Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Carl Nicks

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.
TAMPA, Fla. – A day after his offensive line, particularly the guards, struggled in the preseason opener, Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Lovie Smith had some words for fans ready to hit the panic button.

“'Don’t overreact,' is what I would say," Smith said. “[The media] don’t lead the charge to start overreacting. Let it play out a little bit in the preseason. Just like when you come out of the first preseason game, don’t start printing up the Super Bowl tickets or cutting everybody on the team. Just let things play out a little bit. That’s what preseason games are for. The first live action this football team has had was last night. From there, give us a little bit of time and then we’ll see what we need, if we need something else."

But Smith wasn’t defending what he saw out of the guards in Friday night’s 16-10 loss to Jacksonville.

“It comes down to a one-on-one game," Smith said. “We didn’t handle some of those situations. What you want to see in the preseason is to put guys on an island to see how we could perform one on one. We got beat a few times, especially inside at the guard position."

Guard has been an area of concern for a long time. Carl Nicks walked away from the game at the start of training camp after he was unable to recover from a toe injury. But Nicks’ status was iffy for months before his ultimate decision and the Bucs did very little to provide strong alternatives.

Right now, both starting guard spots are wide open. The Bucs have been rotating Oniel Cousins, Jamon Meredith, Patrick Omameh and Kadeem Edwards at guard. Smith repeatedly said it’s not time for the Bucs to panic.

“As I talk about [not getting] too alarmed by some of our play inside at the guard position, you can’t get too high on what happens with some of the better plays, too," Smith said. “Everybody had flashes."

But Smith wouldn’t rule out the possibility of changes at guard. There has been speculation that the Bucs could be interested in San Francisco guard Alex Boone, who currently is in a contract holdout. It also is possible the Bucs could bring in another guard or two once teams start trimming rosters.

“We’re always looking to improve the ballclub," Smith said. “If there’s someone out there that can, we’re looking at him. But, yes, we feel comfortable with the guys [in camp]."
TAMPA, Fla. -- A lot of fans are nervous about the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' offensive line. There's been skepticism in the media because the Bucs don't have any clear-cut starters at guard and the candidates don't have a lot of experience.

After Carl Nicks left the team because of a toe injury, the Bucs have been rotating Jamon Meredith, Oneil Cousins, Patrick Omameh and Kadeem Edwards at guard. But coach Lovie Smith said he's not particularly worried about the offensive line.

"To me right now, I have concerns about every position on the team," Smith said. "I haven't seen any live action with our football team. I'm anxious to see what we have. I know we've looked good in drills. [All-Pro defensive tackle] Gerald McCoy is a dominant defensive lineman inside. We've been judging our guards based on going against him and [defensive tackle] Clinton McDonald and players like that and they've held their own."

Smith has a point. The guards aren't going to have to face a player like McCoy every week. The practice sessions against him should be making the guards better.

Here's another thought I have about the guard situation. Yes, it's less than ideal. But the Bucs are better off at guard than they were last season when veteran Davin Joseph was struggling and Nicks was missing all but two games. Joseph had a dismal year as he tried to recover from knee surgery. The Bucs used several players at Nicks' spot and didn't get great results.

This year's guards might not be experienced, but at least they're healthy and they should only continue to get better.
TAMPA, Fla. – The Tampa Bay Buccaneers don’t have a clear-cut starter at either guard position. But coach Lovie Smith doesn’t sound worried about that as his team gets ready for its first preseason game Friday at Jacksonville.

Throughout training camp, the Bucs have been rotating Jamon Meredith, Oneil Cousins, Patrick Omameh and rookie Kadeem Edwards at the guard spots.

“Players have told us who gets the first opportunity,’’ Smith said. “Who deserves reps? That’s what you try to get leading up to the preseason games.’’

The Bucs lost former All-Pro Carl Nicks when he decided to leave the team just before camp due to a toe injury that hadn’t healed. The Bucs still could bring in a guard or two from outside. But Smith sounds like he’s prepared to go with what he has.

“We like the prospects,’’ Smith said. “We don’t have a lot of players around the position that have started a lot of games. We have young talent on the line. You go against [All-Pro defensive tackle] Gerald McCoy every day, you get better. We’re getting better.’’

Collins
Besides the guard positions, there have been other major changes on the offensive line. Guard Davin Joseph and left tackle Donald Penn are gone. The Bucs signed free-agent center Evan Dietrich-Smith and left tackle Anthony Collins.

That’s a lot of change for an offensive line, but Smith isn’t worried about a lack of chemistry.

“I don’t think you have to play together five years to get that chemistry,’’ Smith said. “We’ve had a lot of practices together, a lot of time together in the meeting rooms. Green Bay is a distant memory for Evan. Cincinnati is a distant memory for Anthony. They’re coming along.’’

Smith isn’t the only one with confidence in the offensive line. Collins said Tampa Bay could turn out to have one of the league’s best offensive lines.

“We’ll become famous to the city,’’ Collins said. “We’ll become famous to our own teammates. We’ll become famous to the staff that works here. It’s on the O-line, period.’’
TAMPA, Fla. -- I've got the details of how Carl Nicks' departure impacts the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' salary cap.

Nicks
Nicks left the Bucs last week after he was unable to recover from a toe injury. He had been scheduled to count $9.375 million against this year's cap.

But that number has taken a dramatic drop. Nicks now only counts $2.357 million toward this year's cap. He also will count $4.714 million against the 2015 cap.

With the adjustment for Nicks, the Bucs are now $16.71 million under this year's cap.

Nicks had $6 million of his $7 million base salary guaranteed for this year. The contract contained no offset language and the actual amount of money Nicks will receive will be reduced by severance pay and future retirement benefits.

Buccaneers Camp Report: Day 5

July, 30, 2014
Jul 30
8:32
PM ET
TAMPA, Fla. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Tampa Bay Buccaneers training camp:
  • The defense dominated the first few days of camp, but Wednesday was the best showing by the offense so far. There were two players in particular that stood out. Quarterback Josh McCown and wide receiver Vincent Jackson showed they’ve developed some chemistry. They hooked up on a pass play of about 50 yards and connected for back-to-back touchdowns in red-zone drills. “They have to have good chemistry," coach Lovie Smith said. “Vincent’s our No. 1 receiver. We’re banking on him making a lot of plays. The chemistry or whatever you want to call it between he and Josh has to be good. Vince is a playmaker. You get down there, you have to get the ball into your playmaker’s hands. We did that today on more than one occasion, which is great." McCown had his best practice by far. I only saw him make one bad throw, and that was intercepted in the end zone by strong safety Mark Barron.
  • Wednesday was the most physical practice of camp so far. There were at least four minor altercations. “We don’t want a lot of fights," Smith said. “In a game, they throw you out of the game and that’s not good. Getting ready for the season, we want it to be as game like as possible. If you do feel you have to mix it up with a guy, fight him the way you would fight your brother. No cheap shots or anything like that."
  • There’s been some concern among fans about whether or not Mason Foster can handle the increased amount of pass coverage the Bucs are going to ask out of their middle linebacker in the Cover Two defense. Foster dropped some weight in the offseason to increase his quickness and has made a good early impression on Smith. “He’s growing into the position," Smith said. “He couldn’t have a better tutor than (linebackers coach and former Bucs middle linebacker) Hardy Nickerson."
  • Starter Doug Martin has looked very good at running back, but he’s not the only one. Third-round draft pick Charles Sims has made some nice cuts in the last few practices and also has shown he can catch the ball out of the backfield. I think Sims might have a shot to be the top backup to Martin. “He’s a scholarship player, looking at it in college terms," Smith said. “He’s not a walk-on. He got his scholarship for a reason."
  • There hasn’t been much talk about the fullback position. For the record, Jorvorskie Lane has been running with the first team.
  • The Bucs signed cornerback Kip Edwards to fill the roster spot that was created when guard Carl Nicks departed from the team. The team officially released Nicks on Wednesday.
  • Cornerback Alterraun Verner missed another day of practice with a hamstring injury, but Smith said Verner is getting closer to being able to return.

Buccaneers Camp Report: Day 2

July, 26, 2014
Jul 26
8:30
PM ET
TAMPA, Fla. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Tampa Bay Buccaneers training camp:
  • The Bucs, who had their practice abbreviated by lightning Friday, got their first full workout of camp in Saturday evening and the results were predictable. There was good and bad. No series summarized that more than a couple of plays near the middle of practice. On one play, quarterback Josh McCown threw an interception to strong safety Mark Barron. On the next play, McCown bounced back and hit Vincent Jackson with a perfectly thrown ball. Coach Lovie Smith said he expects the team to be more precise when it puts on pads for the first time on Sunday.
  • Speaking of first practices, Saturday marked the true debut of rookie tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins. He missed the offseason program due to NCAA regulations and was very limited in the rookie minicamp by a foot injury. But Seferian-Jenkins said his foot is fine now and he practiced with no limitations. After missing so much time, though, Seferian-Jenkins might be a little behind the other tight ends – Brandon Myers, Tim Wright and Luke Stocker. “He’s playing catch-up,’’ Smith said. “But he’s catching up.’’
  • It’s usually tough to get players to talk about specific goals, but defensive end Michael Johnson broke that rule of thumb. Johnson set one goal for himself and one for the entire defense. He wants to get back to double-digit sacks like he had in 2012 with Cincinnati. He also said the Bucs want to have the best defense in the league. Those two goals kind of go hand in hand. There’s been a lot of talk about how defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and linebacker Lavonte David compare to Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks, who were the cornerstones during Tampa Bay’s glory years. But a lot of people forget the Bucs didn’t fully get over the top until they got Simeon Rice as an outside rusher. If Johnson can make an impact anywhere close to what Rice did, the Bucs could end up being a very good defense.
  • I came into camp very skeptical about Tampa Bay’s depth at wide receiver after Jackson and rookie Mike Evans. But I’m starting to warm up to this position group. No one stood out, but guys like Tommy Streeter, Solomon Patton, Russell Shepard, Louis Murphy, Robert Herron, Lavelle Hawkins, Eric Page, Skye Dawson and David Gettis each had some bright moments. I think one of those guys will step up and claim the No. 3 job. That may be all the Bucs need because I’m not anticipating a lot of four-receiver sets from this offense.
  • Read into this whatever you want, but Jamon Meredith worked as the first-team left guard and Oniel Cousins worked at right guard. After the departure of Carl Nicks, I think the Bucs still are trying to figure out what they’re going to do at guard. I wouldn’t be surprised if Patrick Omameh and rookie Kadeem Edwards get some looks with the first team.
Some random thoughts as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers get ready for their first training camp practice this afternoon.

I want to believe the company line when it comes to guard Carl Nicks. But it’s hard not to be a little skeptical. Nicks didn’t report to camp Thursday due to what the team said was a personal reason. Given Nicks’ injury history, there’s a part of me that wonders if he’s contemplating retirement or getting a second opinion. Maybe Nicks simply had something to take care of and he’ll show up today. But I won’t believe his health is fine until he’s in the starting lineup on opening day.

A lot of people automatically assumed Clinton McDonald would be the starter at nose tackle when he signed as a free agent. That could turn out to be true. But general manager Jason Licht said McDonald will be competing with Akeem Spence, who started as a rookie last year. This competition could be one of the best of training camp.

The Bucs seem enchanted with the speed of running back Jeff Demps. You can’t blame them for that. The former Olympic sprinter might be the fastest player in the NFL. But the Bucs are very deep at running back. They’re going to have to be creative and come up with a package of plays for Demps, if he makes the team. Of course, Demps can help his chances of sticking by winning the kickoff return job.
TAMPA, Fla. – The Tampa Bay Buccaneers reported to training camp Thursday, but guard Carl Nicks didn’t show.

Nicks was excused for personal reasons, according to coach Lovie Smith. Nicks was excused only for the day, Smith said. Apparently, the personal reasons have nothing to do with the toe injury Nicks is attempting to come back from.

“It doesn’t concern me,’’ Smith said. “It’s part of training camp. It’s part of life.’’

Whenever Nicks does report, his health still will be a question mark. Nicks has been cleared for football activities, but the Bucs have indicated they might bring him along slowly. Nicks missed all but two games last season due to the toe injury and a MRSA infection. Nicks also missed the entire offseason program.

Nicks was the only player not to report as the Bucs get ready for their first practice Friday. Safeties Mark Barron and Dashon Goldson, who both missed the offseason program with injuries, have been cleared and are expected to take part in Friday’s practice.

Carl Nicks' status uncertain

July, 23, 2014
Jul 23
6:42
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TAMPA, Fla. -- Tampa Bay Buccaneers general manager Jason Licht wasn't ready to give a green light for the return of All-Pro guard Carl Nicks for the start of training camp.

Speaking with the media following a town hall meeting on WDAE (620 AM) radio, Licht wouldn't rule out the possibility of Nicks starting camp on the physically unable to perform list. Nicks missed all but two games last season with a toe injury and a MRSA infection.

"He's been working hard this summer," Licht said. "I know he's lost weight. He's been doing everything he's supposed to be doing to get out there. We'll know more tomorrow. It's a process there. We don't want to do anything too quick with him and we want to make sure we're making a decision with him that's best for him and best for us. It's a marathon, it's not a race with him."

Players are scheduled to report to camp Thursday morning and the first practice is set for Friday afternoon. Nicks missed the entire offseason program.

Nicks did pass a physical in June, but Licht made it sound like the team would proceed with caution.

"He's been cleared to do football activities," Licht said. "We're going to do it the right way and we're going to make sure."

In other news, Licht told the radio audience that talks continue about a contract extension for defensive tackle Gerald McCoy. Licht wouldn't set any time table, but said he has a good relationship with the player and his agent and is confident a deal can be worked out.

Also in front of the audience, Licht had some strong words about much maligned defensive end Da'Quan Bowers -- "To put it bluntly, we need him to show up".
Let’s continue our position-by-position look at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with the offensive line. This unit isn't going to look anything like last season and that's a good thing because this was a problem spot.

Right tackle Demar Dotson is the only player certain to return to the same starting position he had last season. Veterans Donald Penn, Davin Joseph and Jeremy Zuttah are gone.

The Bucs were very aggressive in free agency as they sought to rebuild the line. They spent big money on left tackle Anthony Collins and decent money on center Evan Dietrich-Smith. They also brought in guard Oniel Cousins for depth.

But a big question mark remains at guard. That’s the health of Carl Nicks, who has appeared in only nine games the past two seasons due to injury. The Bucs and Nicks have said he’ll be ready for the start of training camp, but he missed the entire offseason program.

If Nicks is healthy, the entire line suddenly gets a lot better because he’s one of the best guards in the league. But, if Nicks has any setback, that’s a huge blow. Cousins, Patrick Omameh and Jamon Meredith will compete for the other starting spot and two of them could start if Nicks isn’t ready.

Fact or fiction: Offense

July, 17, 2014
Jul 17
2:01
PM ET
On Wednesday, we played a game of fact or fiction with issues surrounding the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' defense. Now, let’s switch over to the offense:

1. Josh McCown is a good enough quarterback to lead the Bucs to the playoffs.

Our take: Fact.

McCown
Justify it: I went with fact over fiction, but just barely. I’m thinking Tampa Bay’s defense can be something really special. That alone could put the Bucs close to the playoffs. McCown doesn’t have to be spectacular, just steady. There is nothing in McCown’s background to suggest he is going to come in and throw for more than 4,000 yards and 40 touchdowns. But he is a crafty veteran, and with Tampa Bay’s defense that might be enough.

2. The Bucs will use a committee of running backs and no one back will get the bulk of the carries.

Our take: Fiction.

Justify it: One of the biggest myths of the offseason has taken on a life of its own because coach Lovie Smith said a team needs more than one quality back. He is serious about that and there will be some sort of rotation. But the fact is Doug Martin still is the feature back and will get most of the carries. He just won’t get almost all the carries like he did under former coach Greg Schiano. There will be room for Charles Sims, Bobby Rainey, Mike James and Jeff Demps to compete for touches.

3. This can be a top-tier offensive line.

Our take: Fiction.

Nicks
Justify it: I like the signings of free agents Anthony Collins and Evan Dietrich-Smith. But I’m skeptical about this unit because I’m skeptical about the health of guard Carl Nicks. He missed all but two games with a toe injury last season and wasn’t ready to take part in the offseason program. Nicks has said there is some permanent damage and that he will have to play through pain the rest of his career. That doesn’t sound encouraging. If Nicks somehow can get back to full strength, this offensive line could be very good. But let’s wait and see how Nicks fares.

4. Mike Evans will be a 1,000-yard receiver as a rookie.

Our take: Fact.

Justify it: Evans steps into a great situation as the No. 2 wide receiver. He will start opposite Vincent Jackson, who will draw most of the attention from opposing defenses. That means there should be plenty of opportunities for Evans. His size should give him a big advantage in one-on-one matchups with cornerbacks.

5. Tight end will be an important part of this offense.

Our take: Fact.

Justify it: Coordinator Jeff Tedford’s offense remains a bit of a puzzle to all of us. But just look at the clues when it comes to the tight ends and you can see some significant roles. The Bucs have Tim Wright, who had more than 50 catches as a rookie and free-agent pickup Brandon Myers. Throw in second-round draft pick Austin Seferian-Jenkins and it’s obvious the Bucs will be deep at this position. Luke Stocker also remains on the roster, but he needs a big training camp to stick around.
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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.

Top 15 Buccaneers: No. 3

July, 9, 2014
Jul 9
8:00
AM ET
We continue our list of the top 15 Buccaneers with No. 3:

Carl Nicks, guard

What he did in 2013: A toe injury and a MRSA infection limited Nicks to only two games.

Why he’s No. 3 in 2014: The Bucs have been very quiet about Nicks’ status. Nicks has said he expects to be healthy by training camp. There are obvious questions if he can be the same player he used to be. But, if he’s anything close to that, Nicks will solidify an offensive line that was overhauled in the offseason. Prior to his health problems, Nicks arguably was the best guard in the NFL. If he can get healthy, he can once again be among the league’s elite.

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