To say the 2013 edition of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had a tough year would be a severe understatement. The Bucs finished with a 4-12 record, were marred in controversy all season regarding then coach Greg Schiano all this while the team had suffered a shoulder to their best offensive player in Doug Martin. Then, there was the continuing regression of quarterback, Josh Freeman, which led to his release and the subsequent insertion of rookie Mike Glennon at quarterback to finish the season.
When glancing at the offseason moves made by the Bucs such as bringing in Lovie Smith and quarterback guru, Jeff Tedford, or the signing of Josh McCown, the expectations are much higher. The team even changed their logo and uniforms, albeit for the worse. From purely a talent standpoint, the Bucs can compete, but they need to find consistency at quarterback and their secondary, as talented as they are, must play better than last season, including the safety duo of Mark Barron and Dashon Goldson. Enough waiting and posturing, I now present to you, the Good, The Bad, and the Ugly for the 2014 Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The Good: The Return of Lovie Smith and The Tampa 2 Defense
Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks and John Lynch were quintessential to the Bucs defense and the effectiveness of the Cover 2 or Tampa 2 as coined by former defensive coordinator, Monte Kiffin. It was the great equalizer for many of their teams that were routinely ranked in the bottom of the league offensively.
Lovie Smith was a linebacker coach for the Buccaneers between 1996 and 2000. He coached under Tony Dungy who is a disciple of the original 'Cover 2' from his playing days with the 1970's Pittsburgh Steelers. The late Chuck Noll and Bud Carson originated this defense to take advantage of the speed of the Steeler defenders, while also mitigating big plays by having fewer personnel needed to cover the deep halves.
The best Cover 2 defenses excelled on the defensive line with the likes of Sapp, Mean Joe Green and Julius Peppers. Because there is very little blitzing in the Cover 2, the defensive lineman but provide most of the rush, while playing a one-gap defense.
They also excelled at weak side linebacker with the likes of Derrick Brooks, Lance Briggs and Jack Ham. And of course, they dominated at the defensive back position with John Lynch, Mel Blount and Bob Sanders back in his short dominance, no pun intended.
Why is all that relevant to the 2014 Bucs'? Well, for starters, the hiring of Lovie Smith as head coach is an absolutely perfect match for the current defensive personnel of the Bucs. As much as Sapp and Lynch were important to the Bucs, Derrick Brooks at the weak side linebacker position was the jack-of-all trades type of player. The current Bucs have that transcendent player in Lavonte David. The former Nebraska Cornhusker is arguably the best defensive player on the team, let alone the best linebacker in the league (spare me your Luke Kuechly mentions). David registered 145 tackles, seven sacks, five interceptions, two forced fumbles and 10 passes defended. Pro Football Focus ranked him as the 5th best player in the entire league. The parallels to Brooks, a 2014 Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee are endless. He was arguably one of the best weakside linebackers in the game, who routinely recorded 120+ tackles, three or more sacks and roughly five interceptions per season.
David and Brooks play a position that is crucial to the success of the defense in that they cover large areas where the Tampa 2 is at its most vulnerable. Their games are very similar and many can argue that they are the catalysts of their respective defenses.
Don’t sleep on Mason Foster. The middle linebacker in the Cover 2 has to have tremendous speed and depth in his hook zone. The deep middle of the field is solely his responsibility, thus he must be an athletic marvel. Foster is that and then some.
As mentioned previously, the Tampa 2 is also predicated on quick defensive lineman that can create disruption in the trenches without the advent of a blitz. Gerald McCoy and the addition of Michael Johnson from Cincinnati have that covered and then some. McCoy, who many consider to be the premier interior defensive lineman, recorded 9.5 sacks last season, while remaining stout against the run. Johnson was a double digit sack man back in 2012 with 11.5. The Bucs can also roll out the likes of Da’Quan Bowers and Adrian Clairborn, two players that were highly touted, but have played below expectations, but are still talented enough to be solid rotational pass-rushers. From a defensive line standpoint, depth and discipline are imperative in this defensive scheme as blitzing becomes defunct.
The secondary must be physical and be willing to provide jams at the line of scrimmage. The safeties, Dashon Goldson and Mark Barron are leviers of lullabies. They will pound you if you come across their zone, but they are rangy enough to cover the deep halves.
Alterraun Verner, who was signed as a free-agent after four seasons in Tennessee, comes at a much lower cost than the previous incumbent, Darrelle Revis. On passes intended his way, passers had a quarterback rating of 55. Verner translates much better as a Cover 2 corner as he is adept at playing zone coverage, with the Titans who frequently ran a lot of zone concepts with defensive coordinator Jerry Gray.
From top to bottom, the Bucs have the potential to be an absolutely dominant defense. Lovie Smith has turned around mediocre defenses in the past with the 2001 Rams (went from 31st to 7th the next season) and the 2005 Bears (went from 21st to 1st in 2005). Lovie has always had the advent of great defensive players, but so did the coaches that came before him. The difference is that he has ability to get the most out of his players, and run his scheme to put defenders in positions that suit them. I would be absolutely dumbfounded if this Buccaneers defense was not a top five unit.
The Bad: The Guard Position
The Buccaneers made an A-plus signing signing veteran center, Evan Dietrich-Smith, from the Packers. He was one of the better center’s last season from a run-blocking standpoint. He graded out as the eighth-best centre in the league by Pro Football Focus. The signing will help solidify an offensive line that may struggle on the interior of both sides. The guard position has been a sight for sore eyes since the injuries to Davin Joseph and Carl Nicks last season. Nicks has only managed to play nine games in two seasons, after playing 64 of a possible 64 games during his first four years in the league with the Saints, laying claim as one of the better offensive guards in the game. Joseph, who was released at the start of the offseason, was renown as one of the best run-blocking offensive guards in the league due to his tremendous strength. Unfortunately, knee injuries left him as a shell of his old self and out of a job until he was recently being signed by the Rams.
Now, the Bucs are left scrambling for experience at the position. If Nicks is not ready, which most do not believe he will be, the Bucs will have to resort to Oniel Cousins, Jamon Meredith or Patrick Omameh. Cousins and Meredith are good, veteran options to fill in as spot-starters, but are not suited to be long-term fixtures. Omameh has potential as a second year player out of Michigan, but he is still considered raw. Joseph was an option until he got snagged by St.Louis so if Nicks is out for any significant amount of time, this will greatly impact a run game with Doug Martin that struggled mightily last season. Teams will also be able to apply pressure up the middle on the quarterback conglomerate of Josh McCown/Mike Glennon. The offensive line, but more specifically the guard position, make Josh McCown the better option at quarterback due to Glennon’s non-existent mobility as a quarterback.
The Ugly: New Buccaneers Jerseys
Two words: Absolutely awful.
Fire whoever made the decision to get rid of the pewter and red uniforms of the past 16 years or make them wear the above vomit-enducing uniforms four five straight days.
The Buccaneers had a set of digs that were one of the best in the National Football League. This offseason, they decided to go with an XFL-style uniform that features a numbering design that resembles the the digits on your alarm clock, also moving away from the historical orange ‘creamsicle’ jerseys (the one's with the winking Johnny Depp-looking pirate) that dawned when they paved their way into the league in 1976.
The colour combination is even worse. The road uniform pants and shoulders on the jerseys are black. Sprinkle in a little red and the the orange 'creamsicle' colour, and you have the makings of a uniform that commits a fashion faux-pas as soon as the Bucs roll out of the tunnel. The home uniform is not as bad, since it doesn't feature the dominant black colour that is seen on the road uniform - a colour that was never prominent during any era of the Bucs 38 year history - but still, the grey on the shoulders looks completely out of place. The jersey should have one dominant colour at all times. Not to nitpick, but even the logo with the skull and red flag on the helmet is much bigger. It covers nearly the entire side of the helmet.
It behoves me and many other Bucs fans as to why ownership and the powers at be felt the need to make a change and delve complete outside of what actually worked for the team from an aesthetic standpoint. I can understand wanting to rid the bad taste of the pewter and red of the last five seasons, where the Bucs had gone 26-53, but this new uniform is downright awful and it would not surprise me that players would think twice about going to Tampa to avoid wearing those abominable uniforms. This is another case of Nike completely butchering a new jersey design.