Thursday, December 14, 2017
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Five story lines entering Bucs training camp

TAMPA — Bucs coach Greg Schiano has no hobbies, but when his waterfront home was completed this spring with a dock that stretches into Tampa Bay, his three sons quickly learned how to drown some bait.

"I never fished before," Schiano said. "But I enjoy it now. What's great about it for me is that it gives you a great opportunity to talk with your kids."

Improving his communication with his players this year may be the biggest goal for Schiano, who in his first season as an NFL head coach was gunning for the title of most regimented coach last year. Though he will always obsess over details — players must carry two water bottles to meetings and sign in for meals — the locker room should police itself this year.

"We had one big thing we had to do (last year). We had to establish a culture in the building," Schiano said. "Sometimes you have to go overboard one way or another to get that culture established. But I think at this point, our football team understands who I am and how our football program is going to be run."

In his first season, between injuries and suspensions, Schiano could have put all his good players in one car and driven them to games. But with a big talent upgrade in the secondary and the boo-boos healed, he can focus more this year on what happens on game day.

"I think the biggest thing when you're dealing with NFL players, there's such a distance in age," Schiano said. "I think you really have to customize the plan for the guy, whereas in college (he came to the Bucs after 10 years at Rutgers), you just coach the whole group. That's something as time went on I saw more and more, especially with the length of the season."

Schiano's improvement is one of the big story lines entering training camp. Here are the others:

Revis' rehab

It's not a stretch to say Darrelle Revis' recovery from a torn anterior cruciate ligament may be the key to the season. So much of what the Bucs do on defense is predicated by the cornerback's ability to lock down receivers in man coverage.

Revis will be in pads for the first training camp workout Thursday, Schiano said. But how much he participates — or whether he even plays in a preseason game — is unknown.

When healthy, Revis is among the top five defenders in the NFL and is compensated like one at $16 million per year. With last week's trade of cornerback Eric Wright to San Francisco after another arrest for suspicion of DUI, more pressure is on Revis to be right by the Sept. 8 regular-season opener against the Jets in the Meadowlands. Defensive end Adrian Clayborn and guards Carl Nicks and Davin Joseph, all recovering from injuries, also will be monitored. But most eyeballs will be on Revis.

"What they do and how much they do … I think each guy… we handle them individually," Schiano said. "Certainly that Jets game is the ultimate, where we want to have (them) ready to go, and that's our goal."

Freeman familiarity

Love him or loathe him, quarterback Josh Freeman needs to play well for the Bucs to break a five-year postseason drought. Freeman should have a better mastery of the offense under coordinator Mike Sullivan, as well as a better feel for his weapons. Don't forget it took a month last year for the new coaches to discover Freeman excelled by changing his launch point outside the pocket. Ten of Freeman's 17 interceptions last year came in three games. His 4,065 passing yards and 27 touchdowns set club records. What can he do with more command of the offense?

Rush hour

The Bucs have failed to reach 30 sacks as a team for five consecutive seasons. The last player to record double-digit sacks was Simeon Rice (14 in 2005), who hasn't played in the NFL since 2007.

Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy played in all 16 games for the first time in his career last season and was named to the Pro Bowl. But pressure is heaped on Clayborn, who played in three games before suffering a knee injury, and Da'Quan Bowers, counted on this year to start at left defensive end.

Akeem Spence, a fourth-round draft pick this year, may be counted on to start at nose tackle. "After (organized team activities), Coach sat me down and told me I have a chance to be a starter," Spence said.

How much will the free agent departures of end Michael Bennett and tackle Roy Miller hurt? Will rookies William Gholston and Steven Means provide depth?

Banks payoff

The trade of Wright means second-round draft pick Johnthan Banks, the Thorpe Award winner as the nation's top defensive back while at Mississippi State last year, will be counted on opposite Revis.

Banks was dominant in the SEC. But it's a big transition to the NFL, and if he falters, the Bucs will have to fall back on Leonard Johnson, Danny Gorrer, Anthony Gaitor, Michael Adams or rookie Deveron Carr.

"I hadn't thought about it, but anybody playing on the other side of Revis is going to get targeted a lot," Banks said. "But we're all human, and you have to be ready for the job. … That is what they have me here to do, to come out here and cover people."

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