TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are ready to begin their countdown to the 2019 NFL season.
Training camp opened Friday afternoon at the AdventHealth Training Center in Tampa. For new head coach Bruce Arians, it is a return to his life passion. One year away from coaching was too much for the long-time offensive coordinator and eventual head coach in Arizona.
Arians inherits a Bucs team that began the 2018 season in exciting fashion, a 2-0 start before limping home to a 5-11 finish and another coaching change.
News Channel 8 is proud to once again enter a season as Your Official Bucs Station, broadcasting all four Bucs preseason games beginning Friday, Aug. 9, when the Bucs play the Pittsburgh Steelers. Camp updates will appear daily on WFLA.com.
There are many storylines for the 2019 Bucs season. Here are eight topics to key on as you follow the progress of the team throughout camp.
1. Bucco Bruce is real
Head coach Bruce Arians admitted that it was difficult to watch NFL teams at practice during the 2018 season. He was still attached to the game as a broadcaster but the lack of competition drove him to seek a return to the sideline. The Bucs have landed the man known as “the quarterback whisperer” and mutual respect between Arians and Quarterback Jameis Winston goes back to Winston’s early teens. Arians brings an equally impressive resume and reputation to Tampa Bay. He has coached in and won a Super Bowl. He turned the Arizona Cardinals into annual playoff contenders.
How can Arians perform the same magic in the Bay Area? He has surrounded himself with a large coaching and support staff, many of its members coming from Arians’ days in Arizona. He helped launch the head coaching career of Todd Bowles, who rejoins Arians as the Bucs defensive coordinator. There is trust and familiarity among the staff.
But Arians’ health will always hang over his tenure in Tampa. It was health concerns that drove him out of coaching and he needed to prove to the Bucs organization that he was fit to resume a coaching career before he was offered the job. Up until this point, the stress of evaluating and coaching has enjoyed a slower pace. Once camp begins, the pressure of getting it right becomes immense. Arians says he is revived and ready. The month of August is the first test.
2. The defense does not rest
Aggressive. Attacking. These are just two one-word descriptions of the style Bucs fans can expect to see in 2019. Defensive coordinator Todd Bowles will run a different scheme than we’re used to seeing here. His 3-4 alignment will feature faster play than the 4-3 scheme that utilizes big bodies and gal control to stop the run. The interior linemen are still big but they can rush the passer with speed. Second-year player Vita Vea will line up with one of the game’s current greats, Ndamukong Suh.
The different look will involve the edge rushers. Defensive ends like Will Gholston and Carl Nassib will line up more in a linebacker role with the same goal as a typical end: Get to the quarterback. One player in the spotlight will be defensive end Noah Spence. This could be his breakout season after an injury-riddled, slow start to his pro career.
Whether 3-4 or 4-3, the principle is the same. If Bowles cannot get his defensive linemen in a position to get to the opponent’s backfield and also stop the run game, there will be long days for the Bucs.
3. The kids can play
Head coach Bruce Arians has lauded the talent of the Bucs rookie class. He says they need to play. In the case of the cornerbacks, he is likely to get his wish. Rookies Sean Murphy-Bunting and Jamel Dean stood out throughout the off-season program, matching the speed of the Bucs’ receivers and playing aggressively. There will be inevitable growing pains, however. The Bucs have two key returning corners that can not only hold down starting roles but also provide leadership for the young players, thus turning a thin unit into one of the strongest in the division.
Vernon Hargreaves is itching for the spotlight and a shot to get his young career back on the track of a former first-round draft selection. Hargreaves will enjoy the one on one style that made him a star in college. Carlton Davis showed improvement during his 13-game rookie season. Cornerback MJ Stewart will fight for playing time as well, making this young unit one of the deepest in the game.
4. Make-or-break year for Winston
The Bucs pushed their chips to the center of the table by picking up the fifth-year option on the contract of quarterback Jameis Winston. His salary, at just under $21 million, put a massive strain on the salary cap and leaves no room for error. This season is a chance for Winston to write his ticket or risk losing the spot he’s occupied since he was drafted number one overall in 2014.
While Winston’s early career numbers are comparable to some of the best quarterbacks in history, last season was a frustrating test. Suspended for the first four games of the season, Winston was later benched, replaced by quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. In all, he played in 11 games, throwing 19 touchdown passes and 14 interceptions.
Winston has a clean slate with only the second play-caller in his pro career, offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich, mentoring him not long after his own QB career. If his decisions fit the philosophy of Arians, Winston could be in for a big season.
5. Can the Bucs finally run?
Only three teams ran the football for fewer yards than the Bucs in 2018. Mired in penalty-filled drives and inconsistency, Bucs running backs had a difficult time crossing the line of scrimmage. Head coach Bruce Arians is confident that will change.
No drastic changes were made from a personnel standpoint so the pressure to run the ball will begin with Peyton Barber, a hard-working back that has battled injuries and criticism of his longevity. Barber’s 871 yards were much better than last year’s rookie hopeful Ronald Jones. The former USC star ran the ball 23 times for 44 yards. Jones will play heavier this season in hopes of withstanding contact better, whether or not that is behind the line of scrimmage or in the opponent’s second level.
6. Godwin’s time to shine
Down the pecking order of the Bucs wide receiver depth chart, Chris Godwin waited for his chance. The second-year player filled in behind an injured DeSean Jackson and caught seven touchdown passes after just one in his rookie season. With the departure of Jackson and reliable slot man Adam Humphries, Godwin has an opportunity to explode statistically, freeing up receiver Mike Evans to continue his quest for yet another 1,000-yard season.
7. Is White the real deal?
Rookie linebacker Devin White is already enjoying his place in NFL history as one of the highest ever draft picks at his position. He was not only chosen so he could get on the field quickly. White will share leadership duties with veteran Lavonte David.
In three seasons at LSU, White was a tackling machine, collecting 114 of them. Alongside David, one of the best tacklers in Bucs history, he will be given a green light to spot the football and track down the call carrier at any point on the field. The Bucs linebackers will benefit from a strong pass rush and even have opportunities to blitz themselves, earning more sacks than normal.
8. Just for kicks
All Bucs fans are aware of the team’s kicking history. A second-round pick was spent on a kicker and well, you know the rest. In 2019, the Bucs did it again, drafting Utah kicker Matt Gay, creating an instant competition with a reliable Cairo Santos.
Gay is known for his booming leg but it is his accuracy that astounded NFL scouts. He was 85 for 85 in college extra-point attempts, earning him the nickname “Mr. Perfect.” Gay’s 86 percent accuracy on field goal attempts are hard to pass up as well. But Roberto Aguayo had similar credentials. The longer NFL point after attempt was his nemesis. Gay must battle history as well as Santos.
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