OPEN CAMP: July 28, One Buccaneer Place, Tampa, Florida.
LAST YEAR: Jameis Winston led team to first winning record in six years, topping 4,000 yards passing for second straight season. But three-game improvement, made possible by defense that played better as year progressed, wasn’t enough to land club’s first playoff berth since 2007. Mike Evans had 96 receptions for 1,321 yards and 12 touchdowns, especially impressive considering absence of consistent running game with Doug Martin sidelined much of year because of injuries and suspension for violating NFL’s policy on performance enhancers.
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IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: WR DeSean Jackson, DE Chris Baker, rookie TE O.J. Howard, rookie S Justin Evans, QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, K Nick Folk, rookie WR Chris Godwin, S J.J. Wilcox.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: QB Mike Glennon, WR Russell Shepard, TE Brandon Myers, RT Gosder Cherilus, DT Akeem Spence, LB Daryl Smith, CB Alterraun Verner, S Bradley McDougald.
CAMP NEEDS: Additions of Jackson, Howard and Godwin give Winston three more playmakers in offense striving to become more explosive. Top priority in camp figures to be ensuring defense that got better in 2016 continues on that path. First step was retaining coordinator Mike Smith, former Atlanta coach who turned down opportunities for other vacancies last winter. One of more intriguing battles will be Folk vs. Roberto Aguayo, 2016 second-round draft pick who’s struggled to make transition from outstanding college performer to reliable pro kicker.
EXPECTATIONS: After flirting with playoff berth in Winston’s second season, anything short of contending for NFC South title and ending franchise’s nine-year postseason drought will be major disappointment. Protection of young quarterback should be better with Ali Marpet shifting from right guard to center to make room for J.R. Sweezy, who returns from back surgery that sidelined him last season. Speedy Jackson gives Winston deep threat to go with Evans, who figures to attract more single coverage because of attention Jackson will command. Defensive leader Gerald McCoy is one of NFL’s best tackles, but has never been part of playoff team. Entering eighth season, with supporting cast that includes Baker, Lavonte David, Kwon Alexander, Robert Ayers, Noah Spence, Brent Grimes and Vernon Hargreaves III, pressure is mounting on five-time Pro Bowl selection to help Winston get Bucs into postseason.
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