Tampa Bay Buccaneers Bound to Break out in 2014
As pathetic as the Buccaneers were at the end of the 2013 season, there were glimmers of hope that this team could be much better than what they were this past season.
It became clear that they possess elite players at all three levels of defense. Greatness was expected from former third overall draft pick Gerald McCoy and the best cornerback in the NFL, Darrelle Revis.
However, what was surprising was the rapid ascension of linebacker Lavonte David. In just his second season, he looked like the heir apparent to soon-to-be Hall of Famer Derrick Brooks.
David owned every field he stepped foot on, notching six sacks, 15 passes defensed, five interceptions and three forced fumbles. He is one of the surest tacklers in the NFL and can spoil an offensive play as well as any player in the NFL.
He also represents the potential for any NFL player to break out and become a vital contributor to his team.
Though the Bucs struggled on both sides of the ball in 2013, the roster teems with latent talent. Some players flashed their potential over the last season but simply could not sustain their success. Others suffered a down year and are due for a resurgence.
2014 holds the promise for more Bucs to prove their value. Here are the five Buccaneers who are bound to break out in 2014.
TE Tim Wright
It could be argued that tight end Tim Wright already broke out in 2013. Catching 54 passes for 571 yards and five touchdowns, he proved to be the Bucs' best tight end and a reliable target for quarterback Mike Glennon.
But he may only be getting warmed up.
The second-year player out of Rutgers joined the Bucs in 2013 as an undrafted free agent. They converted him from wide receiver to tight end prior to the preseason.
The Bucs went into the 2013 season with a precarious tight end situation. Luke Stocker has never been anything but unremarkable, and former Green Bay Packer Tom Crabtree was known more for his blocking than his receiving.
Wright didn't see much action early but started making a name for himself midway through the season, not long after Glennon became the starting quarterback.
There's obvious chemistry between Wright and Glennon. Wright composed his much of his resume by becoming the QB's third-down insurance policy.
If Glennon returns as the starting quarterback on opening day, expect his rapport with Wright to develop even more—to the point where Wright becomes a fixture on the offense.
The only way he won't have a big season is if the coaching staff insists on having Wright block on a regular basis. At less than 230 pounds, he is a glorified slot receiver.
While the new coaching staff could coach up his technique, his blocking skills have nowhere to go but up. There's a real danger that at his size and with his lack of technique, he could be subject to injury if he's forced into extensive blocking duties.
The Bucs need to keep him doing what he did best in 2013: catching the football. With a little faith, Wright could become a key piece to the Bucs' new offense.
DE Adrian Clayborn
Defensive end Adrian Clayborn is an enigma. Is he the mauling pass-rusher who picked up 7.5 sacks in his rookie year or the lost, ineffective player he became in 2013?
He falls in that category of players who are due for a comeback. After a knee injury ended his 2012 season just two games in, he came back slowly and without the same explosiveness he exhibited as a rookie.
It didn't help that his opportunities to actually get to the quarterback were diminished by Greg Schiano and former defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan's extensive stunting. Too often, Clayborn had to run a lap in and around the line of scrimmage to get to the quarterback.
After watching him from the start of the season to the finish, I can say it's clear that he was getting some of his explosiveness back as the season concluded.
Where he was a good second late getting off the snap through the midpoint of the season, he started jumping off the ball and initiating contact with more violence in the last few games.
He entered the offseason healthy and can spend time working on his conditioning and strength rather than rehabilitation. He will also have a superior coaching staff that has a history of assembling effective and productive defensive lines.
This will be Clayborn's last opportunity to prove his worth to the Bucs as he becomes a free agent in 2015. Entering a contract year should only further motivate him to unleash his full potential.
OT Demar Dotson
The legacy of Mark Dominik lives on in Demar Dotson. Few Bucs exemplify the virtues of the former general manager so much as the right tackle.
Dotson played only one year of college football at Southern Miss before he was picked up by the Buccaneers in 2009 as an undrafted free agent. An obvious project, it took the Bucs three years to develop Dotson into a starter on the offensive line.
Like left tackle Donald Penn, Dotson was scouted by Dominik and picked up after the draft. If Dominik had one key impact as a talent evaluator for the Bucs, it was his ability to find quality offensive tackles without spending premium draft picks on them. Dominik also signed Dotson to a team-friendly four-year contract worth $7.5 million in 2013.
Though uneven in 2012, he became the model of consistency on the offensive line in 2013. Pro Football Focus (subscription required) graded Dotson as the second-best right tackle in the league.
The second-best right tackle? Sounds like Dotson broke out already, right?
The problem is that one good year does not qualify a player as breaking out. 2013 could have been a fluke, and the Bucs could be in for a rough 2014 if consistency becomes an issue for Dotson.
With one more year of strong pass blocking and improvement with his run blocking, Dotson can establish himself as a cornerstone of the offense.
CB Johnthan Banks
It can be a tall order to play cornerback alongside Darrelle Revis. It automatically assures the quarterback will be throwing the ball to the side opposite of the NFL's premier shutdown corner.
As the bookend to Revis, second-year cornerback Johnthan Banks is a busy man on game day. The immediate question for the Bucs is: Will he rise to the challenge or leave the secondary wanting?
He had his fair share of growing pains in 2013. He fell for double moves, played coverage too softly at times and misdiagnosed a number of key plays. See the first Atlanta Falcons game and the San Francisco 49ers game for gut-wrenching examples.
Rookie struggles are not uncommon among cornerbacks. It typically takes a few years for defensive backs to develop the necessary skills to compete in the NFL.
With a year of hard-learned lessons under his hat, Banks will be better equipped to exploit the opportunities that are afforded to him by Revis Island. He will also continue to grow under Revis' tutelage and grow as a man and press corner.
He will also be able to play more to his strengths in zone coverage. While he's likely to play in a variety of coverages, the Tampa 2 will return as a cornerstone of the defense. The Bucs defense is likely to blitz less, leaving Banks in fewer man-coverage situations.
The key for him is to continue his maturation and avoid injury. He's clearly talented, and it should only be a matter of time before he proves his worth.
RB Mike James
The loss of Doug Martin looked like the final nail in the coffin of the Bucs offense in 2013. Little did the team know it had a legitimate talent just waiting to be the next player up in Mike James.
Expectations were low for him after he was drafted by the Bucs in 2013. His collegiate career at Miami was not terribly distinguished, and he did not appear to be the most gifted athlete.
The run offense was near nonexistent thanks to the subpar play of the offensive line. Every running back who ran for Tampa was doomed to meeting an opposing defender somewhere near the line of scrimmage.
James pretty much came out of nowhere when he tore through the vaunted Seattle Seahawks defense, rushing 28 times for 158 yards and scoring a passing touchdown.
He demonstrated exceptional vision and body control, even if he wasn't the fastest guy on the field. He managed to do all this while working with what little space the offensive line gave him.
Unfortunately, he suffered a season-ending ankle fracture the following week at Miami. There is no telling how successful he would have been had he remained healthy through the end of the season.
Even though Martin is due back as the starting running back, James may still get an opportunity to break out. While Greg Schiano liked to deploy a single bell cow to run the ball, new offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford wants to install a two- or three-back system to take advantage of player matchups, according to Roy Cummings of The Tampa Tribune.
Expect to see James running and catching the ball out of the backfield. He has steady hands and good balance, which helps him pick up those extra couple of yards.
He isn't the same level of talent as Martin, but having another running back who can squeeze plays out of the field before him can only help the offense to grind out yards on the ground.