Fact or Fiction for Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Biggest Offseason Question Marks
Tampa Bay had plenty of needs to fill on both sides of the ball, from attempting yet another overhaul of the offensive line to spending the top overall pick on a new franchise quarterback. Throw in depth issues at multiple positions and the perpetual need to improve its pass rush, and there was plenty of work for the front office to do this offseason.
With free agency and the draft in the rearview mirror, as well as organized team activities and its first mandatory minicamp, Tampa Bay now has a much clearer picture of how it has addressed those areas of need, for better or worse.
Did the Buccaneers improve their depth across the board? Is their backup quarterback more valuable as a bargaining chip? Do they have a weakness in the offensive backfield?
Let's separate fact from fiction when it comes to how the Bucs have addressed their biggest question marks as we look forward to training camp.
Fact: Offensive Line Still a Mystery
Last offseason, the Bucs completely revamped their offensive line, replacing four of five starters in an effort to improve one of the least inspiring units in the entire league.
But despite their efforts, the group struggled again in 2014, both in pass protection and in the run game. Mental errors and penalties proved costly all year long, and the offense failed to find a rhythm in large part because it couldn't win the battle up front.
This time around, the Bucs looked to upgrade the offensive line through the draft rather than bringing in veterans through free agency or via trade. They spent the 34th overall pick on Penn State's Donovan Smith, then traded back into the bottom of the second round to grab small-school standout Ali Marpet.
The Bucs are likely hoping Smith can start right away at left tackle, but that's a tall order for any rookie. They also have a gaping hole at right guard, and while Marpet has the natural talent to be an upgrade there, he may not be ready to handle the speed of the NFL game as a Week 1 starter.
Demar Dotson is likely returning to his right tackle spot amid tension over a potential contract extension, while Logan Mankins has turned heads during offseason workouts by appearing to take on a leadership role, according to Buccaneers.com's Scott Smith. Veteran Evan Smith returns at center, hoping to play up to the expectations he fell well short of last season.
If Mankins and Smith can turn in bounce-back seasons and the rookies can progress quickly, this unit could make some big strides in the right direction this year. But those are pretty big "ifs" at this point, making this a huge question mark for yet another offseason.
Fiction: Stable of Running Backs Is Weak
Heading into last year's draft, there weren't many positions on the Bucs roster that could have been called strengths, but one of their deeper units was in the offensive backfield.
Doug Martin, Bobby Rainey and Mike James gave Tampa Bay a stable of young runners who could contribute effectively on all three downs. Even so, the Bucs spent the 69th overall pick in the 2014 draft on Charles Sims, an explosive back who also excelled as a receiver out of the backfield in college.
Martin and Sims were slowed by injuries last season, but though the entire backfield had a lackluster year, much of it could be attributed to a struggling offensive line and the abrupt departure of offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford.
Fast-forward to this offseason, and it seems many fans see running back as a weak position on the Bucs roster despite the fact they return all of the same backs that made the group seem like a strength last offseason. Throw in a fully healthy Sims, and Tampa Bay has an even stronger backfield this time around.
Fact: Little Improvement to the Pass Rush
As much as the Bucs needed to address the offensive line this offseason, they had just as much reason to focus on improving their pass rush, which managed only 36 sacks in 2014, tied for 21st in the NFL.
After Michael Johnson tallied just four sacks last year, the Bucs cut him despite having signed him to a lucrative contract in free agency prior to the season. His performance also appeared to make the team gun-shy about making a similar move this offseason, so free agency came and went without the Bucs bringing in any of the big names to help address one of their biggest needs.
The most impactful move they made at the position was trading for George Johnson, a former Buc who notched the first six sacks of his NFL career as a situational rusher for the Detroit Lions in 2014.
Johnson figures to start opposite Jacquies Smith, who racked up 6.5 sacks over the final eight games last season, but that still leaves the Bucs with two starters who don't have much of a track record of consistent success getting after the quarterback.
They still lack ideal depth at the position as well, and they surprised many by not spending a single draft pick at the position despite an incredibly deep class this year.
Generating consistent pressure with the front four is vital to the success of the Tampa 2 defense, but it looks like Tampa Bay might have a tough time doing that again this year unless some of last year's contributors make a huge jump in production.
Fiction: Mike Glennon Is Trade Bait
For the second offseason in a row, many fans and analysts alike expected the Bucs to trade Mike Glennon, a young quarterback who had yet to set the world on fire but turned in some solid performances over his two NFL seasons.
A third-round pick in 2013 out of North Carolina State, Glennon replaced Josh Freeman as the starting quarterback in Week 4 of his rookie season, throwing 19 touchdowns and nine interceptions in his first year. Despite the strong performance, the Bucs signed journeyman Josh McCown last offseason and handed him the starting job.
Glennon clearly outplayed McCown when the latter missed five starts with an injury to his throwing hand, but they still handed the reins back to the veteran for the remainder of the season, which saw them end up with the league's worst record.
McCown was released right after the season ended, but with the Bucs setting their sights on a new franchise quarterback with the No. 1 overall pick, many expected them to find the best possible deal to move Glennon to a team desperate for help at quarterback.
Despite whatever trade value the Bucs could have gotten in return, they're wise to have kept a young quarterback with a solid amount of starting experience and success at the NFL level to back up their prized possession in Jameis Winston. If for some reason there's an injury or Glennon is forced into action, they'll be glad they held onto him.
Fact: Depth Across the Board Is Much Improved
The best teams in the NFL don't just win with elite talent at certain positions. They do it by building strong depth across the entire roster, allowing them to deal with the injuries and other challenges presented by the long grind of an NFL season.
That was a big need for the Bucs this offseason, and they made plenty of moves to head in the right direction in that department. It began with their more economical approach to free agency, where they made sensible moves instead of throwing tons of money at some of the top names on the market, a strategy that has backfired on them multiple times over the past few years.
The additions of Henry Melton, Sterling Moore and Chris Conte in free agency got the movement started, while claiming the likes of D.J. Swearinger and Tim Wright off waivers continued to bolster the overall strength of the roster. Throw in draft picks like Kwon Alexander at linebacker and Kenny Bell and Kaelin Clay at wide receiver, and the Bucs are looking at a much deeper group at those positions, as well.
Injuries are inevitable every year in the NFL, and a strong two-deep is essential to building a roster that can eventually go far into the playoffs. The Bucs might not be there yet, but this offseason was certainly a step in the right direction.