5 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Poised for Breakout Campaigns in 2014
There's a new sheriff in town, and he's bringing a host of new deputies and a new attitude with him.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are starting a new chapter following the unceremonious end of the Greg Schiano era. Former Chicago Bears head coach Lovie Smith looks to return the Bucs to their Tampa 2 defensive roots and winning ways.
While the Bucs have spent the offseason reloading their offense, the defense stands to benefit most from the change of regime. While with Chicago, Smith put consistently stout defenses on the field.
The defense also benefits from greater experience and established talent like defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and linebacker Lavonte David.
There are a number of players primed for breakout seasons in Tampa. Most have been with the team prior to this year and should benefit from Smith's coaching and defensive schemes.
Here are the five Buccaneers ready to take the next step in their careers and help Smith bring the Bucs back to prominence.
Second-year cornerback Johnthan Banks has as much to gain from Lovie Smith's system as any player on the Bucs' roster.
As a rookie, Banks struggled mightily. Playing opposite Darrelle Revis earned Banks no reprieve. Instead, quarterbacks frequently targeted Banks, who was left out to dry in man coverage.
With an improved pass rush and better coaching overall, Banks should enjoy a marked improvement in play. He has the size, speed and ball skills to excel in the Tampa 2.
Not unlike wide receivers, cornerbacks typically need a maturation period in the NFL. With one rough year under his belt, Banks should be ready for a big season.
Despite being the first player taken by the Bucs in the 2012 draft, safety Mark Barron is arguably the third-best player the Bucs drafted that year.
Though Barron's athleticism is undeniable, he hasn't quite put it all together on the football field.
His tackling is a little too reminiscent of teammate Dashon Goldson's, and coverage was never his forte.
The apparent lack of discipline in Barron's play should begin turning around during training camp, as Jenna Laine of Sports Talk Florida reports that he isn't expected to hit the field until then:
Leslie Frazier said Mark Barron and Dashon Goldson aren't expected to be ready for minicamp next week. Hopeful they'll be back for camp.— JennaLaineBucs (@JennaLaineBucs) June 3, 2014
Laine writes that Barron is recovering from an "an unspecified injury that already forced him to miss voluntary minicamp."
He may not be able to get the on-field tutelage he needs until camp, but he can still learn Smith's system and begin adapting his own game to Smith's proven schematics.
This pick is pretty obvious, but so is wide receiver Mike Evans' talent.
Expectations are high for the Bucs' 2014 first-round pick. Given his situation, it may not be out of order to say Evans is a front-runner for Offensive Rookie of the Year.
NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah seems to agree:
My WAY too early pick for offensive rookie of the year: TB WR Mike Evans— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) May 31, 2014
With fantastic size and solid hands, Evans compares favorably to fellow Bucs WR Vincent Jackson. Defenses may have a very difficult time focusing on both Jackson and Evans.
Evans also has veteran quarterback Josh McCown throwing to him. McCown was given the starting spot due in no small part to his work in Chicago last year, spelling an injured Jay Cutler in impressive fashion.
McCown has had recent success throwing to big targets in Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery. With Jackson also in the mix, Evans is set up for a big year.
There are few Buccaneers with as much riding on the 2014 season as middle linebacker Mason Foster.
Entering his fourth season as a pro, Foster has yet to establish himself as the future at the middle linebacker position in Tampa. The ups and downs the Bucs have endured over the past three years precluded players like Foster from growing into their roles on the team.
In an early but decisive move, The Bay Cave reports that Smith will return play-calling duties to Foster. Lavonte David had assumed these responsibilities of late, but Foster was the defensive signal-caller in his rookie year.
Quarterbacking the defense legitimizes Foster's position as middle linebacker in Smith's Tampa 2 defense.
This vote of confidence both hails Foster's abilities to run Lovie's defense and challenges him to invoke the quality of Brian Urlacher.
Smith has coached some of the best middle linebackers the NFL has ever seen. His trust in Foster strongly suggests he could be ready to join those ranks.
The Bucs may not have another position as chaotic as the left defensive end spot.
While former Cincinnati Bengal Michael Johnson has the right side locked down, the left end is totally up for grabs.
Adrian Clayborn is certainly a front-runner, if only for his experience. Da'Quan Bowers and Steven Means also have a shot at winning the starting spot.
However, it looks as though second-year DE William Gholston could be the answer the Bucs have been searching for on the left side.
According to former NFL scout Greg Gabriel of the National Football Post, "Gholston has the physical traits to be a star." Gabriel suggests that, under Smith and defensive line coach Joe Cullen, Gholston has the tools to become a special player.
There is no question Gholston is an impressive physical specimen. His athleticism alone should earn him significant playing time.
If he can make big strides in his development this year, he could be in line to be the full-time starter at the left end position.