The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are preparing themselves for a bounce-back season after suffering losing records for 4 out of the last 5 years. They’re now experiencing their third coaching regime since 2011 and Bucs fans are as optimistic as they’ve been since going 10-6 in 2010 and it seemed as if the ship was headed in the right direction. After looking over the roster and the direction in which this team is expected to go, I’ve compiled some names to keep an eye on. That is not to say these are the best players on the team, but players that will have a major impact on the success, or failure, of the 2014 Buccaneers. You will not find Gerald McCoy, Lavonte David, Vincent Jackson on this list because, well, we know what to expect from them. We know their talent level, what they bring to the table, and that their success is no longer hoped for but rather, expected.
Here are the names some Bucs fans should keep their eye on if the Buccaneers are going to succeed this year.
5.) Doug Martin
Doug Martin was a Pro Bowl running back in his rookie season, but was derailed in 2013 due in part to injury. He also faced much more aggressive defenses than in his rookie campaign since teams wanted Josh Freeman to beat them rather than the Muscle Hamster. Martin will not see quite as large of a workload in 2014 due to Tedford’s “running back by committee” with rookie Charles Sims, Mike James, and Bobby Rainey. This could actually help the Bucs as well as Martin, as he will not be as beat up or worn down, allowing him to stay fresh later in games and prey on fatigued defenses, much like he did in his 251 yard, 4 touchdown outburst against Oakland in his rookie season. The Bucs will heavily focus on running the ball on offense, and in order to succeed, Martin must regain his rookie form.
4.) Dashon Goldson
It’s time for Goldson to begin earning his pay. He didn’t provide much help last season when he was fined almost $500,000 for his illegal hits and suffered a 1-game suspension after winning an appeal for one early in the season. Goldson hired a tackling coach this offseason to help retrain him on the proper target area allowed by the NFL as well as to help him avoid repeating his league high 15 missed tackles among safties. The problem we seem to face with Goldson is that he and fellow Safety Mark Barron are essentially the same player. They have to learn to co-exist in the Lovie Smith/Leslie Frazier defense or this may be the last year we see Goldson in red and pewter. The Bucs would trade him and his big contract much sooner than they would ship Barron out of town. Both guys are big hitters and opportunists, but they have to figure out who is going to be the John Lynch and who is going to be the Dexter Jackson. Two Lynch’s won’t work very well in the Tampa-2 system. And giving the opposition 15 free yeards on illegal hit penalties is a real quick way to get yourself in Lovie’s dog house.
3.) Austin Seferian-Jenkins
I’ll be the first to admit it, I am really high on this kid. The Buccaneers have not had a pass catching weapon at tight end since Kellen Winslow, who was shipped out of town by Schiano during the “toes on the line” house cleaning. In a division that utilizes tight end unlike any other, with guys like Jimmy Graham, Greg Olson, and (now retired) Tony Gonzalez, the Buccaneers offense never had a counter for the production those guys could put up. Not to mention the mismatches they posed to the defense. Fellow NFC South defenses never had to worry about the Bucs’ tight ends, because they never were a big enough threat to worry about. That is about to drastically change. If Seferian-Jenkins can live up to the potential he has, we could be looking at a Graham or Rob Gronkowski type threat. He can run routes from the tight end position, or split out creating mismatches with much smaller nickel-backs. ASJ stands 6’6″ and 260 lbs. This gives the offense a huge red zone target and a reliable underneath receiver that can gain yards after the catch. We obviously have yet to see him face NFL defenses, but this kid is definitely one to keep your eye on and is sure to be a favorite of quarterback Josh McCown.
2.) Adrian Clayborn
Ok, Clayborn. It’s put up or shut up time. The Buccaneers have pro bowler Gerald McCoy on the inside, and brought in defensive end Michael Johnson as well as defensive tackle Clinton McDonald to beef up this defensive line. The key to the Tampa-2 defense is getting pressure on the quarterback with the front four. Not relying on exotic blitz schemes or sending linebackers and corners in order to create pressure. It has to come from the front four. Adrian Clayborn has to prove he belongs. The weakest part of his game has always been run stopping, which he will have to do more of moving from left end to right, but Clayborn is essential in helping this defense succeed. All four members of the defensive line have to be able to create pressure and stuff runners out of the backfield. If Clayborn can’t do it, William Gholston is chomping at the bit for his turn in the spotlight. Clayborn has shown flashes so far in his career, but we have to see consistency.
1.) Josh McCown
Josh McCown is the key to the Buccaneers’ success this year. Many Bucs fans are less than enthused at the idea of a career journeyman running this team over either incumbent Mike Glennon or having taken a quarterback in the draft. If McCown can play to the level he did last season for Chicago, this team will be a force to be reckoned with. McCown has similar tools he did in his most successful campaign to date. He has two wide receivers at 6’5″, a tight end at 6’6″, a solid running attack, and a revamped offensive line that has to be better than what the Bucs trotted out last season. It’s simple: McCown must succeed for the Bucs to win. He doesn’t need to put up Peyton Manning numbers, he just needs to be this team’s version of Brad Johnson. Control the game, manage it, make smart decisions, and don’t turn the ball over. The Bucs are banking on him being able to replicate his 13 touchdown, 1 interception performance of 2013, and replicate it for a full season rather than five games. Mike Glennon is still fighting in camp to be named the starter, but right now it’s McCown’s job to lose.
At the end of the day, there will be 53 men on the Buccaneers’ roster, putting on their helmets, and battling one of the toughest divisions in the NFL and every single one of them is important to the success of Tampa Bay. But these five players in particular, I feel, are in the position of being the most vital in being able to turn this team around. The season is getting closer and closer and we are entering the point in the offseason where we truly begin to see our teams take shape and mold themselves the way the coaching staff believes will get them to a championship. Right now, every team is undefeated and have just as good of a chance as any other team. We never know what surprise team will come out of nowhere and contend. We never know what rookie will make the biggest impact on his team. We never know what quarterback will end up having the best season of their career. That’s what makes this game better than any other. We guess, speculate, predict, but at the end of the day, nobody knows what will happen.
That’s why they play the game.