2016 was a season filled with plenty of positives for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They went over .500 finishing 9-7 record while Jameis Winston spent another year developing and learning the Offense. Unfortunately all of this was not enough to clinch a playoff berth, however, things look different heading into 2017.
The Bucs have loaded up on talent on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball. Winston has playmakers who Tampa Bay will hope, should fire them in the play offs. Sadly, the rest of the division also looks to have improved from a poor showing last season. The NFC South looks set to be competitive in 2017, bad news for Bucs fans. The Buccaneers made headlines this offseason after releasing former second round pick Roberto Aguayo. Now that the Aguayo saga is behind the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the team have moved forward with Nick Folk as their Kicker – the end of Kicker talk for the time being!
Jamies Winston has two 4,000 yard seasons under his belt but has many problems with turning the ball over. Last year he threw 18 interceptions and fumbled the ball 10 times. The talent is there but needs pressure taken off his shoulders, he is at times forced into doing too much. Talent was added in the offseason and the NFL Draft giving Winston more weapons, I expect to see a big improvement on offense. They lost quarterback Mike Glennon in the offseason but signed Ryan Fitzpatrick as a good backup option.
Mike Evans will look to continue his growth as a receiver and is the best wide receiver on the team and a top-3 in the NFL. He is now joined by a new addition from free agency: DeSean Jackson. Jackson, becoming a free agent after his tenure with the Redskins, now offers the team more speed on offense. He also offers the flexibility to play inside in the slot. Tampa also drafted wide receiver Chris Godwin, a player I think can be a starter in the near future for the team. Although tight end Cameron Brate was a favourite target for Jamies Winston in the redzone, the Buccaneers got themselves a major redzone target in rookie O.J. Howard from Alabama. The first round pick O.J. Howard is 6-foot-6, 251 lbs and boasts long arms. The combination of his height and length makes it very difficult to defend any ball that’s high pointed. You could see some “12 personnel” packages used in the passing game and in the redzone.
If you want to help your quarterback in the NFL, then you want to give him a running game. Doug Martin seems to be back in the right way this offseason and the Buccaneers seem confident in him. Unfortunately they will be without Martin for the first three game due to a suspension from last season. The Buccaneers resigned Jacquizz Rodgers to a multi-year contract who could start but rookie Jeremy McNichols has impressed. McNichols is showing he is a complete back (run, receive, block) which goes a long way towards playing time.
The Buccaneers didn’t do anything to address their offensive line this offseason but that’s because they’ll be getting J.R. Sweezy back. Sweezy is a veteran but also has playoff experience. Ali Marpet will move from guard to center hoping to get the best five guys on the field. From left to right, you’re likely to see this as the offensive line: Donovan Smith (LT), Kevin Pamphile (LG), Ali Marpet (C), J.R. Sweezy (RG) and Demar Dotson (RT).
The Buccaneers ran a 4-3 defense and played a lot of zone coverage last year. This looks set to change this year to a more man-coverage based system as they become increasing comfortable with the talent in their secondary. Defensive Coordinator Mike Smith will hope to have his defense continue the form they showed towards the end of last season. It looks like the players are buying into the scheme and the defense should see an improvement this season. The addition of Chris Baker on the defensive line makes them stronger up front and should pair up nicely with Gerald McCoy. DE Will Gholston was given a 5-year extension and on the other side of the line you’ll have Robert Ayers starting. I expect Noah Spence to make a bigger impact this year with his natural pass rushing ability.
The Buccaneers strong linebacking corps will continue to be a strength of this team in 2017. Kwon Alexander at ‘Mike’ and Lavonte David at ‘Will’ linebacker will see majority of snaps in base and nickel formations. The ‘Sam’ linebacker spot could see some competition. 2016 sixth round pick Devante Bond gets the early nod but this year’s third round pick Kendell Beckwith has been good so far and is pushing for the starting job.
The secondary was a little up and down last season. Brent Grimes had a very good season but opposite was Vernon Hargreaves with an inconsistent season. Hargreaves should see improvement this year in his second NFL season. Ryan Smith provides depth but also versatility as he can play both cornerback and safety. The Buccaneers were 5th in the NFL for snaps in zone coverage but this may change this year with Hargreaves entering a second season and Grimes already a veteran in the league. Mike Smith will likely be more comfortable for his players to play man coverage and jam at the line of scrimmage.
The two starting safeties are Chris Conte and Keith Tandy. The Buccaneers were notably better when Tandy was able to stay on the field. With injury issues, the Buccaneers signed free agent safety J.J. Wilcox who was at Dallas. A backup in Dallas, Wilcox played a lot better in a part-time role at both strong and free safety. Rookie Justin Evans was a hard hitter in college and provides good depth around the box but missed tackles in college was a big issue and will need to work on this.
Players to Watch
O.J. Howard – Rookie tight ends don’t usually have big seasons and he might not see the field too much other than possibly passing downs or the red zone. Why he is a player to watch is because he will be fun to watch as he will be a mismatch no matter who covers him. 6-foot-6 and long arms is difficult to cover.
DeSean Jackson – He’s always a threat, especially with his speed but I can see a big season from him. A lot of attention will be on Mike Evans from defenses which could leave Jackson in some one-on-one opportunities.
Chris Baker – Defensive tackles who usually line up as a nose or 1-technique don’t usually get the flashy highlights but I expect he will make a difference. He can free up room for Gerald McCoy but also improve the run game which wasn’t the best last season.
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