Tampa Bay Buccaneers: What We've Learned Through Week 3 of Preseason
After undergoing a massive overhaul this offseason, much ado was made about the potential for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to make a quick turnaround in 2014.
With General Manager Jason Licht and coach Lovie Smith running the ship, the Bucs added big-ticket free agents Michael Johnson and Anthony Collins, brought in a new starting quarterback in Josh McCown and drafted playmakers like Mike Evans and Austin Seferian-Jenkins to bolster the passing game.
But now that training camp is over and the Bucs have three preseason games under their collective belt, has this new-look team lived up to the early expectations? Is Mike Evans the downfield weapon he was advertised to be? Has Gerald McCoy looked worthy of the Warren Sapp comparisons? What areas still need a huge improvement before the regular season starts?
Let's take a look at what we've learned about the re-branded Pewter Pirates so far this preseason.
Gerald McCoy Is an Absolute Monster
It didn't take long after Lovie Smith's hiring before the comparisons began: Is Gerald McCoy the new Warren Sapp in the return of the Tampa 2 defense?
So far this preseason, McCoy has answered those comparisons with dominant performances. The two-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle has basically set up camp in opposing backfields for the entire preseason, making an impact as both a pass-rusher and run-stuffer.
The unquestioned leader of the defense, McCoy has tallied multiple stops behind the line of scrimmage, including a strip-sack against Miami that was scooped up by Michael Johnson, setting up a quick touchdown drive.
McCoy had already shown flashes of his lofty potential before this season, but he looks poised to take his NFL career to the next level under Smith. After watching his play so far this preseason, it's not a stretch to expect McCoy to challenge for NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2014.
Offensive Line Is Still the Biggest Question Mark
Heading into training camp, the Bucs' biggest concern on paper was the offensive line. After a complete rebuild in the offseason, questions about depth, chemistry and overall talent level at guard were hovering over this unit.
Those concerns have proved to be valid, as the group has struggled for most of the preseason. Tampa Bay's offense has yet to go over 100 yards rushing in any of its three preseason games, and the team's struggled in pass protection, though that area has already begun to show some improvement.
The starting unit has shown progress from the opening preseason game, but the lack of quality depth has shown when the reserves are sent into action. The Bucs suffered multiple injuries on the offensive line last year, and so far, this unit has shown that type of situation could be catastrophic for the entire offense.
The Bucs have the weapons on offense to do some serious damage this season, but it won't happen unless the offensive line steps up its performance.
Mike Evans Can Make an Immediate Impact
The Bucs headed into the 2014 draft in need of serious help at wide receiver. Many fans wanted the team to trade up for Clemson's Sammy Watkins, but after he went to the Bills, Tampa Bay grabbed Johnny Manziel's favorite target, Mike Evans.
Evans had already drawn favorable comparisons to the Bucs' Vincent Jackson, and the two look even more alike now that they're lining up in the same offense.
Evans has already begun to flash the big-play ability that made him a top-10 pick, nearly scoring on a 42-yard catch-and-run against Miami, then toasting his defender on a double-move for a 24-yard touchdown against the Bills—a game in which Watkins couldn't participate due to a rib injury.
There's still plenty of areas where Evans needs to refine his game, but he's already showing why the Bucs thought so highly of him on draft day. As he continues to polish his skill set under the tutelage of Jackson, Evans should become a dangerous weapon in Tampa Bay's offense for years to come.
Depth Is Still a Big Issue
Tampa Bay's starters on defense have looked impressive, and the offense has made strides over three preseason games. But once the reserves have entered the game, it has shown that depth is still a major concern for this team as it heads toward the regular season.
Injuries haven't helped the situation, as the Bucs have been missing key backups Mike Jenkins and Rashaan Melvin at cornerback, and a carousel of injuries has hampered the defensive line.
Even so, this drop-off in effectiveness once the starters are on the bench shows that Tampa Bay isn't a team that can afford many injuries, and a loss at a number of positions could spell catastrophe for the Bucs.
As cut days approach, the roster will get even thinner for the Bucs. Fans will be hoping that the final 53 who stick around can up their game and stay healthy enough to provide the team enough depth to survive any injuries. Also, don't be shocked to see the Bucs add a few new faces to the mix as other teams make their cuts in the coming weeks.
You Can Never Have Too Many Good Running Backs
Heading into training camp, running back was arguably the deepest position group on Tampa Bay's roster, to the point where many fans were clamoring for the team to trade a runner for help on the offensive line.
But in the span of one week, multiple injuries have proven how vital depth can be at the running back position.
Rookie third-rounder Charles Sims suffered an ankle injury during practice that required surgery, putting the young runner out for the next 12-14 weeks. Just days later against Miami, Mike James suffered a shoulder injury that could keep him out for an extended amount of time.
These injuries have quickly turned one of the Bucs' deepest positions into a fairly thin one for the time being. Doug Martin remains the "bell cow" starter, while Bobby Rainey and speedster Jeff Demps are the only other healthy tailbacks currently on the roster.
Depending on the timetable for James' return, the Bucs might end up having to add a back to what was once thought to be an overstocked stable.