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2014 NFL Preview: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

by Photo of Sam Cohen

We talk to Bucs Nation’s Sander Philipse about what to expect from the new-look Buccaneers

2014 NFL Preview: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

In this article…

While the 2013 Tampa Bay Buccaneers could not have asked for a worse season, the 2014 Bucs have a lot to look forward to. Last year, Tampa Bay went 4-12 in a season that saw running back Doug Martin play six games before suffering a torn labrum, quarterback Josh Freeman getting benched and subsequently released, head coach Greg Schiano facing criticism from players and fans alike before getting fired after the season, and much more.

During the offseason, the Bucs made it clear that they did not plan to be the joke of the league for much longer. Well-respected coach Lovie Smith was hired to replace Schiano and with him came new offensive and defensive coordinators as well as a new general manager. The team didn't stop there. Quarterback Josh McCown, who had a fine season in Chicago last year, was signed to help lead this team and he has a much-improved offensive line in front of him. Additionally, the team drafted three extremely talented offensive weapons in Mike Evans, Austin Seferian-Jenkins, and Charles Sims.

On defense, the team made massive changes. While star cornerback Darrelle Revis was cut, the team signed another elite corner in Alterraun Verner, as well as a great defensive end in Michael Johnson. The new-look Bucs will certainly be a lot better this season and to help break down all of the changes that were made as well as what this season holds for Tampa Bay, we talked to Sander Philipse of Bucs Nation.

The Bucs had a great offseason, signing many big-named free agents. Out of all of the new additions, which one do you believe was the best signing?

Most of those signings were surprisingly good, at least from a value perspective. Perhaps Alterraun Verner's signing was the best marriage of value and quality, but the one key signing would be Michael Johnson. The Bucs haven't had a double-digit sack artist since Simeon Rice back in 2005. But those edge rushers are absolutely crucial in Lovie Smith's scheme. Johnson isn't the best pass rusher in the NFL and he struggled in sack production (but not pressure) in 2013, but he's a crucial piece for the Bucs. Without someone like him, this scheme would collapse.

One of the players they signed this off-season was Josh McCown. He is entrenched the starter, so what should fans expect from a 35-year-old quarterback who has been a career backup? Also, what does this mean for young quarterback Mike Glennon's future?

Josh McCown will be a caretaker this season. No one's expecting him to put up the All-Pro numbers he produced in limited time last season, and the Bucs will look to run their offense through the running game, complemented by a quick passing game. Ideally, he won't be asked to win games by himself -- just to manage the offense as best he can.

As for Mike Glennon, the Bucs continue to praise him and call him their quarterback of the future. This seems genuine, especially given the fact that they didn't bring in competition for Glennon's spot as a backup, but that doesn't mean they won't do so in the future. Obviously they're not convinced he's a great player right now, or he'd be starting. Still, for now it looks like he'll sit and learn behind McCown, and if he continues to develop he'll be the team's long-term starter eventually.

The team also brought in a new head coach in Lovie Smith, a new defensive coordinator in Leslie Frazier, and a new offensive coordinator in Jeff Tedford. How are the offensive and defensive schemes that these three coaches are installing different from the schemes that Buccaneers ran last year?

Last year's defensive scheme revolved around a heavy amount of blitzing, a priority on stopping the run, a mixture of 4-3 and 3-4 principles on the defensive line, lots of movement pre- and post-snap, and an incredible amount of communication errors. That changes this year. The Bucs are going back to the Tampa 2 philosophy: rush four, play conservative coverage, force the opponent to play mistake-free football throughout a drive. That doesn't mean Cover 2 on all or even a majority of plays, as Lovie Smith and Leslie Frazier will implement plenty of man coverage concepts, Cover 3, and blitzes. But philosophically, the scheme focuses on rushing the passer over stopping the run, and taking away the big play.

On offense, we don't really know much about Jeff Tedford's offense yet. We do know it'll be different from last year's offense, which tried to run the ball and throw it deep from fairly static formations and personnel groupings. Tedford is much more varied. He'll still emphasize the run, but he will be multiple in terms of formations and personnel groups. He'll emphasize a quick passing game, rather than constant deep shots, and he'll try to get his speediest players in space. His scheme is more about giving playmakers the room to work rather than trying to force the quarterback to do most of the work.

Doug Martin had a breakout rookie year, but struggled last season before tearing his labrum. What should we expect from Martin this season?

Something closer to his rookie season, with fewer carries. The Bucs want to run a committee backfield, with Martin in the lead. He'll still get the majority of the carries, but Charles Sims, Bobby Rainey and Mike James will get their share, too. You'll see fewer catches than he had as a rookie, too, with Sims likely being the team's primary third-down back.

One positive note: he's dropped his fat percentage and looks leaner, faster and more agile in training camp this year. We hear stories like that every year, of course, but he has less of a bowling-ball look than he did in the past.

The team had a great draft, taking three guys that I believe could be game-changing players in the NFL in Mike Evans, Austin Seferian-Jenkins, and Charles Sims. Which rookie do you believe will have the biggest impact in his first year?

That has to be Evans, if only because he'll be an unchallenged starter. Seferian-Jenkins and Sims will both have to fight for snaps, while Evans will almost certainly start opposite Vincent Jackson. He's coming from a simple college offense into a much more complicated and versatile scheme, which may limit his early impact, but his size and ability to make contested catches should allow him to be productive regardless of how well he understands the nuances of the game.

Which player do you expect to breakout this season?

I'm going to go with Mark Barron. The third-year safety has oodles of talent, and has shown flashes and fairly consistent play in the past, but he hasn't risen past being a solid safety. That's going to change this year: he's having a stellar training camp, especially improving in deep coverage, and he'll be a standout as a John Lynch-style box safety in Lovie Smith's scheme.

What are your predictions for the 2014 Buccaneers? Do you think they will be able to keep up in a very solid NFC South?

The Bucs will likely finish second in the NFC South, behind the New Orleans Saints. They'll be right in the thick of the battle for a wild card, but it'll be a close contest. They'll do all of that on the back of a dominant defense fueled by Gerald McCoy and Lavonte David. The offense is more of a question mark, though.

For more from Sander, make sure to check out his articles on Bucs Nation, as well as Bucs Nation on Facebook and @Bucs_Nation on twitter.

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