TAMPA – The Buccaneers arrived at One Buc Place for the start of training camp on Thursday amid great expectations, greater perhaps than any Bucs team has had since the 2007 team went to the playoffs.
The reasons are rather obvious.
Coming off a 9-7 season in 2016 and an offseason devoted largely to improving the arsenal around quarterback Jameis Winston, the Bucs are for once a very chic pick to break their long playoff drought.
A lot will have to go right for that to happen, though, and no one seems to know that better than coach Dirk Koetter, who has wisely tried to quell some of the enthusiasm in an effort to keep his players focused.
With the start of camp workouts now less than 24 hours away, here’s a look at three situations that will factor heavily into the Bucs chances of playing up to the expectations everyone seems to have for them.
The kicking battle
It’s really remarkable that amid all the struggles that rookie kicker Roberto Aguayo suffered through last year, he never once cost the Bucs a game by missing a field goal or an extra point. In fact, he actually won them a couple of games.
It’s unlikely the Bucs will be that lucky this year, especially if Aguayo remains as inconsistent as he was last year, which is why the Bucs wisely brought in veteran Nick Folk to challenge the second-round draft pick for the kicker’s job.
What the Bucs are looking for here is consistency, so every kick – whether it’s in a training camp drill or an exhibition game – will count. Considering what’s at stake it’s a good bet the Bucs will go with the veteran in the end but if Aguayo can regain his college form he could easily save his job.
The deep ball
One of the things that has everyone so excited about the Bucs, of course, is the addition of wide receiver DeSean Jackson and rookie tight end O.J. Howard. Together they will provide Winston with two long-range weapons that should result in more explosive game-breaking plays.
The key to success here, though, mostly lies with Winston, who despite having the arm strength to capitalize on those deep threats, has only completed 48.1-percent of the passes he’s thrown more than 10 yards down the field since coming to the NFL.
The Bucs have spent two years trying to correct a lot of the mechanical flaws Winston came into the NFL with and have challenged him to be more precise this year. He’ll have to be if the Bucs are going to get the most out of all the new toys he has to work with.
There were very few days when the defense didn’t seem to get the better of the offense during offseason workouts this spring and while that doesn’t necessarily speak well for the offense, it speaks volumes for how far the defense has come since this time last year.
Bucs players readily admit that for more than a month or two they were absolutely lost in coordinator Mike Smith’s scheme last year. It wasn’t until the second half of the season that they finally started to figure things out, and when they did the defense took off.
The Bucs allowed an average of just 17 points and less than 350 yards per game during their last eight games last year and they’re probably going to need that trend to continue to get to the playoffs, so if you hear that the defense is dominating in camp drills again, don’t fret. In the long run, it’s probably a good thing.