5 Positions the Buccaneers Must Still Address Before 2015 Season
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers began the 2015 offseason with a slew of roster needs. Though they addressed a majority of their major gaps, the Bucs still have some upgrades to make.
The Bucs split their efforts in free agency and the draft this year. In free agency, they picked up mostly defensive veterans, including linebacker Bruce Carter, cornerback Sterling Moore and defensive tackle Henry Melton.
During the draft, the Bucs returned to their 2014 strategy and focused on offense, selecting quarterback Jameis Winston and offensive linemen Donovan Smith and Ali Marpet.
All of these players will play major roles in 2015, but the Bucs still could not address every deficiency.
The most glaring remaining roster hole is at defensive end. Though the Bucs traded for DE George Johnson, they do not have a proven starter at either end of the defensive line.
There also are questions at running back and punter. Both positions need upgrades, but finding new viable starters at this point will be a challenge.
The Bucs have significant depth issues, as well, particularly at cornerback and center. There could be surprises at the training camp, but the Bucs should consider veteran free agents, as well.
Here are the five positions the Bucs need to address before the start of the 2015 season.
During the 2015 draft, the Bucs made the choice to invest in their offensive line. In doing so, they left the gaping hole wide open at defensive end.
Last year, the Bucs made a huge mistake signing Cincinnati Bengals DE Michael Johnson. He did nothing to earn the five-year, $43 million contract the Bucs gave him and was cut at the start of free agency this year.
That mistake left the Bucs without any proven starters at defensive end. The Bucs do have talented edge defenders in Jacquies Smith, Will Gholston and the recently acquired Johnson.
However, none of them have ever started for a full season. The group needs a veteran presence to help fill what will likely become a rotation of linemen.
Veterans Osi Umenyiora, Dwight Freeney and Shaun Phillips are long past their primes, but their experience helps them remain effective, even in a limited capacity. Signing one of these elder statesmen would not only bolster the depth but would aid in the development of their younger pass-rushers.
Running back is another position the Bucs overlooked in the 2015 draft. Given the current state of the free-agent pool, the Bucs might be stuck with the ball-carriers already on the roster.
Though considerable blame falls on the offensive line, the running backs were nothing short of terrible last year.
Rookie Charles Sims spent most of the season injured and flashed nothing on the field to justify his third-round selection. Bobby Rainey played tough but did little to impress.
The Bucs don't have many options in free agency. The pool consists of retreads like Chris Johnson, Steven Jackson and Knowshon Moreno.
The one older player who may be of some use to Tampa Bay is RB Pierre Thomas. The former New Orleans Saint can do it all, including pass block, which is a weakness for the Bucs' current running backs.
The Saints spent years trying to upgrade their running backs, but it was always Thomas who emerged as New Orleans' most effective ball-carrier.
For a team with no certain long-term solutions, Thomas might be a good short-term fix in Tampa Bay.
It seems every year, the question about the Bucs' punting situation is opened for debate. It's only a matter of time before the Bucs actually do something about it.
Their punter Michael Koenen is one of the highest-paid punters in the league, earning $3.25 million in 2015 alone, per Over the Cap.
There aren't any experienced alternatives available, but there are undrafted free agents the Bucs could try out, including Scott Arellano. The former BYU Cougars punter averaged 45 yards per punt in 2014 and set a school record with a 81-yard punt last year.
Though the odds are against any inexperienced players supplanting Koenen, the Bucs need to give him more serious competition to not only save some money but improve the punt game, as well.
The Bucs' starting lineup should be set at cornerback. Depth is another matter entirely.
Starting corners Johnthan Banks and Alterraun Verner should show improvement in their third and second season with the Bucs, respectively. Former Dallas Cowboys CB Sterling Moore was a great addition and will likely be the starting nickel corner.
Behind them, however, is a frightening void. The Bucs' cornerback depth chart includes Leonard Johnson, Mike Jenkins and Isaiah Frey, none of whom inspire much confidence.
The Bucs could turn to former Bucs and Baltimore Ravens CB Danny Gorrer, who was on the roster early last year and is familiar with head coach Lovie Smith's defense.
The main question for Gorrer, who signed with Baltimore after Tampa Bay cut him, is the health of his knee that he hurt in early December, landing him on injured reserve. Given his health issues, Gorrer is no better than a backup, but that's exactly what the Bucs need.
Center is another position where the Bucs have a set starter, but the depth is a problem. C Evan Smith is in no danger of losing his job, but the Bucs are not prepared if he does.
Smith has started only one full 16-game season in his seven-season career. An experienced backup is a prudent investment.
The Bucs' current reserve center is Garrett Gilkey, who started one game against Cincinnati last year. His performance was a complete fiasco, earning Gilkey an abysmal minus-7.6 grade from Pro Football Focus due to his inability to pass protect, run block or generally do anything correctly.
Gilkey can't be allowed to fill in for Smith again. If the Bucs are looking for an experienced backup with ties to Lovie Smith, former Chicago Bears C Roberto Garza is available.
The Bears cut Garza in April, but he still "believes he has something to offer," per KGBT 4's Clay Williams. Barring an unforeseen starting gig, Garza could reunite with his former head coach and serve as a more than adequate substitute to Evan Smith.