Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Breaking Down All the New Faces on the 2014 Bucs
The Bucs should have at least nine new starters in 2014, as well as a handful of fresh faces to provide much-needed depth. The starting spots at key positions like quarterback, left tackle, defensive end, center and cornerback will look decidedly different for Tampa Bay this season, which should be good news for a team that went 4-12 in 2013.
Let's take a look at the new additions who are likely to make a significant impact for the Bucs in Lovie Smith's first season as head coach.
DE Michael Johnson
Tampa Bay wasted no time in snatching up Johnson when free agency opened this offseason, signing the former Bengal to a five-year contract worth more than $43 million. He saw his sack numbers drop from 11.5 in 2012 to just 3.5 last season, but many believe the Bengals' defensive scheme was to blame for his lack of production.
A third-round pick in 2009, Johnson should team up with defensive tackle Gerald McCoy to give the Bucs a dynamic pass-rushing presence both inside and outside. Getting pressure with the front four is vital to the success of Lovie Smith's Tampa 2 defense, so Johnson will have to play a major role.
QB Josh McCown
Despite Mike Glennon's fairly impressive rookie campaign in 2013, the Bucs' new regime brought in veteran Josh McCown to be the new starting quarterback.
The 34-year-old took over for the injured Jay Cutler last season, throwing 13 touchdown passes to just one interception before signing a two-year deal with the Bucs in free agency. Despite his age, McCown doesn't have a lot of starting experience, making just 38 starts over his 12-year NFL career.
Much of his success in 2013 was attributed to his pair of big, physical receivers in Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, and it looks like he'll have a similar combo to work with in Tampa with Vincent Jackson and first-round pick Mike Evans.
Praised already during workouts for his leadership ability, McCown will hopefully provide the Bucs with some stability at the game's most crucial position.
OT Anthony Collins
The Bucs jettisoned Donald Penn, who had started 108 straight games at left tackle, replacing him with free agent Anthony Collins.
The former Bengal signed a five-year contract worth $30 million, with $15 million in guaranteed money. Though he's never started more than seven games in a season, Collins started the final six games for the Bengals in 2013, playing 673 snaps without allowing a sack.
He will be one of perhaps three new starters on the offensive line, which makes the development of chemistry vital over the offseason workouts and heading into training camp. For a unit that struggled to play up to expectations over the past few seasons, Collins and some other new faces should be an encouraging sight for Bucs fans.
CB Alterraun Verner
When Lovie Smith became the new head coach, it felt like only a matter of time before Darrelle Revis and his $16-million-per-year salary were out the door. Indeed, Revis Island was sent packing, and the Bucs found a more economical option who fits the Tampa 2 scheme better in Pro Bowler Alterraun Verner.
A fourth-round pick out of UCLA in 2010, he already has 47 starts under his belt despite being just 25 years old. The former Tennessee Titan made his first Pro Bowl appearance last season after grabbing five interceptions and allowing the third-lowest QB rating among NFL cornerbacks.
He may not be the elite cover man that Revis is, but he's younger, cheaper and a better fit for the new scheme. Considering the free-agent contracts signed by fellow corners Sam Shields and Brent Gimes, the Bucs got a bargain in Verner.
C Evan Dietrich-Smith
Tampa Bay traded away last year's starting center Jeremy Zuttah and replaced him with former Green Bay Packer Evan Dietrich-Smith in free agency.
Though he instantly plugs in as the Bucs' starting center, his experience at the guard position gives him valuable versatility. Ranked by Pro Football Focus as the league's 14th-best center, as opposed to the 25th-ranked Zuttah, Dietrich-Smith helped pave the way for a Green Bay rushing attack that ran for more than 2,000 yards last season.
This should be a huge upgrade for an offensive line unit that has struggled with injuries and underperformance. Dietrich-Smith will have to anchor an interior that is lacking in stability at the guard position, which makes his presence that much more vital.
DT Clinton McDonald
It never hurts to have a player who can flash a fresh Super Bowl ring around the locker room. The Bucs brought in that player via free agency in Clinton McDonald, who should start opposite Gerald McCoy at defensive tackle.
A rotational player in the Seahawks' dominant defensive front, McDonald signed a four-year deal with the Bucs worth $12 million. A seventh-round pick by the Bengals in 2009, the former Memphis Tiger has already drawn emphatic praise from new defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, bringing leadership and a balanced skill set to a Tampa Bay defense that must create pressure with its front four.
New defensive line coach Joe Cullen plans to build a strong rotation on the defensive front, and McDonald will be a key component at the point of attack.
CB Mike Jenkins
A local standout at USF, Mike Jenkins returns to play his home games at Raymond James Stadium once again as a member of the Bucs.
A former first-round pick of the Dallas Cowboys, Jenkins comes to the Bucs on a one-year deal after spending last season with the Oakland Raiders. Born in Germany, the 29-year-old cover man has fought through injuries in the past but has started at least 12 games in each of his five seasons in the NFL. He snatched a career-high five interceptions in 2009.
He will fight with second-year man Johnthan Banks for the starting role opposite Alterraun Verner, but no matter who wins the job, Jenkins' presence gives the Bucs valuable depth at the position. In a division with gunslingers like Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Cam Newton, that depth will be important.
TE Brandon Myers
One of many new faces who will be catching passes in pewter and red this season, Brandon Myers was one of the first free agents signed by the Bucs this offseason.
The Iowa product signed a two-year deal with Tampa Bay after spending a year with the New York Giants. Myers' best season came in 2012 when he hauled in 79 passes for 806 yards and four touchdowns as a member of the Oakland Raiders.
He will compete for playing time with Tim Wright, who was arguably the most pleasant surprise in last year's offense, and rookie second-round pick Austin Seferian-Jenkins. Don't be surprised if Myers ends up third in that pecking order, even though he's still likely to get plenty of quality snaps.
WR Louis Murphy
A local standout at Lakewood High School in nearby St. Petersburg, Louis Murphy joined his hometown team on a one-year deal this offseason after spending all six of his previous NFL seasons with the Oakland Raiders.
The former Florida Gator has appeared in 71 NFL games with 24 starts and was a fourth-round draft pick in 2009. So far in his career, he has tallied 121 receptions for 1,744 yards and eight touchdowns, with his best stretch of numbers coming over his first two seasons in Oakland.
Murphy has already drawn high praise from head coach Lovie Smith and should be the Bucs' first option to spell either Vincent Jackson or Mike Evans on the outside. His speed, hardworking mentality and veteran experience will be put to good use by Tampa Bay in 2014.
LB Dane Fletcher
After losing both Adam Hayward and Dekoda Watson in free agency, the Bucs addressed their depth at linebacker by signing former New England Patriot Dane Fletcher.
According to Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times, Fletcher was reportedly in the Salt Lake City airport waiting to make his connecting flight to visit with the Oakland Raiders when the Bucs called and agreed to terms with him over the phone. He would instead turn around and head to the NFC South.
Not only did losing Hayward and Watson hurt the depth at linebacker, but it also left them without two of their best, most consistent performers on special teams. Fletcher excels in that area and should make an instant impact while playing behind the returning starter at strong-side linebacker, Jonathan Casillas.
WR Mike Evans
One-half of what new general manager Jason Licht calls the "twin towers," Mike Evans was selected with the seventh overall pick in last month's NFL draft.
The Texas A&M product will line up across from Vincent Jackson, which gives Josh McCown two targets to throw to that closely resemble the pair the quarterback had in Chicago last year in Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery. Even in the nation's toughest conference, Evans proved to be a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses on a weekly basis, using his size, hands and leaping ability to abuse smaller defensive backs.
Evans will start from Day 1 and be counted on to make an instant impact in an offense that was the worst in the NFL last season. Though he's been slowed by a hamstring injury during the latest round of workouts, fans should expect big things from him once training camp rolls around.
TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins
In addition to Mike Evans, the Bucs added another massive weapon to the passing game, drafting Austin Seferian-Jenkins in the second round of last month's draft.
At 6'5" and nearly 270 pounds, he boasts a rare blend of size and athleticism at the tight end position. Combined with his superb hands, the Washington product uses his frame and receiving skills to create serious matchup problems for opposing defenses. He also uses his size effectively as an in-line blocker, which should keep him on the field for all three downs.
With Seferian-Jenkins joining Evans and Vincent Jackson, the Bucs have surrounded new quarterback Josh McCown with plenty of weapons to succeed. Though he'll need to fully recover from an offseason foot injury, "ASJ" should be heard from early and often in his rookie season.
RB Charles Sims
Despite already having a fully stocked backfield, the Bucs spent the 69th overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft on West Virginia's Charles Sims.
A transfer from Houston, he was named the Big 12's Offensive Newcomer of the Year after amassing nearly 1,500 total yards in 2013. Possessing great quickness and vision as a runner, he is effective between the tackles but also has enough speed to take it to the house.
Sims should jump right into the No. 2 spot on the running back depth chart as Doug Martin's change-of-pace replacement, vaulting ahead of Mike James and Bobby Rainey. Whether it's by ground or air, expect to see the rookie heavily involved in the Bucs offense in 2014.
G Kadeem Edwards
The Bucs were expected to address their need at guard in the 2014 NFL draft, but nobody expected that they would wait until the fifth round to do it.
However, it looks like they could end up with a potential starter in Tennessee State's Kadeem Edwards. The small-school standout has done nothing but impress during offseason workouts, and he's made it clear that he has his sights set on a starting job.
With Carl Nicks still working to return from a toe injury, Edwards has made the most of his opportunity so far, working his way up to taking first-team reps recently. Even if Nicks can return to 100 percent this season, don't be shocked if Edwards makes a good number of starts in 2014 to become one of the team's best values from this year's draft.
OT Kevin Pamphile
After taking Kadeem Edwards at the top of the fifth round, the Bucs weren't done addressing the offensive line in the 2014 NFL draft, trading up just a few picks later to take Purdue's Kevin Pamphile.
A former defensive lineman who only played one year of high school football, he made the switch to the offensive side of the ball, starting 21 games at tackle for the Boilermakers. He also brings versatility to the table with the ability to possibly play guard, which is vital for a unit that has struggled with depth in the face of injuries.
The Bucs made an aggressive move to go up and get Pamphile, so there's obviously something special there for the team. He's not the most experienced player, but he could have loads of untapped potential just waiting to show through.
WR Robert Herron
In arguably one of the best steals of the entire draft, the Bucs landed a speedy slot receiver in the sixth round with Wyoming's Robert Herron.
Despite impressing scouts with a stellar performance during Senior Bowl week, the undersized but quick Herron fell to the Bucs at the 185th overall pick. A player who has overcome his share of hardships off the field, Herron continued his strong offseason by proving to the Bucs' new coaching staff that he could be ready to start in the slot immediately, thanks to his speed, quickness and ability to create separation.
The team could also take advantage of his speed on special teams, having already worked him in as part of the rotation as a return specialist. But no matter his impact on the return game, Herron looks to have the inside track to be the first option from the slot.
Considering that he'll be surrounded by the likes of Vincent Jackson, Mike Evans and Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Herron could have plenty of room to work, both over the middle and down the field.