
C Evan Dietrich-Smith (Green Bay Packers): Some consider him an improvement over Jeremy Zuttah, who was traded to the Baltimore Ravens in March. Entering his sixth season, Dietrich-Smith should provide veteran stability to anchor the Bucs' offensive line.
CB Mike Jenkins (Oakland Raiders): A Pro Bowl selection in 2009, he arrives in Tampa Bay with 10 career interceptions, including two last season. Last year, he was active in the secondary with a career-high 65 tackles.
DE Michael Johnson (Cincinnati Bengals): The Bucs envision him becoming a much-needed terror off the edge. He arrives with 26 1/2 career sacks, though he had just 3 1/2 last season.
QB Josh McCown (Chicago Bears): He represents familiarity for Smith because of their time together in Chicago. He performed admirably in Jay Cutler's absence last season, totaling 1,829 yards passing with 13 touchdowns and one interception.
DT Clinton McDonald (Seattle Seahawks): He offers a Super Bowl-winning pedigree because of his role in the Seahawks' march to the title last season. He had a career-high 5 1/2 sacks in the championship campaign.
CB Alterraun Verner (Tennessee Titans): A Pro Bowl player in 2013, he arrives as a relative bargain as a 25-year-old talent only beginning to grow into what he can become. He's a solid Cover-2 defensive back who could be considered an upgrade over what Darrelle Revis would have offered in Smith's defensive scheme.
SS Major Wright (Chicago Bears): He struggled at times last season, but he hopes to recapture some of the success he enjoyed as a member of Smith's defenses in Chicago. He arrives with nine career interceptions, seven of which came in the 2011 and 2012 campaigns.
CB Anthony Gaitor (Miami Dolphins), LB Adam Hayward (Washington Redskins), RB Michael Hill (Green Bay Packers), G Davin Joseph (St. Louis Rams), G Ted Larsen (Arizona Cardinals), FB Erik Lorig (New Orleans Saints), QB Dan Orlovsky (Detroit Lions), OT Donald Penn (Oakland Raiders), CB Darrelle Revis (New England Patriots), WR Tiquan Underwood (Carolina Panthers), LB Dekoda Watson (Jacksonville Jaguars), CB Michael Adams (unsigned), TE Kyle Adams (unsigned), CB Marc Anthony (waived, unsigned), DE Marvin Booker (unsigned), TE Nate Byham (unsigned), LB Jacob Cutrera (unsigned), DT Gary Gibson (unsigned), CB Danny Gorrer (unsigned), FB Spencer Larsen (unsigned), RB Brian Leonard (unsigned), K Rian Lindell (unsigned), LS Patrick Scales (unsigned), DE Daniel Te'o-Nesheim (unsigned), K Lawrence Tynes (unsigned), QB Adam Weber (unsigned).
Will Nicks be healthy enough to be a factor?
The two-time Pro Bowl player hasn't lived up to his contract since joining Tampa Bay before the 2012 season, and time could be running short on his NFL career. There are mixed messages whether the oft-injured Nicks will be healthy enough to be a major contributor this fall. The Bucs' plans for the offensive line rely on his ability to stay present in their plans. That's a question at best, though.
How much will Tedford reveal about his offense before the regular season?
His scheme remains a mystery, and don't count on much to be unveiled before Week 1. A few clues have been dropped: Expect an up-tempo attack, multiple running backs will be used often, etc. Still, much remains to be learned about how Tedford plans to go about his first season as an NFL coach of any kind. This much is known: Tampa Bay can't repeat last year's anemic offensive effort.
Will the Triple Towers live up to the hype?
Eyes will be on Jackson, Evans and Seferian-Jenkins to see if the group can stretch the field as promised. The Bucs sorely need at least one or two options to pair with Jackson to make their passing game beyond a one-threat attack like last year. Evans and Seferian-Jenkins carry promise to provide depth for Tampa Bay's strategy through the air. The faster both rookies mature, the better.
How much will linebacker Lavonte David and defensive tackle Gerald McCoy grow under Smith?
No two returning Bucs players on defense figure to have more to gain by Smith's hire than David and McCoy. Already considered staples of Tampa Bay's defense, both can become larger stars if maximized within Smith's scheme. Smith has been far from shy about sharing his excitement to work with both. Expect David and McCoy to reach another level soon.
Can a Bucs renaissance happen sooner than expected?
It's unfair to expect a playoff berth after all the turmoil and upheaval of 2013. But six victories aren't out of the question, and even seven seem possible. There are concerns about some of Smith's gambles â his bet on McCown and the offensive line overhaul stick out â but face it: It can't get any worse than some of the lowest moments of Schiano's final season. Brighter days appear ahead.