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Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 5 Training Camp Storylines to Follow

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Whether it is the firing of their head coach or the drafting of a kicker in the 2nd round of the NFL Draft, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have had quite the newsworthy offseason. The Buccaneers will look to improve on their 6-10 finish from last year and hopefully shake up a division where the Carolina Panthers have dominated in back-to-back years.

Before week one, the Bucs have a lot to sort out with scheme and their depth chart. Let’s take a look at a few storylines to follow in these next few weeks:

Was Robert Aguayo worth the 2nd round pick?

Not only did the Bucs select Aguayo in the 2nd round but they also traded up to get him. And then the crowd went silent.

Many fans were baffled by this pick, being that the Bucs haven’t had a winning season since the Josh Freeman era and had plenty of needs other than a kicker. I understand the confusion but won’t knock Jason Licht for this one. Not only did the Bucs draft both of their biggest needs (DE,CB) with their first two picks but they also had the opportunity to draft one of the best

Aguayo was born and raised right outside of Tampa and spent his college years at Florida State University, where he became the most accurate kicker in NCAA history. He converted on 96.7% of his attempts, never missed a kick <40 yards and made all 198 extra points that he attempted. He was drafted to bring some stability to a team that had the 3rd worst kicking FG% in 2015 (ESPN.com). Not only did the missed FGs take points off the board but it ruined any momentum that the Bucs had. Aguayo will be closely watched throughout all of training camp; I am sure that his first miss will go viral like a Miko Grimes tweet. The fact of the matter is that the Bucs drafted the best kicker we have seen in ages and barring some unforeseen circumstances, will not need to worry about this position for the next decade. If he can bring his accuracy to the NFL level, the comparisons to some of the best kickers in history might not be all that farfetched.

What defensive scheme will we see on opening day?

This is the biggest ‘unknown’ of the group, as we really don’t know what Mike Smith will implement defensively until training camp. During one of his first press conferences, Smith hinted at what will come:

“We’re going to base out of a four-man front. But again when you play with a four-man front, you over shift and you’re in a 3-4. You start in a 3-4, you over shift and you’re in a 4-3. There’s not a whole lot of difference in terms of what you do, it’s a matter of how you’re going to put your shell in the back-end. And I think that’s the thing that you have to do, you have to give the quarterback different looks. Your front, there’s only so many things you can do.”

In summary, we really don’t know exactly what he will be doing. We do know that Smith will be working with some of the most talented players he has ever had the opportunity to coach, including LB Lavonte David and DT Gerald McCoy. You can also argue that the depth of this secondary is the best he has been able to operate with. The signing of LB Daryl Smith could hint at an opportunity to deploy a 3-4 look at times, as Smith operated in this scheme in Baltimore. In the next few weeks, we should have a much clearer picture on how the Buccaneers will look on the defensive side of the ball.

Koetter hints that Winston will have more control of the offense

As the 2015 season went on, it was clear to see that Jameis Winston was progressing each and every week. Although he still had his rookie moments, he became more composed, took less unnecessary risk, and made more calls at the line of scrimmage as the season went on. In fact, 7 of his 15 interceptions came in the first four games.

During the final seven games of the season, Winston had 14 total touchdowns compared to only 6 interceptions. Winston should only improve on these numbers as he now has a year under his belt and will continue in the same Koetter offense of last year. Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times quoted:

“Jameis is a good communicator at the line, good at the no-huddle,” Koetter told MMQB. “Studies like a wild man, and that’s what we love about him,” Koetter says. “I trust my judgment, and I trust the judgment of our coaches. We’re around Jameis every day, and we know what he’s capable of.”

It sounds like Koetter will add a bit more to Winston’s plate in his second year under center. Winston absolutely needs to improve on his field vision and deep-ball accuracy but we also must remember that he is only 22 years old. Another training camp paired with the fact that he has reportedly lost 18 Lbs. this offseason (Rotoworld) will only benefit the young QB, mentally and physically. Winston may not have been in the NFL Network Top 100 players, but as shown below, next year might be a little different:

Will Evans improve in 2016?

According to most stat categories, the 22 year-old Mike Evans had a pretty good year. Throughout a good part of the season, Evans was the only (no offense to Dye or Humphries) target for Winston as injuries depleted the receiving core. Defenses were allowed to key in on Evans and double team him as they wished. Still, he amassed 74 receptions for 1206 yards in his second year – not too shabby with all things considered. The stat category that was not his friend was the amount of drops: 15 (ProFootballFocus).

That was second most in the league, behind only Amari Cooper. Throw out the five drops he had in the hurricane rains vs the New York Giants and that still leaves him with 10 too many.  An interesting stat that Roy Cummings had mentioned: Winston only completed 14 of 53 passes that traveled more than 20 yards. Additionally, Evans only caught 4 passes that traveled more than 20 yards last year.

If Evans and Winston can improve on their chemistry during this training camp, there is no reason why Evans won’t crack the top 10 in yards and touchdowns. Getting Vincent Jackson back on the field, along with a healthy slot WR and TE could make all the difference in this passing attack.

How will Dirk Koetter fare as the Head Coach?

Dirk Koetter will be the fourth Head Coach of the Buccaneers since John Gruden left in 2008. Greg Schiano and Lovie Smith were both fired after two years. Some might say that they were never really cut out for the job; others will say that Koetter is now on the clock. Koetter has strung together some potent offenses during his tenure with the Falcons and last season with the Buccaneers.

Although his only head coaching experience came in the college ranks at Boise State and Arizona State, the hiring of Mike Smith (former Atlanta Falcons HC) will surely assist with the transition.  Koetter was absolutely the right hire for HC, as he was instrumental in the development of Winston last year and put together a respectable offense led by a rookie and team plagued with injuries.

Long before Lovie was fired, it was easy to see during press conferences the Koetter had command and was the spark to this team. This team has an array of talent and I believe that Jason Licht has finally found the right pieces to coach this young team.

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Robert D. Cobb
Founder, Publisher and CEO of INSCMagazine. Works have appeared and featured in places such as Forbes, Huffington Post, ESPN and NBC Sports to name a few. Follow me on Twitter at @RobCobb_INSC, email me at robert.cobb@theinscribermag.com