NFC South: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
“I’m surprised by the rumors,’’ McShay said at one point.
I followed up by asking McShay to elaborate on why he was surprised at the idea of the Bucs drafting a potential franchise quarterback (something you could argue they've never had despite using early picks on Dilfer and Vinny Testaverde).
“I think they’ve spent a good amount of money and spent it well,’’ McShay said. “They have a need at wide receiver. They have a chance to immediately go to a playoff team from 4-12.’’
McShay went on about how Tampa Bay’s offseason has seemed to have been steered by a win-now approach. McShay said he thinks the Bucs are fine with current quarterbacks Josh McCown and Mike Glennon.
McShay said McCown is a perfect “bridge quarterback’’ and I agree. McCown is more than serviceable for a year or two. McShay also said he thinks Glennon has some potential and there’s no argument here.
That’s all very logical and McShay implied that the Manziel talk could be a smokescreen. But what if it’s not?
McShay said he’s heard the Bucs are “smitten’’ with Manziel. That wouldn’t be McShay’s first choice. He has them taking wide receiver Mike Evans at No. 7. Although he wouldn’t be a fan of the move, McShay acknowledged the talk could be true if the Bucs truly are high on Manziel.
“I don’t think it’s a bad idea at all if that’s the guy they want,’’ McShay said. “I’m just not one of those guys that think he’s a top-10 pick. But it’s their call. If they think he’s the best player in the draft, go get him.’’
In this one, McShay makes the picks he would make and isn't predicting what teams will do. But McShay's pick for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at No. 7 overall isn't a major surprise.
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Breakdown: The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are going to find out right away if their many offseason moves have helped close the gap in the NFC South. The Bucs play their three division foes (Panthers, Falcons and Saints) within the first five weeks of the schedule, including the opener at home against Carolina. The Bucs have a Week 7 bye (two weeks later than each of the past two seasons) and they should have a good idea of where they stand by then. A fast start could go a long way toward putting the Buccaneers in playoff contention, because the middle of the schedule potentially could be a little soft. But the Bucs need to be above .500 heading into the final four weeks of the season, because they have road games at Detroit and Carolina, followed by home games with Green Bay and New Orleans. Those final four opponents all have realistic chances to be playoff teams, and a cushion by the end of November could go a long way in helping the Bucs get to the postseason.
Complaint department: The Bucs get only one nationally televised game, a Thursday night contest in Atlanta. Fans have a legitimate gripe that the Bucs don't get much national attention. But the reality is the Bucs were 4-12 a year ago. If they are going to become media darlings, they need to win some games to start attracting some attention. That Atlanta game also will be the start of a scheduling rarity. The Bucs will play three straight games on the road. They follow the Atlanta game with a trip to Pittsburgh on Sept. 28, and follow that with an Oct. 5 game in New Orleans.
Lovie's homecoming: The Nov. 23 game at Chicago has a great storyline: Head coach Lovie Smith going against his former team. Smith will downplay the significance of the matchup. But Smith is a proud guy. He might not admit it, but he certainly remembers the Bears fired him after a 10-6 season in 2012. This game will mean a lot to Smith, and he will have the Bucs ready for this one. The bad news is that there is a very real chance this will be a cold-weather game. Nov. 16 at Washington and Dec. 14 at Carolina also could be cold-weather games. Historically, the Bucs have been dismal when playing in cold weather.
Strength of schedule: 19th, .484 | Vegas over/under : 7
Buccaneers Regular-Season Schedule (All times Eastern)
Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 7, Carolina, 4:25 p.m.
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 14, St. Louis, 4:05 p.m.
Week 3: Thursday, Sept. 18, at Atlanta, 8:25 p.m.
Week 4: Sunday, Sept. 28, at Pittsburgh, 1 p.m.
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 5, at New Orleans, 1 p.m.
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 12, Baltimore, 1 p.m.
Week 7: BYE
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 26, Minnesota, 1 p.m.
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 2, at Cleveland, 1 p.m.
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 9, Atlanta, 1 p.m.
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 16, at Washington, 1 p.m.
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 23, at Chicago, 1 p.m.
Week 13: Sunday, Nov. 30, Cincinnati, 1 p.m.
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 7, at Detroit, 1 p.m.
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 14, at Carolina, 1 p.m.
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 21, Green Bay, 1 p.m.
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 28, New Orleans, 1 p.m.
The Bucs have been silent on Clayborn's situation so far, but the deadline to exercise the option is coming in early May. Clayborn remains under contract for 2014, but the Bucs have to decide if they want to pick up the option for 2015.
"They’ll tell me when it’s time," Clayborn said. "Either way, it works out for itself. I still have to have a good year."
That’s a healthy attitude for Clayborn to take. With a strong season, Clayborn can write his own ticket as a free agent if the Bucs don’t pick up the option.
A first-round pick in 2011, Clayborn has had an up and down three seasons. He started off well, recording 7.5 sacks as a rookie. But he suffered a knee injury early in his second season. Clayborn returned last season, but didn’t have the impact he would have liked.
With a new coaching staff, Clayborn is confident he can put his career back on an upward swing.
"It’s been a rough two years for me with me being hurt and then last year not playing the way I wanted to," Clayborn said. "I feel like, with this system, it’s really prime for me to have a good year. It’s up to me to make it happen."
“I went in there the other day and I asked them if there was a requirement to being under 5-[foot-]10 to be in this room,’’ Smith said with a laugh.
With Doug Martin listed as 5-9, Bobby Rainey at 5-8 and Mike James at 5-10, the Bucs may be short at running back. But they aren’t short on running backs.
“We have three running backs that have a 100-yard game on record,’’ Smith said. “That’s hard to say for most teams.’’
But Smith is inheriting a situation where running back might be the deepest position on the roster. Martin entered last season as the starter. When he went down with a shoulder injury, James took over. After James went out with an injury, Rainey took over as the featured back an prospered.
“I like everything about all of them,’’ Smith said. “They can catch the ball, even though they haven’t been used that way. They can run inside of the tackles. They have good quickness and can make you miss. They come to work with a smile on their face every day.’’
And it might not be hard to keep a smile on the faces of all three running backs. Smith has said he plans to use a rotation at that position.
“As far as how many play, Doug Martin’s our starter, but they’ll all play,’’ Smith said. “We’ll let them have their reps.’’
Although the team previously had expressed optimism that Nicks would be able to participate in the offseason program, Nicks said he still is in the rehabilitation process. Nicks missed all but two games last season with a toe injury and a MRSA staph infection. Nicks said he wouldn't try to estimate where his recovery stands, but sounded optimistic he'll get back on the field
That would be good news for an offensive line that's been overhauled this offseason. But Nicks, who first revealed there was nerve damage to his toe last year, said he might have to play through pain the rest of his career.
"There's some nerve damage, so there's going to be pain, from what I've been told, for the rest of my life," Nicks said.
Nicks said he wasn't sure if the nerve damage was caused by the toe injury or the MRSA.
"That's a good question," Nicks said. "I wish I had the answer."
Nicks said he might return at less than 100 percent, but said he remains confident he'll return to the playing field.
"Lovie told me the other day my 80 percent is still pretty good," Nicks said. "If I'm not 100 percent, hopefully I can get 95 or 99.99 and I'd be happy with it."
Nicks said he's anxious to play again.
"I've got the chicken pox when it comes to that," Nicks said. "Scratching it all the time. Very itchy. I don't want to force it, I don't want to rush it. When I come back I want to be able to play more than two games."
Is there really a competition at quarterback? Not in minicamp, where most of the time is spent installing the offense. Josh McCown will get the first-team work and Mike Glennon will work with the second team. If Glennon is going to have any chance at surpassing McCown, he’ll have to thoroughly outplay him in training camp and the preseason. Unless the Bucs draft a quarterback in the first round, this is McCown’s job to lose.
Will the offensive line be better? It probably can’t be worse than last year when the line’s play was a major disappointment. The Bucs blew up that line and they’ve overhauled it with additions like left tackle Andre Collins and center Evan Dietrich-Smith. Still, the biggest question is whether guard Carl Nicks, who missed almost all of last season with an injury, can get back to full strength. If Nicks is totally healthy, he might be the best guard in the game and he makes everyone around him better.
Who starts at wide receiver opposite Vincent Jackson? Let’s be brutally honest. That player isn’t on the roster yet. The Bucs may open minicamp with someone like veteran Louis Murphy running with the first team. But Murphy will be competing for the fourth or fifth receiver spot before all is said and done. This team still needs to add a second and third wide receiver.
Who’s the tight end? The answer to that one may come in plural form. Tim Wright did some nice things as a rookie last season. But Wright is limited as a blocker. That’s why the Bucs brought in Brandon Myers. He can contribute as a blocker and a receiver. The Bucs aren’t likely to use a fullback very often, which means there could be a lot of two-tight-end sets.
Aside from Lavonte David, what’s the situation at linebacker? David is set as the weakside starter, which is the most important linebacker spot in coach Lovie Smith’s defense. Mason Foster is the favorite to remain the starter in the middle, but he needs to show he can drop into coverage much more frequently than he’s done in the past. Jonathan Casillas appears to be the favorite to start on the strong side.
Since the start of free agency, the Bucs have given out $74.3 million in guaranteed money to their incoming free agents and the ones they’ve re-signed, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
No other team is even close. Denver is second with $65.5 million in guaranteed money. The Raiders ($51 million) and the Vikings ($50.2 million) are the only other teams to top $50 million in guaranteed money.
But spending big money in free agency doesn’t necessarily translate into success. Last year, four teams (Lions, Dolphins, Colts and Cowboys) spent at least $50 million in guaranteed money in the first month of free agency. The Colts were the only one of those teams to make the playoffs.
If anything, not having to handle virtually all the carries, the way he did under former coach Greg Schiano, should help keep Martin fresh. James and Rainey showed they’re capable runners last year when Martin was out with a shoulder injury.
But James and Rainey aren’t quite in Martin's class and that means the rotation isn't going to split up the carries too much. Martin still will get the bulk of the carries and he’s shown he can produce in fantasy and real life.
The Bucs are going to run the ball a lot, maybe even more than they did with Schiano. James and Rainey will help keep Martin fresh. That little bit of rest could help Martin, who carried 319 times and caught 49 passes as a rookie in 2012, be even more productive.
Despite a 4-12 record last season, the Bucs have done a nice job of narrowing their needs. They still could use some help on the offensive line, some depth on the defensive line and they might even consider a quarterback with the No. 7 overall pick in the draft.
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Every action we’ve seen out of coach Lovie Smith and general manager Jason Licht so far has been very deliberate. That’s why Johnny Manziel's visit Thursday is the latest sign the Bucs might be serious about taking a quarterback in this year’s draft.
They’ve already had visits with Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater and Eastern Illinois’ Jimmy Garoppolo and they still could bring in another quarterback or two. On the surface, the Bucs seem to have bigger needs than quarterback.
They seem to have a decent quarterback situation with veteran Josh McCown backed up by Mike Glennon. McCown is scheduled to make nearly $5 million in guaranteed money this season, so he’s not a guy the Bucs want carrying a clipboard.
In the modern NFL, if you draft a quarterback early, you’re expected to play him right away. But maybe the Bucs are thinking about going against that trend. They could draft a quarterback and let him sit for a year behind McCown.
Most mock drafts have the Bucs going in another direction. But I’m not ready to write off the possibility of them drafting a quarterback.
Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel is visiting the Bucs, according to The Tampa Tribune’s Roy Cummings. Manziel becomes the third quarterback known to have visited with the Bucs. The team previously hosted Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater and Eastern Illinois’ Jimmy Garoppolo.
I never like to read too much into these visits because teams can bring in 30 players and some of them are nothing more than smokescreens. But it’s pretty obvious the Bucs, who already have veteran Josh McCown and second-year pro Mike Glennon, are at least doing their homework on this year's crop of quarterbacks.
You had to read between the lines only slightly to see the players are happy they now are coached by Lovie Smith. On the second day of the offseason program, five players were brought in to speak to the media. There was a common theme among all five.
"I think (Smith) treats us like men," kicker Connor Barth said. "I think that's the main thing. He said he's going to treat us like men and that's awesome."
None of the players directly said anything negative about Schiano, but the implications were everywhere.
"Me personally, I'm not a rah-rah guy," linebacker Lavonte David said. "Everybody staying calm and everybody keeping their composure, it can turn over to the field where the crowd's going crazy and something bad happens and everybody's keeping their composure on the sidelines. That builds more confidence to overcome (adversity)."
As a former college coach, Schiano had a reputation for being a "rah-rah" leader and stern disciplinarian. The atmosphere has changed with Smith and his coaching staff.
"All of them have the same personality," David said. "It's weird. Nobody's a rah-rah guy. Everybody's just cool, chilled, laid back and ready to get after it."
Wide receiver Vincent Jackson said he respected Schiano's discipline approach, but went on to sing Smith's praises.
"Just a smart man, you can just tell," Jackson said. "Very thought out, very well planned. He does everything with a purpose. Every minute in this building is going to be useful for us and it's going to make us better as men as well as football players.
"It's about treating guys like men, representing the Buccaneers and this organization and the city in the right light. We definitely want to do that on the field as well. We love his message and the tone that he's bringing to this organization."
“I’m just going to go out there and compete every day and help the team win in whatever way possible,’’ Glennon said Tuesday after taking part in the second day of the team’s offseason program. “Josh has been great so far to me and it’s going to be a great opportunity to work with him every day with a guy that has so much experience like that. But, at the same time just by my nature I’m going to go out there and compete. Whatever my role may be I’m going to do it to the best of my ability and help this team win.’’
Glennon said Smith called him shortly after the Bucs signed McCown and gave him the news.
“He just said, to start out, there’s got to be a person to start that goes out with the first (team) and that person is going to be Josh,’’ Glennon said.
Glennon is the type of guy that’s going to follow the company line. But, reading between the lines of his first comments since being demoted, I got the sense he has a very strong competitive streak.
“I realized that I’m just going to have to continue to work hard and improve myself,’’ Glennon said when asked about his reaction when Smith told him McCown would open as the starter.
Glennon’s taking the right approach and really the only one that makes sense. He’s going to continue to work hard. He could have a great preseason and McCown could struggle. Or McCown could get injured.
“Lovie said it to me and he said it to the team yesterday that the best players are going to play and I don’t think that’s any different for the quarterback position,’’ Glennon said.
It’s not any different for the quarterback position. McCown starts off with the edge as the veteran, but Glennon isn’t ready to concede anything.
In the latest sign the Bucs might be serious, NFL Network reports that Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is visiting One Buccaneer Place on Monday. Bridgewater is widely viewed as one of the best quarterbacks in the draft and could be a top-10 pick.
Just because Bridgewater is visiting the Bucs doesn't mean the team will draft him. But it's a sign the Bucs are doing their homework on all possible scenarios.
Generally, you don't find a franchise quarterback beyond the top-10 picks and the Bucs are hoping they're not in that position in future years. This might be their shot to get a franchise quarterback and they have to know all they can find out about Bridgewater.