Saturday, February 24, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Jones: Tapping the brakes on the Bucs bandwagon

It isn't clear when exactly it happened.

Maybe it was when the Bucs signed the prize free agent of the offseason, DeSean Jackson.

Maybe it was when HBO's Hard Knocks picked the Bucs to be this season's featured team.

Maybe it was when the Bucs had Alabama tight end O.J. Howard fall into their laps in the draft.

But somewhere along the way, the Bucs became the cool kids in town.

They are the buzz around Tampa Bay. They are the talk across the country. National talk-show hosts are pumping them up. National publications are singing their praises. Every year, some team becomes the chic pick to make the leap from missing the playoffs to being a postseason threat. This year, the Bucs appear to be that team.

Which leads me to two questions:

Isn't it great that the Bucs are relevant again?

And, well, aren't we getting a little ahead ourselves?

I know, I know. Here I am, being Debbie Downer, throwing cold water on everyone's good time. What else is new?

But though I do think the Bucs have had a heck of an offseason, I still think it's way too early to start handing out pats on the back.

The work isn't done. It's just beginning.

There is still much to be done, and there are still plenty of questions about the 2017 Bucs. Actually, in that previous sentence, you could replace the word "questions'' with "doubts.'' There still are serious doubts about the Bucs.

Let's start at running back. Like, uh, who is it?

It's either going to be the unreliable Doug Martin or someone who, as of now, isn't as good as Doug Martin. In other words, we don't know what the Bucs are going to have at running back.

Next: the offensive line. It's decent but not great. And not deep. The keys appear to be Donovan Smith and Ali Marpet. Both are going into their third season, and both are off to good starts in their careers. But offensive line will be something to watch, and if it isn't up to snuff, it doesn't matter how skilled the skilled players are. If you can't block for them, they can't make plays.

Next: the defense. Gerald McCoy is an elite tackle. Lavonte David is an elite linebacker. Who else you got? Maybe corner Vernon Hargreaves will make a big jump in his second year. Linebacker Kwon Alexander can play a bit. After that, well, the Bucs drafted some guys and signed some guys, and we'll just have to wait and see how it all pans out. But if you're looking for the formula on how the Bucs will win games in 2017, it will be about scoring points, not stopping the other team from scoring points.

Clearly, the offense is better than the defense.

Next: kicker. You never know how valuable a kicker is until you don't have one. The Bucs are still trying to figure out if they have one in Roberto Aguayo, a second-round pick in last year's draft. He was a league-worst 71 percent in field goals last season, so bad that Tampa Bay decided to sign veteran Nick Folk this offseason. Again, we'll find out how reliable kicking is when one of them actually lines up with the game on the line in the regular season.

Next: depth, especially at quarterback. Like any team, the Bucs are in major trouble if their starting quarterback goes down for eight or nine weeks. But what if Jameis Winston goes down for, say, two or three games? Do you trust Ryan Griffin, who has never taken an NFL regular-season snap, to win one or two games that could be the difference between playing football instead of golf in early January?

Then there's a bunch of other stuff to consider.

The division isn't easy. It has the past two NFC champs.

The schedule isn't easy. As of now, one Vegas outfit has the Bucs favored in only five games. Of course, predicting a schedule six months out is like predicting the weather six months out. Still, it just goes to show that the smart people in Vegas, who always seem to know how to make money, aren't sold on the Bucs just yet.

Another Vegas site has set the Bucs' over-under on wins at eight. That's one fewer than Tampa Bay won a season ago. Just another example of someone not ready to put the Bucs near the top of the NFL hill just yet.

There's a lot to like about the Bucs.

They seem to have finally found the right coach. They might have the best quarterback they've ever had. That's the start every team needs to be successful.

They certainly are in the best position they have been in since the year after the Super Bowl. The arrow is rising on this team. They are headed to the playoffs.

Just don't be shocked if it isn't in 2017.

     
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