The 5 Biggest Issues Facing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with OTAs Wrapped
The end of organized team activities (OTAs) marks the beginning of the end of the offseason. Gone are the voluntary workouts and so will be revealed the true progress of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers under head coach Lovie Smith.
OTAs offered but a taste of what is to come from the Bucs this season. They also provided some insight as to the storylines to watch heading into training camp.
Obviously the biggest storylines lay where there is most uncertainty. There are number of positions on the Bucs roster that have yet to be won.
Injuries will also play a prominent role through training camp, as players who can't make it on the field will miss invaluable reps necessary to acclimate to Smith's new schemes.
The Bucs began their mandatory minicamp this week, teasing Bucs fans with the promise of a new era under Smith.
Here are the five biggest issues facing the Buccaneers following OTAs.
What Will the Offensive Line Look Like?
The Bucs' offensive line is a dangerous mix of uncertainty and new faces. With only Demar Dotson returning, the trenches in Tampa will look unlike anything the Bucs have seen in years.
Newcomers Anthony Collins and Evan Dietrich-Smith are entrenched at left tackle and center, respectively. Dietrich-Smith has significant starting experience, but Collins has never started at blindside for a full season.
The Bucs have a real predicament at guard. Carl Nicks still isn't practicing, though he was cleared medically on Monday, per JoeBucsFan.com.
There will be intense competition for starting guard spots. At this point, anyone could start at guard—even a rookie like Kadeem Edwards, who took first team reps at this week's minicamp:
Lovie: Rookie Kadeem Edwards worked with the 1st team at left guard #Bucs— Tom Krasniqi (@TKras) June 10, 2014
The Bucs cannot rely on Nicks to come back healthy. First team reps will be vital for starting guard candidates through training camp.
Who Carries the Rock out of the Backfield
The Bucs' backfield is brimming to capacity.
Big things lay in store for the Bucs running backs—all of them, if Jeff Tedford is to be believed.
That means more work for rookie RB Charles Sims, former Olympian Jeff Demps and last year's holdovers Mike James and Bobby Rainey.
As the current regime's third-round pick, Sims will figure prominently in their plans for the season, especially in third-down situations.
Demps' speed drew raves from Lovie Smith but he may be too small to run between the tackles in the NFL. James and Rainey are more likely to spell Martin in the run game, depending on which of them makes the team.
Who Is the Left Defensive End?
It seems this question is asked every year in Tampa Bay.
The signing of former Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Michael Johnson locked down the right side. While the left side enjoys no such certainty, there are several suitors for the starting spot.
Adrian Clayborn's experience gives him an inside track but his poor showing in 2013 could give way to the athleticism and upside of William Gholston and Steven Means.
The odd man out could be Da'Quan Bowers. According to the Tampa Tribune's Roy Cummings, Bowers arrived to OTAs out of shape yet again.
Bowers could be an elite talent, but "could" is a word that doesn't buy much goodwill in the NFL. This could be reduced to a three-man competition by the time training camp rolls around.
Who Will Be Returning Kicks This Season?
Aside from guard, the most uncertain positions on the Bucs' roster are the kick and punt returner spots.
Lovie Smith told reporters on Wednesday that none of the Bucs have yet made strong impressions at kick returner:
Lovie: Still looking for a KR to separate themselves. No one has done it yet. Won't know until training camp #Bucs— Tom Krasniqi (@TKras) June 11, 2014
One potential option is Jeff Demps, who Lovie Smith calls "the fastest player in the NFL." His speed certainly intrigues, but there's more to returning kicks than speed. Demps will have to demonstrate he can take care of the ball as well.
The Bucs also have wide receiver Eric Page, who returned kicks for the team last season. Page, however, lacks ideal speed and is prone to boneheaded plays that proved costly last season.
Rookies Robert Herron and Solomon Patton should also be in the running given their exceptional speed. Adding kick return duties to learning Jeff Tedford's offense and acclimating to the NFL may be too much of a burden for the young wide receivers.
Clearly this issue will play out through training camp. Bucs fans may have to wait until preseason games to get a glimpse of what the Bucs' return game will look like in 2014.
Which Injuries Will Play a Factor in Training Camp?
Injuries are a part of life in the NFL. They can be devastating to a team during the season, but injuries can have a tremendous impact during the offseason as well.
Carl Nicks' chronic toe problems put a cloud over the entire offensive line. Still unable to practice, Nicks expressed hope during this week's minicamp that he would be ready for training camp:
"My status is on schedule. I’m looking forward to be ready for training camp,'' Nicks said.— Rick Stroud (@NFLSTROUD) June 10, 2014
Veteran safety Dashon Goldson is also hoping he will be ready by training camp, following ankle surgery earlier in the offseason.
Injuries can have the biggest impact on a team's rookies, who need the offseason work to prepare mentally and physically for the rigors of a 16-game NFL season.
WR Mike Evans' hamstring will be under a microscope through training camp and into the preseason. He missed most of OTAs with a hamstring tweak and still is not 100 percent.
Evans was able to make it onto the field at the Bucs' minicamp but was limited to catching drills, according to Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times. His frustration will certainly be shared by Bucs fans if he isn't ready for full participation at training camp.