- Pat Yasinskas, ESPN Staff Writer
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NFL Nation's Pat Yasinskas examines the three biggest issues facing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers heading into training camp.
Josh McCown needs to play like he did last season: McCown’s been a backup most of his career. But he played the best football of his life last season for Chicago after starter Jay Cutler went down with an injury. That was enough to convince the Bucs that McCown can be a productive starter. McCown has history with Lovie Smith, and he already has established himself as one of Tampa Bay’s leaders. The Bucs have made it clear that they view Mike Glennon as their quarterback of the future. But the best-case scenario is that Glennon never even gets on the field this season. If he doesn’t, that means McCown is playing well. At 35, McCown has a chance to firmly establish himself as a starter for the first time in his career. His chances of succeeding are good because he's surrounded by good skill-position players such as Doug Martin, Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans.
Carl Nicks’ health is a key: The left guard played only two games last season while dealing with a toe injury and a MRSA infection. Nicks repeatedly has said he expects to be ready for training camp. But, as of the team’s June minicamp, Nicks hadn’t even started running or cutting. He’s admitted that there is permanent damage to his foot and said he’ll have to play through pain the rest of his career. It all sounds shaky, and you have to wonder if Nicks really can make it back and if he’ll be the same player. The Bucs need Nicks to be what he was earlier in his career. When he’s healthy, Nicks is one of the best guards in the league. He could be the anchor of what has the potential to be a very good offensive line. If Nicks isn’t fully recovered, there’s a sharp drop-off to rookie Kadeem Edwards and veterans Jamon Meredith and Oniel Cousins.
The pass rush needs to flourish: Smith prides himself on having teams that play strong defense. The Bucs seem to have some talent on defense. But to hit their full potential, they need the pass rush to be strong. The pass rush was a weakness last season, and that’s why the Bucs signed free agents Michael Johnson and Clinton McDonald. The Bucs believe Johnson and Adrian Clayborn can bring a strong pass rush from the outside, and McDonald and Gerald McCoy can do the same from the inside. One of the requirements for the Tampa 2 defense is for there to be a strong pass rush from the front four. If the Bucs get that, they’ll be in good shape defensively. The Bucs are in good shape at linebacker and in the secondary. If the pass rush shows up, this defense has a chance to be special.