Tampa Bay Buccaneer's Training Camp to-Do List
Football is officially back, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have a lot of questions that need answering before the season starts in September.
New head coach Lovie Smith and general manager Jason Licht turned over nearly half the roster in a matter of months. Now is the time to see if their personnel maneuvers were worth the gamble.
The Bucs face serious dilemmas at guard, defensive end and kick returner. They are also positioned to win now while grooming their quarterback of the future.
Even as the team reports to camp this week, these questions will linger around One Buc Place for weeks to come. Here is the Buccaneers' to-do list heading into training camp.
Sort out the Guard Position
No other position on the Bucs roster has been as uncertain as the guard group. Devising a comprehensive strategy for the interior linemen should be near the top of the Bucs' priorities.
Quite a bit rests on the big toe of Carl Nicks. Though he is medically cleared to play, he did not participate in offseason workouts and wasn't even able to do any light jogging, according to a June report by the Tampa Bay Times' Rick Stroud.
None of these issues were addressed at the start of camp on Thursday as Nicks was excused for personal reasons, per Ira Kaufman of the Tampa Tribune. While his absence could have nothing to do with his health, Nicks' prospects remain in doubt and should not be counted on to contribute to the team.
What remains is a group of rookies, cast-offs and otherwise underwhelming options. Jamon Meredith and Oniel Cousins are the most experienced of the bunch which means little in this group.
Meredith's career with the Bucs is marked with inconsistency. Cousins is on his third NFL team and has been a spot starter his entire career.
Second-year G Patrick Omameh may be the Bucs' best option at guard heading into training camp. He fits the mold of the athletic linemen the Bucs sought to rebuild the offensive line with and already impressed teammates like center Evan Dietrich-Smith with his technique and experience.
The Bucs also acquired rookies Kadeem Edwards and Andrew Miller this offseason. Starting rookies on the offensive line is never ideal but Edwards could push his way to the top of the depth chart.
The one underrated quality the Bucs cannot ignore when testing their guards is chemistry. It's possible that the Bucs will have four new starters on the offensive line. Their ability to mesh and execute offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford's blocking schemes will dictate the offense's chances for success this season.
Find a Starting Left Defensive End
The defensive end position has been a problem for the Bucs since before Jon Gruden was fired as the Bucs' head coach. The signing of DE Michael Johnson finally addressed the right end spot, but the left end position remains a question mark.
The smart money remains on the Bucs' next most experienced defensive end, Adrian Clayborn, to win the left end spot. After injuring his knee in 2012, he returned in 2013 at less than 100 percent but began to regain his lost strength and power as the season wore on.
Clayborn's victory is anything but assured. His chief competition is second-year DE William Gholston. The most athletic of the Bucs' edge-rushers, Gholston flashed late last year and looks the part of a starting defensive end.
The dark horses in this race are Steven Means and Da'Quan Bowers. Means saw very little action in 2013 and still looked pretty raw when he hit the field so this training camp will be vital to his development.
Bowers was handed the starting left end position last year and did nothing with it. He didn't help his chances of regaining the left spot by showing up out of shape to offseason activities for the second year in a row.
Upon arrival at training camp Thursday, Bowers told reporters that he has not yet fulfilled his potential and that "it’s about time I really put forth the effort to be that player I know I’m capable of being," as reported by the Tampa Tribune's Roy Cummings.
The left end battle will likely last through the preseason. The Bucs will use training camp as a launching point for deciding who will get the first-team reps in August.
Improve the Turnover Ratio from 2013
Usually the turnover ratio correlates with a team's record. The Bucs' 10+ turnover ratio during last year's 4-12 debacle presents a rare outlier in this instance.
Last season, the Bucs forced 31 turnovers while giving the ball away 21 times. The defense, particularly linebacker Lavonte David, had a knack for picking off opposing quarterbacks in bunches, illustrated especially well during the Bucs' Week 12 game against the Detroit Lions.
On offense, the running backs made ball security a priority, losing only two fumbles all season. Mike Glennon was also careful with the football, throwing only nine interceptions and losing four fumbles.
The Bucs are already built to keep the ball safe and take it away. The arrival of Lovie Smith can only make it better.
Smith's defenses are turnover machines. While he was head coach of the Chicago Bears, the team finished in the top 10 in takeaways in seven of Smith's nine years in Chicago, even topping the league in 2006 and 2012.
Smith's first year in Chicago was one of the team's down years for forcing turnovers, but that was 10 seasons ago. Smith's experience should hurry along the process of turning the Bucs into a turnover machine.
Similarly, the Bucs offense is comprised of players with a strong history of ball security. Quarterback Josh McCown threw only one interception in eight games last season. Running back Doug Martin has lost only three fumbles in his entire NFL career.
Lovie Smith should be able to merely refine the Bucs' techniques for taking away and taking care of the football. What Smith should challenge his team with is improving the turnover differential.
Find a Kick Returner
The Buccaneers do not have a rich history of great kick or punt returners. Now is as good a time as any to start a new chapter for their special teams.
Last year's kick and punt return numbers were not bad. The Bucs averaged 23.9 and 11.2 yards on kick and punt returns, respectively, both numbers ranking in the top half of the league. However, they failed to score on special teams last year.
Returner Eric Page possesses impressive speed, but he made some questionable choices on some of his returns which often resulted in bad field position for the offense.
Much of the Bucs' offseason was spent adding speedier players, some of which could replace Page returning kicks this year.
A prime candidate to bring some luster to the Bucs' special teams is Olympic sprinter Jeff Demps. His world-class speed could make him a lethal option, but he struggles to stay healthy and has yet to make an impact of any kind on the field.
The Bucs also have a pair of rookies in Robert Herron and Solomon Patton who possess rare quickness that could prove useful avoiding opposing gunners. Neither is an ideal candidate right now as they ought to focus on surviving their first NFL training camp and learning the offensive playbook.
Page remains a viable option, especially with a year's experience under his belt. The biggest drawback for him is the lack of impact he has as a wide receiver. The Bucs may not want to spend a roster spot on a guy who only specializes in returning kicks.
This is another battle that will unfold through training camp and into the preseason. The Bucs are likely to test a variety of options before settling on a returner who they believe will improve their special teams from last season.
Remember Mike Glennon
Josh McCown may be entering Bucs training camp as the opening-day starter, but the worst thing the Bucs can do for their long-term success is forget about QB Mike Glennon.
Initially the signing of McCown looked like the beginning of the end of Glennon's days in Tampa. However, after passing on quarterbacks in the first round of the draft Lovie Smith declared Glennon the Bucs' quarterback of the future.
Barring a miraculous training camp for Glennon, McCown is guaranteed to start under center. His hands will no doubt be full as offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford installs a new offense. Every snap on the practice field will be precious.
Nonetheless Glennon must be given a fair share of work with the first-team. If the Bucs are truly serious about moving forward with Glennon as their future quarterback, they have to begin grooming him now.
Sitting behind McCown should provide Glennon a model of how a true professional handles the quarterback position. At the same time, the rest of the team needs to be attune itself to Glennon and his eventual role of leading the team.
Chemistry is a vital component of an NFL offense and it takes time to cultivate. The Bucs need to start building the trust between Glennon and first-round pick Mike Evans. The offensive line should get an idea of how Glennon makes changes pre-snap.
All of this needs to happen now rather than during the season. Practices during the season should be spent game-planning, not preparing Glennon for his future.
To fulfill Lovie Smith's vision for the Bucs' future, the Bucs have to begin laying the groundwork now. They have to see what Glennon can do with the first team as often as they can, or that future could be very bleak.