Before you become too comfortable with summer’s pleasures, realize this fact: Tampa Bay Buccaneers training camp is less than a month away. Soon, beach days will give way to the gridiron grind. Before long, new coach Lovie Smith’s vision will gain more focus.
Almost everything about these Bucs seems different. There’s the new coach. There are the new uniforms. There’s the significant roster turnover.
Will a different result follow in the win-loss column?
It’s hard to gain a telling read of what this team will look like come September. There are questions on both sides of the ball, especially with the offense, which will be led by coordinator Jeff Tedford, a first-time NFL coach. But this much is clear: The change in attitude throughout One Buc Place has been noticeable since the transformation’s start in January.
Here’s a look back at the Bucs’ offseason, with an eye toward the start of training camp:
BEST OFFSEASON MOVE
Lovie Smith’s hire
No debate here. Smith’s arrival to replace Greg Schiano brought instant credibility to a franchise in need of a strong leader on the sidelines. More than anything, Bucs fans needed a reason to believe in the direction of a team that had become lost during the failed Schiano and Raheem Morris eras.
Time will show if Smith has the acumen to lift Tampa Bay to the playoffs for the first time since the 2007 season. But here’s guessing he will achieve the goal sooner rather than later. His history says as much. He owns a valuable awareness for Tampa Bay after serving as the Bucs’ linebackers coach from 1996-2000, and his time leading the Chicago Bears from 2004-2012 (an 81-63 record with three playoff appearances) hints at future success. A fan base that needs reason to be eager again hopes similar results come their way.
How will the Bucs’ offense do?
There was no larger mystery throughout the Bucs’ offseason. Tedford, California’s head coach from 2002 to 2012, must show that he can make the transition from the college game to the professional level. The temptation will be there to compare him to Chip Kelly, another former Pac-12 Conference coach who made the leap to the NFL and earned instant credibility by guiding the Philadelphia Eagles to the NFC East title last season. But Tedford must step out of Kelly’s shadow and become his own man at the game’s most elite level.
Expect to see an up-tempo attack. Expect to see multiple running backs used. Expect to see an upgrade over a unit that ranked last in total offense last season (277 yards per game). But how much of an upgrade will it be? The mystery remains, and don’t expect anything more than vanilla to be revealed throughout training camp and the preseason.
MOST SIGNIFICANT GAIN
Michael Johnson, defensive end
The Bucs need a threat from the edge, plain and simple. Defensive ends Adrian Clayborn and Da’Quan Bowers weren’t getting the job done, so it was smart of Smith to lure Johnson to Tampa Bay in free agency. The five-year veteran has 26 1/2 sacks, his career-high coming in 2012, when he had 11 1/2.
There are some questions that come with Johnson, though. He only had 3 1/2 sacks last season, his fewest since totaling a career-low 2 1/2 in 2010. In Smith’s scheme, the defensive line must create pressure. Johnson must become a centerpiece of the Bucs’ re-tooled defensive attack.
MOST SIGNIFICANT LOSS
Darrelle Revis, cornerback
The move to let go Revis was understood because of financial reasons, but it’s still tough to stomach losing a five-time Pro Bowl player. Signing Revis before last season, at the time, was a reason for optimism leading into the final year of the Schiano/Mark Dominik era.
But Revis’ injured left knee obviously affected his play — or at least the strategy of how to use him — and Bucs fans should watch Revis with the New England Patriots this fall and wonder, "What if?" It’s fair to assume Smith would have figured out a way to use the three-time All-Pro, even if Smith’s preference for zone coverage stands in contrast to Revis’ lockdown man-to-man skills. But given Revis’ unwillingness to restructure his deal and the Bucs’ bevy of needs elsewhere, it’s best that both sides moved on.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR IN TRAINING CAMP
— How will Carl Nicks look? … The oft-injured guard was a rare site around One Buc Place in the offseason. He has played in just nine games for Tampa Bay since he arrived before the 2012 season, and the Bucs’ offensive line remains a question going into the fall.
— Is Mike Glennon truly the quarterback of the future? … Picture this scenario: Quarterback Josh McCown, Smith’s presumed starter for Week 1, struggles throughout the early part of the season. Will the coach feel compelled to start Glennon Era Part 2 sooner than expected? Smith has given Glennon quite the endorsement. Glennon must show he has the mental stamina to be Tampa Bay’s answer behind center one day.
— How soon will the defense take on Smith’s personality? … Smith arrives with a respectable defensive acumen, and if all goes well, linebacker Lavonte David and defensive tackle Gerald McCoy should be stars under their new leader. It will be fascinating to watch Smith mold this defense. How soon does the evolution occur?
TRAINING CAMP DATES
Twelve public practices will run from July 25-Aug. 14 at One Buc Place in Tampa.