NFC South: Mike James

TAMPA, Fla. -- Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Lovie Smith was trying hard not to say too much Sunday about his plans for the offensive line. But the look on his face provided some clues.

“Last week, I think I had a frown on my face as I was talking,’’ Smith said. “I’m not frowning right now.’’

That’s because Smith was much happier with what he saw out of his offensive line in Saturday’s preseason game with Miami than he was the previous week against Jacksonville. The play of the offensive line, particularly the guards, was horrible against the Jaguars.

Guard has been a position of concern all along. Former All-Pro Carl Nicks left the team at the start of training camp after he was unable to recover from a toe injury. The Bucs have experimented with a combination of guards throughout training camp and the preseason.

Oniel Cousins and Patrick Omameh started on Saturday night.

Cousins
“I thought the group held their own,’’ Smith said. “We saw improvement. But, as I’ve said all along, our plan was to let everybody have an opportunity one way or another. When you get to the third preseason game, you’re getting ready for the season and the group we put out there right now, they’ve earned that right to get the majority of the plays this week. It will all be fairly clear on what we’re thinking.’’

Although Kadeem Edwards , Jace Daniels and Jamon Meredith also have been in the mix at guard, it appears as if Cousins is on his way to winning one starting job.

“For Oneil to be in there two weeks, that’s kind of telling you we think we know what he is for the most part,’’ Smith said. “He played solid ball.’’

Smith said Omameh also graded out well but wouldn’t say if he would get the start in the third preseason game at Buffalo. But teams generally like to have their starters set by the third preseason game.

“I think [Omameh] held up,’’ Smith said. “When I say he played well, I’m talking about all the things we ask him to do. Inside, you’ve got to be able to one-on-one block versus run, versus the pass. Our quarterbacks for the most part the protection gave them time to hit the receivers. Patrick was a part of that. Last week, the guards were at the top of our minds because of that constant quick pressure inside. He didn’t really allow that and that’s his first time out. If he’s in there this week, we’ll see how he does.’’

In other news, Smith said defensive end William Gholston and running back Mike James , who were injured Saturday night, likely will sit out the Buffalo game.
TAMPA, Fla. – On a day near the middle of training camp, Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Lovie Smith walked into his post-practice news conference and delivered a message.

"There's nothing really I can give you today," Smith said.

Smith wasn't being condescending or rude to the media. He simply was being truthful. Tampa Bay's camp hasn't had any major news or controversies. It has been downright boring at times -- but it beats the alternative.

We saw the other side of things last year, and it wasn't pretty. There was plenty of news and a ton of distractions. Former coach Greg Schiano and quarterback Josh Freeman were in the early stages of a feud that would end in divorce one month into the season. And it wasn't just Freeman who was having issues with Schiano's style. Numerous players had problems with Schiano's rigid ways and never fully bought into the coach.

That quickly caught up to Schiano, who was fired after two lackluster seasons. Enter Smith, who is the anti-Schiano in just about every way. Smith is calm and treats his players like adults, and you already can see the results of that. There have been no controversies.

Amid the tranquility, players are singing the praises of Smith. The coach brings back memories of Tony Dungy, who guided the Bucs to their first era of sustained success. That's no coincidence. Smith was the linebackers coach in Dungy's early years in Tampa Bay and has an approach similar to Dungy's.

People already are comparing defensive tackle Gerald McCoy to Warren Sapp and linebacker Lavonte David to Derrick Brooks. Smith's hiring has brought enthusiasm to a fan base that hasn't had much to be excited about in recent years. But that fan base has pleasant memories of what things were like in the Bucs' glory days.

On several occasions, Smith has said that one of his goals is to make the Bucs relevant again. If things go according to Smith's plans, the Bucs might be boring, but they'll be good.

THREE REASONS FOR OPTIMISM

1. Smith is known for being a defensive coach, and he has some good ingredients to start with. McCoy and David were All-Pros last year, and they play two of the most important positions in the Tampa 2 defense Smith is bringing back to the Bucs. McCoy and David give Tampa Bay a nice start, but some other players are going to have to come through. The coaching staff believes strong safety Mark Barron is ready to be a star. If some role players come through, this could be a very good defense.

[+] EnlargeDoug Martin
Hannah Foslien/Getty ImagesDoug Martin is back from a shoulder injury, but he shouldn't have to shoulder all of the load in a deep backfield.
2. Doug Martin is back from a shoulder injury that kept him out for about half of last season. That should provide a huge lift for the offense. Martin rushed for more than 1,400 yards as a rookie in 2012, and he has looked sharp in training camp. Under Schiano, the Bucs often overused Martin. That’s not going to be the case with Smith. The Bucs have made it clear that Martin will remain as the feature back but that they’ll rotate in some other backs to keep him fresh. Rookie Charles Sims, Bobby Rainey and Mike James could be in the mix for playing time.

3. After using their first two draft picks on wide receiver Mike Evans and tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, the Bucs have one of the biggest receiving corps in the league. Williams, Seferian-Jenkins and Vincent Jackson each are at least 6-foot-5. They're going to present coverage challenges for defensive backs.

THREE REASONS FOR PESSIMISM

1. The offensive line hasn't looked very good in the preseason, and that's a huge cause for concern. The Bucs are especially thin at guard. All-Pro Carl Nicks left the team after not being able to recover from a toe injury. That leaves four guys without a lot of experience vying for two starting spots. Oniel Cousins, Jace Daniels, Patrick Omameh and rookie Kadeem Edwards have been rotating at the guard spots, and two of them will emerge as starters, unless the Bucs bring in some help from the outside.

2. Smith went out on a limb when he signed quarterback Josh McCown as a free agent and immediately named him the starter. McCown, 35, has been a backup most of his career, but he did play well in Chicago last year when Jay Cutler went out with an injury. McCown threw 13 touchdowns with just one interception. It's too much to expect him to keep up that kind of pace, especially with an unsteady offensive line. Smith, who coached McCown in Chicago, believes he can be successful over the course of a full season. But that's something McCown has never done.

3. Smith's philosophy is to play great defense and be efficient on offense. That worked well enough to get Smith to a Super Bowl with the Chicago Bears. But that philosophy might be antiquated. The league has become quarterback-driven. The Bucs are in the same division as New Orleans' Drew Brees, Carolina's Cam Newton and Atlanta's Matt Ryan. McCown and this offense might not have enough firepower to stay competitive in the division.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • McCoy has had an outstanding training camp. He consistently has gotten into the backfield as a pass-rusher and has been stuffing running plays. But it remains to be seen whether McCoy's excellent play is simply the byproduct of the weakness at the guard spots.
    [+] EnlargeVincent Jackson
    AP Photo/Bill KostrounVincent Jackson, in his third season with the Bucs, will have a third starting QB throwing to him.

  • The chemistry between McCown and Jackson has been noticeable. In addition to the offseason program, the two spent a lot of time in the spring and summer working out at a local high school.

  • The Bucs have gotten almost nothing out of defensive end Da'Quan Bowers since taking him in the second round in 2011. But they are trying something new with Bowers this year. They're going to use him inside at defensive tackle in obvious passing situations.

  • The Bucs have high hopes for sixth-round draft pick Robert Herron. But don't look for the receiver/return man to get a lot of playing time early on. Herron has had ball-security issues in camp. He needs to hold on to the ball if he's going to earn playing time.

  • Herron will make the 53-man roster. So will Jackson, Evans and Chris Owusu. Eric Page also probably will stick thanks to his return skills. That probably leaves one spot to be filled from a group of receivers who have shown promise in training camp. Tommy Streeter, Louis Murphy, Lavelle Hawkins and Solomon Patton all have shown flashes, but at least a couple of them won't make the roster.

  • Hamstring injuries have kept cornerbacks Alterraun Verner and Mike Jenkins out for a big chunk of training camp. But there's a flip side to that, and it's positive. Second-year pro Johnthan Banks has gotten a ton of work with the first team and has looked good. Banks didn't have a great rookie year. But his performance in camp probably will keep him in the starting lineup.

Buccaneers Camp Report: Day 7

August, 1, 2014
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TAMPA, Fla. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Tampa Bay Buccaneers training camp:
  • Early in camp, the defense clearly was ahead of the offense. That’s not the case anymore. The offense had a good showing at Friday night’s practice at Raymond James Stadium. The first- and second-team offenses each drove for successful field goals in the two-minute drill. “It’s about scoring points, and that’s what the offense was able to do," coach Lovie Smith said. “Somebody can’t look good in that situation. Most games come down to that two-minute drive at the end of the game. (Quarterbacks) Josh [McCown] and Mike [Glennon] both did a great job with us."
  • Many fans had to be pleasantly surprised by their first look at coordinator Jeff Tedford’s offense. It didn’t look nearly as conservative as what the Bucs have run in recent years. The play of the night was a trick play. Running back Mike James took a pitchout and threw a touchdown pass to Vincent Jackson. The deep passing game also looked good, with Chris Owusu catching a long touchdown from Glennon in an 11-on-11 drill.
  • Center Evan Dietrich-Smith missed practice with a foot injury, and his absence was obvious. The one blemish for the offense was that three snaps between center and quarterback were botched. “One time on the ground is too many," Smith said.
  • The practice drew just under 15,000 fans, according team officials. “It’s a fanbase that deserves to see a good football team on the field, and we plan on giving them that," Smith said.
  • The Buccaneers have the day off from practice Saturday. Smith and many team employees will travel to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, to attend the induction ceremony for Derrick Brooks. The team will return to practice Sunday at 4:30 p.m. “All week, I’ve been thinking about Derrrick going in," Smith said. “I can’t wait to get up there tomorrow. A special day for him. You know Derrick Brooks. Who deserves to be in the Hall more than him? It’s a special time for his family, and we can’t wait to get there.’’

Best Bucs camp competitions

June, 20, 2014
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With the start of training camp a little more than a month away, it’s time to look ahead to the best battles.

Tight end. Rookie Austin Seferian-Jenkins might be the long-term answer. But he might not get a lot of playing time in the short term. Seferian-Jenkins wasn’t allowed to take part in the offseason program and that could put him behind the competition. Brandon Myers, Tim Wright and Luke Stocker all have more experience.

Right guard. Patrick Omameh worked with the first team through most of the offseason program. But he still needs a good camp to win the starting job. Oniel Cousins and Jamon Meredith also could be candidates to start.

Third wide receiver. This one is far from settled. Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans will be the starters, but the Bucs need production out of some more receivers. Veterans Chris Owusu and Louis Murphy looked good in the offseason program and the team has high hopes for rookie Robert Herron.

Cornerback. Alterraun Verner is set as one starter. But the other spot figures to be a strong competition between Johnthan Banks and Mike Jenkins.

Backup running back. Doug Martin is the starter, but the Bucs want to use a rotation. Bobby Rainey, Mike James, Charles Sims and Jeff Demps will all be vying for carries.
TAMPA, Fla. -- After the Tampa Bay Buccaneers drafted running back Charles Sims in the third round, the conspiracy theories started to fly about Doug Martin.

Martin
Some speculated he was on the trading block. Others said his skills weren’t being embraced by the new coaching staff.

Forget all that. Coach Lovie Smith emphatically said during Friday’s rookie camp that Martin is his feature back.

"Doug’s our starting tailback," Smith said. "He’s on most of the billboards around here. He’s an All-Pro running back. There’s nothing to dislike about Doug Martin. At the same time, we want Doug around for many years. By that, you need to have some other guys. He can’t carry it every second of the way. He’s done everything we’ve asked him to do. We couldn’t be more pleased with him."

The Bucs have plenty of depth with Sims, Mike James and Bobby Rainey and it sounds like they plan to use it. That is a good thing.

Previous coach Greg Schiano wasn’t a big believer in rotating his ball carriers. That is something Smith has said he wants to do.

It's a smart move. Martin is a strong runner, but the pace Schiano had him on wasn’t conducive to keeping Martin fresh. Smith’s approach is better, because splitting some of the carries will prevent Martin from getting worn out.
NFC wrap-ups: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South


TAMPA, Fla. -- A wrap-up of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' draft. Click here for a full list of Buccaneers draftees.

[+] EnlargeMike Evans
Thomas B. Shea/Getty ImagesMike Evans can begin his career as Tampa Bay's
No. 2 receiver opposite Vincent Jackson.
Best move: There was a lot of smoke about the Buccaneers possibly drafting quarterback Johnny Manziel. But Tampa Bay’s top target all along was wide receiver Mike Evans. The Bucs got him with the seventh overall pick. Evans projects as an immediate starter opposite Vincent Jackson. At 6-foot-4, Evans has a frame similar to Jackson, and this duo is going to cause matchup problems for opposing defenses. Evans can begin his career as the No. 2 receiver, but Jackson already is in his 30s. It might not be long before Evans takes over as the No. 1 receiver. By resisting the urge to take Manziel, the Bucs made it very clear they view Josh McCown as their short-term starter and Mike Glennon as their quarterback of the future. Evans’ arrival makes both McCown and Glennon better.

Riskiest move: The Bucs began the draft without a clear-cut starter at right guard. They still don’t have one. They did take guard Kadeem Edwards out of Tennessee State and Purdue's Kevin Pamphile, who projects as a tackle, in the fifth round. But it’s a lot to expect a fifth-round pick to be an immediate starter. The Bucs might have to keep an eye on the free-agent market to get their starting right guard. There also are health concerns with left guard Carl Nicks, so Tampa Bay doesn't have a lot of depth at guard.

Most surprising move: The selection of running back Charles Sims in the third round. The team already had a deep stable of running backs with Doug Martin, Mike James, Bobby Rainey and Jeff Demps. It wasn’t really necessary to add another back to the mix. But Sims isn’t a typical back. He was used extensively as a receiver out of the backfield in college, and it’s likely the Bucs want to take advantage of those skills. We don’t know what coordinator Jeff Tedford’s offense will look like just yet. But, with the addition of Sims, it probably is fair to say the Bucs want to throw some passes to a running back.

File it away: You generally don’t expect a sixth-round pick to get playing time early, but Wyoming wide receiver Robert Herron has a shot. The Bucs have an opening for a slot receiver, and Herron has speed to spare. He’ll get a chance to compete for the slot receiver spot. Herron also has return skills and could factor in on special teams.
Austin Seferian-JenkinsOtto Greule Jr/Getty ImagesThe Bucs began their Day 2 of the draft by taking Washington tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins.

TAMPA, Fla. -- Buccaneers coach Lovie Smith has repeatedly talked about how his year off from coaching gave him new perspective. Apparently, that's no exaggeration.

Back in his days with the Chicago Bears, Smith was known as a coach who was focused almost solely on defense, often to the detriment of his offense and the bottom line. But Smith's Tampa Bay tenure is off to an offensive start.

A day after taking wide receiver Mike Evans with a first-round pick, the Bucs selected University of Washington tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins in the second round (38th overall). They followed that up by taking West Virginia running back Charles Sims in the third round (69th overall).

[+] EnlargeCharles Sims
Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsThe Bucs took West Virginia running back Charles Sims in the third round.
It might appear as if offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford was calling the shots in the draft room, but Smith has final say over personnel matters and he has signed off on three offensive players so far.

"We had a plan and that was to get great football players," general manager Jason Licht said. "It wasn't necessarily we're just going to address the offense, but it just so happened the way it fell, I've always talked about having the best player available versus need and where they converge."

They converged on offense, largely because that side of the ball was a weakness for the Bucs last season. That helped cost coach Greg Schiano and GM Mark Dominik their jobs and brought Smith and Licht to town.

The selection of Evans was no surprise at all. The addition of Seferian-Jenkins addressed a very underrated need. The Bucs had a stockpile of tight ends already, but none of them stood out. Seferian-Jenkins will likely get a chance to start right away.

"We didn't go into the draft thinking we had to get a tight end," Licht said. "But when a guy is sticking out like a sore thumb, you pounce."

Seferian-Jenkins had 36 catches for 450 yards and eight touchdowns in his final season of college. He also played basketball early in his career and he said he can give the Bucs a complete tight end.

"I'm going to bring explosiveness," Seferian-Jenkins said. "I'm going to bring playmaking ability. I'm going to bring blocking. I'm going to bring an all-around tight end that can play on all three downs and a guy that's going to work hard and chase Super Bowls and try to win as many games as possible for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers organization."

The selection of Sims, who excelled as a receiver out of the backfield, was more of a surprise because the Bucs already had Doug Martin, Mike James, Bobby Rainey and Jeff Demps on the roster.

"It may seem to the outside that running back was a pretty strong position, and we felt that way, but this one kind of stood out like the tight end did," Licht said. "We have a chance to get a back that has a versatile skill set that can score points for us, and we didn't want to turn it down."
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TAMPA, Fla. -- The pick: Charles Sims, running back, West Virginia.

My take: This wasn't a position of need for the Buccaneers, who already have a crowded backfield with Doug Martin, Mike James, Bobby Rainey and Jeff Demps. But the team had Sims highly rated and made the move. The Bucs have said they want a backfield rotation this year, but they could end up having to part ways with a talented back or two.

Good hands: The Bucs took Sims largely because they felt he was the best receiver among the running backs. Sims spent the first three years of his career at Houston before transferring to West Virginia. He’s been productive as a runner and a receiver.

What's next: The Bucs currently don’t have a fourth-round pick (it went to the New York Jets in last year’s trade for Darrelle Revis). They’ve done a nice job filling some needs, but there still is a glaring need at guard, where there’s no clear-cut starter on the right side and there are health concerns with left guard Carl Nicks.

Bucs not short on running backs

April, 23, 2014
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TAMPA, Fla. -- As a new head coach, Tampa Bay’s Lovie Smith still is getting to know his players. But it’s obvious he already has developed a comfort level with his running backs.

“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.’’

Rotation won't slow Doug Martin

April, 11, 2014
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Even though coach Lovie Smith has said he plans to use a rotation in his backfield, don't go dropping Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Doug Martin from your fantasy team.

Martin
Martin still is going to be the main ball carrier and that means he still will be a fantasy force. Smith and his staff will work Mike James and Bobby Rainey into the rotation, but that’s not going to diminish Martin’s impact.

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.

Projecting a lineup: Offense

March, 21, 2014
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The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have been one of the league's busiest teams in free agency. That means the roster will have a new look.

Factoring in the new additions, let's take a look at what the starting lineup currently looks like starting with the offense:

McCown
Quarterback: Coach Lovie Smith has made it pretty clear that veteran Josh McCown is his starter. McCown would have to have a horrible preseason and Mike Glennon would have to light it up to have a shot at starting.

Running back: Doug Martin is the main guy here, but Smith has said he wants to spread carries around. That means Mike James and Bobby Rainey will be getting playing time.

Wide receiver: Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams are the incumbent starters, but there's not much behind them. That's why this is a position where the Bucs are still going to make moves.

Tight end: The Bucs signed Brandon Myers as a free agent and he's the early favorite to win the starting job. Tim Wright did some nice things as a rookie last year, but he's not much of a blocker.

Collins
Offensive tackles: The Bucs have made it clear that free-agent pickup Anthony Collins is their starting left tackle. That means Demar Dotson will stay at right tackle.

Offensive guards: Assuming Carl Nicks is healthy, he's the starter at one guard position. But the other spot is wide open. Jeremy Zuttah, Jamon Meredith and Oniel Cousins could be candidates for the starting job, but the Bucs might not be done at this position.

Center: The Bucs signed free-agent Evan Dietrich Smith from Green Bay and his arrival pushes Zuttah to guard.

The best running back in the draft?

February, 19, 2014
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BRADENTON, Fla. -- What is turning out to be one of the best stories of this year’s NFL draft almost ended with Terrance West selling clothes.

After a year at a prep school, the running back didn’t have any scholarship offers.

“I went back home to Baltimore and got a job at Jimmy Jazz," West said this week at IMG Academy, where he has been preparing for the scouting combine. “I have a son, Brendan, and I needed to make some money. I started to think I would never get a chance to show the world what I could do. I never had a doubt in my mind that I could play on the next level, but it was looking like I just wasn’t going to get the opportunity."

[+] EnlargeTerrance West
Photo courtesy of IMG AcademyTerrance West set FCS records for rushing yards (2,509) and rushing touchdowns (41) in 2013.
But West didn’t give up his dream of playing college football. He continued working out on his own and sending tapes and letters to college coaches. At long last, West got the opportunity to walk on at Towson and the rest is history.

West is expected to be taken anytime from the second round on in the May draft. That comes after an improbable, but stellar career at Towson. West won the Jerry Rice Award as the top freshman in the FCS in 2011. He also set FCS records for rushing yards (2,509) and rushing touchdowns (41) in 2013.

“Terrance West is the unknown, and whoever gets him is going to be very fortunate," IMG director of football operations Chris Weinke said. “Here’s a kid that’s faced a lot of adversity in his life and he’s overcome it. All he did in college was produce when they gave him the football. No one really talked about Alfred Morris (of the Washington Redskins) coming out. Here’s a guy that I think has a lot of the same things Alfred did and, in some ways, probably has a little more. He’s more of a receiving threat out of the backfield than Alfred. Terrance West is an explosive guy. He’s just a guy that’s going to find a way to get it done.’’

West knows he’s going to get questions from NFL teams in Indianapolis about the level of competition he played against, and he’s got his answer ready.

“The game doesn’t change," West said. “You get a lot of guys that transferred from bigger schools. The competition is strong. It’s not like I was playing against robots and now I’m going to go play against human beings. It’s no different. The game and the rules don’t change. I’m not worried about the competition."

West might not have the pedigree of someone that went to a bigger school. But he has plenty of confidence.

“I’m a humble guy," West said. “But I feel as though I’m the best back in this draft. People say I went to a small school, but I played against some elite guys. I just feel with my talent and my size, I’m the best back in this draft. I’ve just got to go out there and prove it."

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers seem to be pretty well set at running back with starter Doug Martin and backups Mike James and Bobby Rainey. But last year showed that you never can have enough running backs. If, at some point, West is the top player on Tampa Bay’s board, the Bucs would have to consider drafting him. Whatever team drafts West might be getting one of this year’s biggest sleepers.

“They’d be getting a running back that’s consistent and determined," West said. “No matter what obstacle is thrown in front of him, he’s going to overcome everything. He’s a team player and he’s coachable. He’s well balanced, he’s quick, he’s got great vision, he can catch the ball out of the backfield. I’ve got everything you could ask for, an all-around back."
TAMPA, Fla. -- Go ahead and say it. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers never should have given up on LeGarrette Blount.

Williams
Blount
I know that opinion has plenty of backers after Blount rushed for 166 yards and four touchdowns for the New England Patriots in their Saturday night victory against Indianapolis. I see the logic.

But the fact is, even after Saturday night, I still believe the Bucs made the right move when they traded Blount to the Patriots for Olympic sprinter Jeff Demps and a seventh-round pick last April.

Yeah, I know some will say the Bucs sure could have used Blount after starter Doug Martin got hurt early last season. But Mike James and Bobby Rainey filled in adequately for Martin.

The bottom line is that former coach Greg Schiano never was sold on Blount. The running back had fumbling issues, problems getting to practice and meetings on time and he was one-dimensional. Blount wasn’t much of a receiver and he failed to pick up blocking assignments.

Blount’s only real strength is running straight ahead and it’s not like he has great vision. Blount was more of a headache than he was worth. New coach Lovie Smith likely wouldn’t have wanted someone like Blount around.

Maybe Schiano did the Patriots a favor by trading Blount to them. But Schiano did the Bucs an even bigger favor by getting Blount out of Tampa Bay.
 
Arrow indicates direction team is trending.

Final power ranking: 27
Preseason power ranking: 22

Biggest surprise: Tim Wright came to training camp as an undrafted wide receiver from Rutgers. He ended up as the starting tight end. That happened because a series of injuries left the Bucs in desperation mode at this position. But let’s give Wright some credit for quickly emerging as a legitimate threat in the passing game. He still has room for improvement as a blocker, but the Bucs might have found something special in Wright.

 Biggest disappointment: Entering the season, the Bucs thought this would be the year that Josh Freeman firmly established himself as a franchise quarterback. That didn’t come close to happening. Freeman was late for several team functions and that put him on coach Greg Schiano’s bad side. It didn’t help as Freeman struggled in the first three games. The Bucs turned to rookie Mike Glennon and eventually released Freeman.

Biggest need: The front office and coaching staff made a conscious decision to let defensive end Michael Bennett, who led the team in sacks in 2012, walk as a free agent. The thinking was that Da'Quan Bowers was ready to emerge as a pass-rushing force. But Bowers never emerged and Tampa Bay’s pass rush wasn’t very good. Rookie William Gholston showed some promise as the season went on, but the Bucs still need to upgrade the pass rush in the offseason.

Team MVP: There really are only two candidates -- defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and linebacker Lavonte David. McCoy was outstanding, but I’m giving the nod to David. In his second season, David developed a knack for making big plays. People compared him to Derrick Brooks as soon as he was drafted by Tampa Bay. I thought that was a little premature, but I’m starting to think David can be the second coming of Brooks.

 
TAMPA, Fla. -- A review of four hot issues from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 27-6 victory against the Buffalo Bills on Sunday.

[+] EnlargeGreg Schiano
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsWith three wins in Tampa Bay's past four games, Greg Schiano is making a case for keeping his job.
The Schiano watch: It still is more than fair game to speculate about whether Greg Schiano will get a third season as coach. But even the anti-Schiano bandwagon, which has been overloaded most of the season, has to look at Sunday’s win and see some positives. The Bucs have won four out of their past five games. Ownership likes the way Schiano has cleaned up the locker room and ownership is very aware Schiano has three more years on his contract. If the Bucs can play well in their final three games, ownership might decide to keep Schiano.

The dominant defense: Let’s preface this by acknowledging the fact the Bucs were playing a mediocre team with rookie quarterback EJ Manuel. But still, look at what the defense did -- seven sacks and four interceptions. At least for one day, the Tampa Bay defense looked a lot like it did in the franchise’s glory years.

Rainey-mania returns: Running back Bobby Rainey, who is only playing due to injuries to Doug Martin and Mike James, finished with 127 yards on 22 carries. The numbers are a little skewed because 80 of those yards came on Rainey’s first carry of the game. But think ahead to next year and picture a backfield with a healthy Martin, a healthy James and Rainey.

Glennon’s bumpy day: Rookie quarterback Mike Glennon had one of his worst outings. He completed just 9 of 25 passes for 90 yards with two interceptions and a 40.4 passer rating. But Glennon did complete two touchdown passes and got lots of help from the defense and special teams.

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