For the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, this past offseason was a time of a secondary makeover … and for good reason. The Bucs were porous against the pass last season, allowing an average of 297.4 yards per game, an NFL-high.
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Enter cornerback Darrelle Revis, formerly of the New York Jets. Welcome safety Dashon Goldson, formerly of the San Francisco 49ers. Allow introductions for Johnthan Banks, a promising cornerback drafted 43rd overall from Mississippi State.
Yes, there is plenty of intrigue on defense, but the Bucs’ offense will have areas to watch as well. Most of that interest will come in tracking quarterback Josh Freeman. The fifth-year pro enters his largest season to date without a playoff berth to his name. He has much to prove among many.
Here’s a look at how the Bucs shape up with training camp starting Thursday:
— CB Johnthan Banks (second round, Mississippi State) figures to be a favorite to start opposite four-time Pro Bowl player Darrelle Revis, now that troubled Eric Wright is out of the picture after the Bucs released him Monday following a failed physical with the San Francisco 49ers. Coach Greg Schiano and general manager Mark Dominik are high on Banks’ character and potential. Banks, the 2012 Jim Thorpe Award winner, must show awareness early, because he likely will be a popular target for offenses looking to work away from Revis.
— QB Mike Glennon (third, N.C. State) is a large pocket presence with a 6-foot-6, 232-pound frame. Some viewed his selection, 73rd overall, as an indictment on starter Josh Freeman, but it became clear in offseason workouts that Freeman is the more-polished presence who gives the Bucs a better chance to win. Glennon should add valuable depth as a backup, though.
— DT Akeem Spence (fourth, Illinois) could become a starter at nose tackle, a spot left open after Roy Miller signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars in the offseason. At 6-1, 307 pounds, he has the body to become an effective run-stopping presence.
— DE William Gholston (fourth, Michigan State) has a large figure on the edge at 6-7, 278 pounds. The cousin of former first-round bust Vernon Gholston (formerly of the New York Jets), William should receive time to grow behind Adrian Clayborn and Da’Quan Bowers.
— DE Steven Means (fifth, Buffalo) is an intrigue to the Bucs because of his speed and pass-rushing ability. He had five blocked kicks in college, so expect him to receive special teams looks.
— RB Mike James (sixth, Miami) could become the No. 2 option behind Doug Martin. Schiano and Dominik like his humble, grounded personality, and Martin praised James’ willingness to learn in the offseason.
Comers and goers
— CB Darrelle Revis (last of New York Jets) is the headliner of the Bucs’ attempt to correct the NFL’s worst pass defense from last season. The three-time All-Pro worked to the side in offseason drills when rehabbing his left knee (ACL), but Schiano has said he expects Revis to be on the field “in some capacity” during training camp.
— S Dashon Goldson (San Francisco) is a physical secondary presence who has a combined nine interceptions the past two years. Appropriately nicknamed “The Hawk,” his aggressive approach should be an asset for a pass defense that lacked bite last season.
— K Lawrence Tynes (New York Giants) will slide into the placekicking role after Connor Barth tore his right Achilles during a charity basketball game in North Carolina earlier this month. A nine-year veteran, Tynes was a Pro Bowl first alternate last season, but Barth’s absence will be felt after he made field goals of 57 and 55 yards in 2012.
— TE Tom Crabtree (Green Bay) could compete with Luke Stocker for the No. 1 tight end role, previously held by Dallas Clark. Stocker figures to be the favorite, though.
— WR Kevin Ogletree (Dallas) will add depth to a wide-receiving corps that includes Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams as the top options. Ogletree had 730 yards receiving in four seasons with the Cowboys.
— DT Derek Landri (Philadelphia) should compete with Spence and Gary Gibson for the open nose tackle spot left vacant with Miller’s departure. He started a combined 23 games the past three seasons as part of the Eagles and Carolina Panthers.
— LB Jonathan Casillas (New Orleans) should compete with Adam Hayward and Dekoda Watson for the strongside linebacker spot left open with Quincy Black’s departure. Casillas had 94 tackles and three sacks in three seasons with the Saints.
DE Michael Bennett (Seattle), OT Jeremy Trueblood (Washington), CB E.J. Biggers (Washington), DT Roy Miller (Jacksonville), LB Quincy Black (released, unsigned), TE Dallas Clark (unsigned), CB Brandon McDonald (unsigned), RB D.J. Ware (released, unsigned), CB Eric Wright (released, unsigned), WR Sammie Stroughter (unsigned), WR Roscoe Parrish (unsigned).
— Will the revamped secondary be as good as the Bucs hope? This is the big-money question that will go a long way in determining if Tampa Bay can compete in the NFC South with division favorites, the Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints. Revis looked healthy when working to the side during offseason drills, but the true test will come in live action. Goldson brings an attitude that could rub off on young players like safety Mark Barron and Banks. Speaking of Banks, Wright’s departure likely means he will be introduced into pressure situations early, possibly working opposite Revis come Week 1. Dominik made aggressive offseason moves to correct a glaring weakness. The Bucs’ new-look secondary looks good on paper, but it remains to be seen if that potential will lead to production.
— How will Revis’ knee look in live action? Early returns are good, as the Bucs have made careful moves to ensure that their most significant offseason investment will be ready for a Week 1 matchup against the Jets. Still, Revis’ injury was clearly serious, and the question, “Will he be the Revis of old?” is a fair one until more is learned about how he reacts in game-like situations. Even with Revis’ reputation, this is somewhat of a gamble by Dominik, and the general manager’s reputation is tied to how Revis works out with Tampa Bay.
— How will Glennon’s presence affect Freeman? Freeman enters a contract year with a hot-and-cold reputation among many in the Bay Area. He has said he is not worried about his future as the Bucs’ answer behind center, but Glennon’s addition could serve as inspiration of sorts to elevate his performance in the most important season of his professional career. Despite Schiano’s clear preference for competition at all positions, including quarterback, the coach has joined Dominik in saying this is Freeman’s team. Unless Freeman becomes injured or struggles mightily, he will be given a chance to lead the Bucs to the playoffs for the first time since the 2007 season.
— With Black’s absence, who will become the starting strongside linebacker? This could be the most interesting position battle to follow in training camp and beyond. The release of Black means Hayward, Watson and Casillas likely will compete for the open spot, and each offers pluses. Hayward, a seven-year player, brings veteran experience. Watson’s speed could be a strong asset at the position. Casillas has starting experience with the Saints. Expect a tight competition to play out in the coming weeks.
— Will Martin have another 1,400-plus-yard rushing season? The Bucs were wise to trade back into the first round to snag Martin with the 31st pick in 2012. What will he do with a year of experience behind him? He finished fifth in the league in rushing with 1,454 yards and 11 touchdowns on 319 carries. It will be interesting to see how the return of guards Carl Nicks and Davin Joseph, both injured for parts of last season, could affect Martin’s production. Expect Martin to receive plenty of looks as a pass-catching option as well, a year after he had 49 receptions for 472 yards and one touchdown.