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Jones: Bucs' offense ready to answer call

TAMPA

No need to map out parade routes just yet. No need to print up those playoff tickets.

But go ahead and allow yourself to be somewhat optimistic about the Bucs as training camp swings into its first full week. Even if it's just a little bit. Even if it's cautiously so. Even if we're talking specifically about one side of the football.

Dare we say, "Fire those cannons?!"

Compared to where the Bucs were a year ago at this time, it's easy to get excited thinking about the Bucs moving the ball from here to there with "there" being past the closest first down marker and into the nearest end zone.

A year ago at this time, the Bucs offense was learning to crawl. These days, you expect it to fly.

Think back to where this Bucs offense was entering last training camp.

Tampa Bay had a rookie quarterback in Jameis Winston. It had two rookie offensive linemen in Donovan Smith and Ali Marpet. It had a second-year receiver in Mike Evans and an injury-prone second-year tight end in Austin Seferian-Jenkins. It had major uncertainty at running back with Doug Martin coming off two banged-up, subpar seasons.

And it had a new offensive coordinator in Dirk Koetter — Tampa Bay's fourth play-caller in just more than two years.

Heck, even crawling seemed like wishful thinking. Why in the world would anyone have any confidence in an offense that looked like that? Why would you have faith in an offense that was so long on questions and so short on experience?

But look at what the Bucs have now.

They have a second-year quarterback coming off a promising rookie season in which he threw for 22 touchdowns and more than 4,000 yards.

They have two second-year linemen who anchor what turned out to be one of the team's strengths.

They have a healthy Evans and a healthy Seferian-Jenkins to go along with a healthy Vincent Jackson to give Winston three premier targets.

They have a dependable running back in Martin coming off a spectacular season in which he rushed for more than 1,400 yards and was the key to the Bucs' dual-threat attack.

In one year, the Bucs offense has gone from the team's biggest concern to the team's most reliable piece. It just took time. A year's worth.

"There's nothing like experience," Jackson said. "The more you do it, the more you are around this level, the more you are getting competition and getting this great coaching, you're just going to continue to improve. We've got young guys that are embracing the coach. They are being coachable, they are working hard out here, they are working at their craft and that's all you can ask of them.

"You will improve if you have the right mind-set and, obviously, if we have the right system — and I really believe in this system. I think it's going to be a great fit for the personnel that we have."

Maybe the biggest reason of all for optimism is continuity of having Koetter coming back for a second consecutive season to run the offense. As backup quarterback Mike Glennon pointed out to Winston, it's the first time during Glennon's four NFL seasons that he has had the same play-caller two years in a row.

"So, that's a big stride for us," Winston said. "That's a big advantage for us, for our team. So we just have to get better."

It will get better assuming that Winston can get on the same page with Evans, and that means getting on the same field with him. The Winston-to-Evans connection should be the Bucs' most dangerous offensive weapon.

Last year's training camp was thrown out of whack because Evans missed much of it with a touchy hamstring and didn't catch a pass from Winston until after the start of the regular season. That certainly stunted the chemistry between the two, right?

"Yeah," Koetter said. "It probably did."

And the chemistry now?

"It's on the right track," Koetter said.

All because Evans is healthy.

"The No. 1 ability in football is availability," Koetter said. "We've got to have our guys out here. If we're going to work together, we've got to have them out here."

Of course, the entire offense revolves around Winston, who gives the Bucs the best situation at quarterback since, well, maybe ever.

"Jameis being a young guy going into his second year, his confidence continues to grow and you can see it," Jackson said. "He's just getting a better feel not only for this offense, but with different players and building relationships there. It's great. It's fun to see a guy that's hungry, who works hard, and it's fun to follow him and follow his lead."

Not that Winston is counting his touchdown passes before they hatch.

"I have to stay focused, I can't think about, 'What was it like being a rookie last year?' " Winston said. "I have to think, 'What is it going to be like facing the Philadelphia Eagles in our first preseason game? How can we win that game? What do I need to do for us to win that game?' "

What will the Bucs need to do to win a bunch of games? Move the football, and the Bucs appear to have the offense to do just that.

Now, about that defense.

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Jones: Bucs' offense ready to answer call 07/29/16 [Last modified: Saturday, July 30, 2016 8:04pm]
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