The Tampa Bay Buccaneers kick off the 2015 NFL regular season against the Tennessee Titans at Raymond James Stadium on Sept. 13. Following a pathetic season in which they only won 2 games, the Buccaneers hope that number one overall pick Jameis Winston can right the ship.
Unfortunately, while Winston should be a talented player, along with being a potential rookie of the year candidate, a shaky offensive line that allowed 13 sacks in the first three preseason games will not assist in the rookie quarterback’s growth. Compounding on that issue is the injury to right tackle Demar Dotson; it will keep him out of action for the beginning of the regular season, meaning the one area where consistency is the most important for cohesion, the offensive line, will be in flux during the year.
However, if the offensive line performs better than expected, the rest of the offense has the talent to be a solid unit. Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans return as a dynamic wide receiver duo, providing both the size and speed that will force opposing defensive backs to be almost perfect every play. Evans, coming off a 1,051 yard rookie season, should make more progress and can easily be considered one of the best young wide receivers in the league.
For the running backs, if Doug Martin can shake the injury bug and return to his 2012 form, the Bucs will have another dangerous weapon. He gained almost 1,500 yards in that season, playing in all 16 games. Unfortnately, injuries have damaged his viability, limiting him to 17 of the 32 possible games in the last two seasons, during which he ran for a combined 950 yards.
Defensively, the Bucs should be better after a second full offseason of head coach Lovie Smith’s Tampa 2 defense. The Tampa 2, developed by Smith, famed defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin and legendary coach Tony Dungy, found its home again last season in Tampa, as it was brought to existence during Dungy’s run as head coach, in 1996.
The strength of the defense is the defensive line, anchored by three time Pro-Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy. Combined with Jacques Smith, Clinton McDonald and George Johnson, the defensive line should be a benefit to the team, possibly keeping them in games that they would otherwise be getting crushed in.
The weakness of the defense is in the secondary. Alterraun Verner and Johnathan Banks are serviceable cornerbacks, but nothing special. Safeties Major Wright and Bradley McDougald are placeholders, at best, returning from last season in which they only started a combined 12 games.
Overall, the Buccaneers have improved from last season but they are nowhere near ready to compete for the playoffs yet. If the offensive line produces well above expectations, and a healthy Martin running the ball like his rookie year, the offense can be talented. If the secondary makes more strides than projected, the defense can be a scary monster.
The ifs are too large to ignore, and the league is too talented for the ifs to overcome. Expect another long, losing season in which the Bucs finish last in the NFC South, close to the bottom of the league.