5 Buccaneers Players Who Should See Their Roles Expand in 2014
If NFL free agency had a slogan, it would be "next man up."
The arrival of head coach Lovie Smith tolled the bell for many Tampa Bay Buccaneers on the roster in 2013. Not only would some players find themselves without jobs under the new Bucs regime, but also other Bucs would be competing for playing time as Smith and his staff evaluate the roster.
The Bucs' roster transformation culled the team of several veteran starters like Darrelle Revis, Donald Penn and Davin Joseph.
While the team added high-profile free agents like defensive end Michael Johnson, cornerback Alterraun Verner and center Evan Dietrich-Smith, there have been indications of expanded roles for players already on the roster.
Some players have bigger roles to play after unexpectedly impressive performances in 2013. Others possess skill sets better suited for the scheme Smith will deploy in 2014.
The following five players are primed to play greater roles for the Buccaneers in 2014. This list will only address players who were Buccaneers last season.
Safety Keith Tandy
Keith Tandy is a prime example of a player whose skill set will engender a bigger role for him going forward.
Drafted by the Bucs in 2012, Tandy has seen time playing safety and cornerback. As Tandy lacks the natural athleticism to shadow wide receivers at cornerback, his coverage instincts were often utilized deep as a safety.
The Bucs have a serious problem of finding the right fit at safety. Starters Mark Barron and Dashon Goldson are both missiles with legs, ideal for playing in the box.
However, in today's NFL, the kind of jarring hits Goldson would like to make lead to $500,000 in fines and potential suspensions.
Neither Goldson nor Barron are strong in coverage. That weakness burned the Buccaneers in several games where one or both were out of position in coverage, leading to a long pass play by the opposition.
In his limited playing time, Tandy proved to be more disciplined with his assignments and often in a better position to make plays on the ball than Goldson, who often served as the Bucs' center fielder in coverage.
With Smith taking over the defense, the safety position becomes even more vital. He runs a lot of zone coverage, both Cover 2 and Cover 3.
If Goldson and Barron's coverage skills don't improve, Tandy will be forced to take a much larger role in preventing deep receptions and providing help for cornerbacks over the top.
Tight End Tim Wright
Some players come out of nowhere to be vital pieces of a football team's success. Tim Wright had to be called a tight end to finally make his move.
The Bucs moved Wright to tight end shortly after acquiring him last offseason. The injuries to Luke Stocker and Tom Crabtree forced Wright into the starting spot.
He eventually stuck as the starter as the team came to realize how valuable Wright was in the pass game. Quarterback Mike Glennon often relied on Wright on third down and in the red zone.
Wright finished the season with 54 receptions for 571 yards and five touchdowns in just eight starts. His sure hands and clean routes are certain to generate an insistence that he plays a bigger role in 2014.
The problem is, Wright is not really a tight end. He stands at 6'3" and weighs a paltry 220 pounds. When used as a blocker, Wright was railroaded by much larger defensive ends.
Given his value in the pass game, Wright will compete with newly acquired tight end Brandon Myers for a chance to start.
However, the Bucs may find it wiser to move Wright back to wide receiver and play him from the slot, relieving him of the futile burden of in-line blocking.
Running Back Jeff Demps
There aren't many NFL teams with an Olympic track star on the roster. The Bucs, however, have Jeff Demps.
Demps earned a silver medal as a member of the U.S. relay team at the 2012 London Olympic Games. Obviously, he's fast.
Demps' speed intrigues Smith, who said, "I've never had a chance to coach the fastest guy in the NFL."
Speed is a premium commodity in the NFL. Though Demps is undersized, his speed makes him an asset at running back, wide receiver and as a returner.
The Bucs are not a fast team. None of their wide receivers can beat defensive backs with their speed. The running backs have burst and quickness but not speed.
Demps brings a new dimension to the Bucs offense that Smith is obviously excited to exploit.
Running Back Mike James
The Bucs discovered they possessed a well of effective running backs last season, after Doug Martin went down with a shoulder injury. Mike James was on the verge of breaking out when he suffered his own season-ending ankle injury.
Many NFL teams have moved away from using a single "bell cow" running back and more toward splitting carries to save on wear and tear.
Offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford looks to spread the love in the Bucs run game. James will play a big role in those plans.
James isn't a speed back, but like Martin he runs with burst and is a natural tackle-breaker. Though he finished last season on injured reserve, he was also a rookie and should develop his game even more.
Guard Carl Nicks
Wait, isn't Carl Nicks a starter? He might be penciled in at the top of the depth chart, but he needs to be able to actually play to be called a starter.
Nicks played in only two games last season due to his toe injury and complications from the MRSA outbreak that plagued the Bucs' locker room.
When healthy, Nicks is one of the best guards in the league. Since joining the Bucs, Nicks has been anything but healthy.
Despite his injury-marred history since becoming a Buc, Nicks survived this offseason's purge of last season's offensive line. The Bucs must have some belief that Nicks still has a part to play going forward.