The Tampa Bay Buccanneers and their fans are no stronger to pessimistic storylines. But, that’s in well-reason for that — the team has had plenty of stars, but they haven’t made the playoffs since 2007. But, in 2019, that very well could change.
Despite Tampa Bay’s considerable roster holes, they come into the NFL’s 100th season with real hope backed by their best head coaching acquisition since the trade for Jon Gruden.
With that being said, here are four storylines that will shape their 2019 season.
4. Is Jameis Winston a franchise quarterback?
The Buccaneers must find an answer to this question. Since drafting Jameis Winston at No. 1 overall in 2015, the results have been a mix of good and bad. The 25-year-old was a Pro Bowler in his rookie season and deservingly so; though his college turnover issues prevailed (15 interceptions), he threw for 4,042 yards and 22 touchdowns on a bad offense.
Most expected Winston to clean up his turnover issues, get more consistent, and take the next jump to stardom after his rookie year. But that never happened.
His off-the-field concerns, coupled with his inefficiency, has led to what many see as a regression. Since his rookie year, he’s thrown for a solid 10,586 yards and 66 touchdowns — impressive numbers as equally unimpressive as his 43 interceptions and 32 fumbles in the same span.
Winston is a talented quarterback with an excellent arm and aggressive style of play. But, far too often, he’s made bone-headed mistakes on and off the field.
Going into a fifth-year option on his contract, both Winston and Tampa Bay need to clear up those issues and decide on his future.
3. Bruce Arians and his plan for franchise resurrection
Luckily, Winston got just the head coach he needed to increase his stock. Bruce Arians.
A noted quarterback whisperer, the coach has done his best work with big-armed, aggressive quarterbacks. Winston is just that. In the past, Arians has turned once dead-in-the-water teams to thriving, legitimate Super Bowl contenders. Now, in Tampa Bay, the formerly retired offensive mind looks to do the same.
Arians, is, by all means, an underdog head coach. He came from an unlikely place to get into the NFL, was the first interim head coach ever to win NFL Coach of the Year, and then brought the overlooked Arizona Cardinals to relevancy.
Tampa Bay, just like Arizona before Arians appeared, has been the butt of many jokes, but if history is any indication, it won’t be for very long.
2. The run game + Ronald Jones has to be reliable
To take advantage of Winston’s big-arm and Arians’ extensive playbook, the Buccaneers will have to be reliable as a rushing attack.
If not, Arians’ play-action won’t develop, and defenses will focus solely on the pass by substituting their run-defense for a rangier pass one. Luckily, with pass-centric OC Todd Monken’s departure, building an effective ground game in Tampa Bay is wholly possible.
The Buccanneers have a solid offensive line that can create lanes for backs. But, the backs running the ball, Ronald Jones and Peyton Barber, haven’t been able to utilize them. Though Barber ran for 871 yards and five touchdowns in 2018, he’ll likely take a backseat to Jones.
They drafted Jones out of USC in the second round last year for a reason — he was a dynamic, athletically gifted back that had no problem getting to the endzone in college. But he did in his rookie season — he rushed the ball 23 times for 44 yards and a score.
Barber is, in my eyes, a solid complementary back, but Jones needs to be their bell-cow to establish the run.
It’s simple, for the offense to take the next step, Jones will have to do the same.
1. The defensive front-seven is revamped, but the secondary needs to show the most improvement
Out goes LB Kwon Alexander, DT Gerald McCoy, and EDGE Jason Pierre-Paul (neck injury — probably out for at least the season). In comes LB Devin White, DT Ndamukong Suh, and LB Deonne Bucannon.
White, Suh, and Bucannon will help the Buccaneers shore up their front-seven alongside former All-Pro Lavonte David, and 2018 first-round DT Vita Vea. But, all eyes will be on the secondary.
In 2018, the Buccaneers had a truly awful passing defense. Through the air, they allowed 4,151 yards, 34 touchdowns, and a league-high 110.1 passer rating to just nine interceptions. As it currently stands, they will be without four-time Pro Bowler Brent Grimes at cornerback. But, they have a plan to fix their ineffective secondary — youth talent, and a lot of it.
In the past two years, the Buccaneers have drafted six defensive backs, including three cornerbacks in the second-round.
The three-second rounders, M.J. Stewart, Carlton Davis, and Sean Murphy-Bunting are all promising prospects with some elite traits. You can say the same for 2018 third-rounder Jamel Dean. As for safeties, the team drafted Jordan Whitehead and Mike Edwards — two prospects with high upside as versatile chess pieces.
The six defensive backs will join forces with 2016 first rounder CB Vernon Hargreaves, and 2017 second rounder S Justin Evans as well.
Hopefully, a few of the eight mentioned youngsters can turn potential into production.