The 5 Biggest Storylines Heading into Buccaneers Training Camp
As training camps around the league inch closer with each passing day, the realization that the NFL offseason is all but over with begins to sink in.
Free agency, which has largely come and gone, as well as the NFL draft, bring about a flood of new faces and jersey numbers for fans to memorize.
Such is certainly the case for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who, for the second year in a row, have had a very busy offseason that includes the signing of two prominent defensive backs and the selection of multiple high-potential prospects, several of which may see significant playing time this season.
Not to mention, the Bucs are coming off a promising 2012 campaign and there is a definite buzz surrounding the team, the likes of which hasn't been seen in some time.
With the influx of new faces, coupled with raised expectations, there are numerous storylines worth keeping an eye on once camp begins on Thursday, July 25.
Depth in the Secondary
The ineptitude of last season's pass defense has been well-chronicled and discussed at length by fans and media alike.
Although, that is to be expected when, collectively, the unit in question allowed a league-worst 297.4 passing yards per game.
All told, nine times last season the Bucs allowed opposing quarterbacks to throw for more than 300 yards in a game, including two instances where they allowed more than 400 passing yards in a game.
Is it fair to place the blame solely on the shoulders of the secondary? Of course not. They were a young, relatively inexperienced group that were being led by relatively young, inexperienced coaches, none of which tends to lend itself to success.
Oh, and it's not as if the defensive line was exactly making quarterbacks uncomfortable in the pocket, either.
Yet, in spite of the recent trade of Eric Wright, who was sent to the San Francisco 49ers late Friday afternoon, the addition of two All-Pro defensive backs in safety Dashon Goldson and cornerback Darrelle Revis, as well as drafting another defensive back in Johnthan Banks shows the Bucs have done their part to field a deeper, more competitive secondary in 2013.
Josh Freeman and Greg Schiano
While the offseason spotlight has been largely fixated on No. 24, Darrelle Revis, beneath the surface there has been a rumbling concerning head coach Greg Schiano and quarterback Josh Freeman.
Most of it stems from comments Schiano made at the end of the 2012 season when he insinuated that Freeman's standing as the starting QB was potentially in question heading into the 2013 season.
It also didn't help that Schiano and the Bucs decided to draft QB Mike Glennon in the third round (No. 73 overall) of April's draft, despite the obvious need to address other positions, notably along the defensive line.
Schiano has since gone on to clarify his initial statement, telling the NFL Network in a televised interview, "We've only got one (quarterback), it's Josh Freeman...we're looking forward to big things. Josh is going to have a big year."
For what it's worth, I never put much stock in Schiano's "competition" comment to begin with, mainly because I knew once he and his staff had an opportunity to sit down and look back at the season in its entirety, they would realize Freeman is actually one of the least of their concerns.
That said, it's sure to be something observers will be keeping a close eye on.
Darrelle Revis' Knee
In a move that was widely anticipated around the league throughout the early offseason, the Bucs traded two draft picks—a first and a conditional fourth—to the New York Jets in exchange for cornerback Darrelle Revis.
Revis, who was entering the final year of his contract with the Jets, was in the midst of rehabbing a torn knee ligament suffered early last season in a game against the Miami Dolphins when news of the trade broke.
By landing Revis, the Bucs signaled to their fans—and the league—that they were serious about turning around their once-dominant defense.
However, they were hedging their bets on the health of a knee. Although, as of right now, it appears as though the Bucs made the right move at the right time.
If Revis can come back and perform at even a fraction of his previous ability, it would be an immediate upgrade over everyone else at the position on the roster.
The 2012 Buccaneers draft class has the potential to go down as one of their greatest in team history, rivaling that of the famed '95 class that included defensive tackle Warren Sapp and linebacker Derrick Brooks, both of whom were selected in the first round.
Safety Mark Barron (No. 7 overall), running back Doug Martin (No. 31 overall) and linebacker Lavonte David (No. 58 overall) all played pivotal roles as rookies last season and will be expected to not only carry over their relative success to 2013, but build upon it as well.
Last season, Martin combined for 1,926 total yards of offense and 12 touchdowns. His importance to the success of the club in 2013 and beyond is without question.
Likewise, David was the heart and soul of a young Bucs defense, racking up a team-high 139 combined tackles to go along with two sacks and an interception. Furthermore, the fact that the Bucs entrusted him with the defensive headset speaks volumes to his leadership abilities.
Barron, meanwhile, showed flashes, or glimpses if you will, of how good he can be, but really seemed to struggle more than Martin or David.
That's not to say he played poorly, but rather, that he didn't perform with nearly the same consistency as the other two. However, Barron more than made his presence felt on a few occasions by delivering a handful of vicious hits on opposing players.
So what does this all mean?
For the Bucs to be successful in 2013, they will need their top-three picks of the 2012 draft class to continue to develop into the great players they are all capable of becoming.
In other words, they need to avoid any sort of sophomore slump.
The Search for a Pass Rush
As I alluded to earlier, the Bucs' issues with pass defense stems not only from their inability to cover receivers in the secondary, but also from a lack of consistent pressure applied to opposing quarterbacks.
Defensive end Adrian Clayborn is expected back after missing the final 13 games of the season in 2012 with a torn knee ligament sustained in Week 3 versus Dallas.
Clayborn tallied 7.5 sacks as a rookie in 2011 and the Bucs are hopeful that he, along with fellow end Da'Quan Bowers, are able to stay healthy enough to contribute towards increasing their sack totals, something that would surely benefit a seemingly improved secondary.
For their part, the Bucs addressed this weakness by drafting defensive tackle Akeem Spence and defensive ends William Gholston and Steven Means in the fourth and fifth rounds, respectively, in the hopes of adding linemen who are capable of generating pressure and bolstering depth up front.
J.J. Rodriguez can be reached via e-mail at BRJJRodriguez@gmail.com