Friday, December 15, 2017
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Tampa Bay Buccaneers have overhauled their roster

TAMPA — Inseparable friends Jeremy Trueblood and Davin Joseph were hanging out in the Bucs weight room recently and began to reflect.

The offensive linemen were struck by the fact only one player on the team, 16-year veteran Ronde Barber, has been with Tampa Bay longer than them.

But here's the thing: The members of the 2006 draft class didn't have to reach back too far to appreciate the sweeping changes the team has undergone. Simply compare last season's roster to the current one, and it's obvious this is a vastly different team than the one that finished 4-12 in 2011.

"With the turnover we've had in recent years, I guess it's something we kind of get used to," said Trueblood, one of just nine current Bucs to play under Jon Gruden, who was fired as coach after the 2008 season. "But it's amazing."

When most think of the team's offseason transformation, thoughts of the coaching change to Greg Schiano or signings of top-dollar free agents Vincent Jackson, Carl Nicks and Eric Wright probably come to mind.

But this roster overhaul goes much, much deeper.

Among the 22 starting position players, 10 are projected to be changes from last season. That includes two players with new positions: Barber, from cornerback to free safety, and Jeremy Zuttah, from left guard to center. Among the 90 players on the current roster, only 40 were on it a year ago.

The changes continued last week as defensive tackle Brian Price, who started 14 games last season, and receiver Dezmon Briscoe, who caught a team-high six touchdowns last season, were traded and waived, respectively.

The NFL has never been a place where rosters remain static for long.

"That's the business," defensive end Michael Bennett said.

"Every year," receiver Sammie Stroughter said, "is a reality check."

This level of change is significant by any measure. But it should not be surprising given the outcome of last season, which was capped by 10 straight losses.

"The year before is never good enough," Barber said. "There's only one team that's happy with their success (the Super Bowl winner). So you try to change. Change is constant.

"There's never the same 53 guys on any roster any year. There's no mistake that this league passes you by quickly if you're not having success. This is a new team under new guidance."

The changes have come throughout the roster, not just among big-name players. An addition such as Jackson, a Pro Bowl receiver formerly of the Chargers, will generate the most headlines. But it's important to note the signings of players such as defensive linemen Amobi Okoye and Gary Gibson and tight end Dallas Clark. Not to be overlooked are draft picks such as safety Mark Barron, running back Doug Martin and linebacker Lavonte David, who will play central roles.

General manager Mark Dominik has been part of a roster overhaul before. When he replaced the fired Bruce Allen in 2009, he cut veterans Derrick Brooks, Warrick Dunn and Joey Galloway. But that youth movement was more like a total reconstruction.

This time, the Bucs believe they're augmenting, not rebuilding.

"In 2009, we made a decision to be a younger football team to try and get this thing together," Dominik said. "This year, a big part of what we wanted to do in free agency was not only bring in quality free agents, but bring in some leadership.

"And we felt it was the right time to add the free agents to the young guys that we had."

With all the changes come challenges. The coaching change from Raheem Morris to Schiano means there are offensive and defensive schemes to learn. As a result, even returning players are starting over.

"It's a process, especially because we're learning a whole new system," Bennett said. "If it was still the same system, it wouldn't be as hard. But right now, it's new coaches, new plays, new staff. It's a big turnover."

And through it all, the franchise is looking for one more change: game results.

"Reality is a beast," Joseph said, "and last year was reality."

Stephen F. Holder can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @HolderStephen.

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