Now that the Bucs are done with their offseason schedule and players have been released, it's a good time to take stock of some things. Among those is the starting lineup as of today.
The Bucs won't release a depth chart until just prior to their first preseason game, and what you read below is NOT official by any means. It also has not been provided by the team. However, these are pretty educated guesses about what the lineup currently looks like. It's based on everything witnessed during OTAs and from what we've gleaned from talking to players and coaches during the past two months.
You'll notice nine new starters compared to last season's opening-day lineup. That includes Ronde Barber and Jeremy Zuttah (who are playing new positions this year). Most of the newbies are significant upgrades, too. This should give you a better sense of something I've been saying for a long time -- that this is a very different team from the 2011 Bucs who, in retrospect, were short on talent and depth.
Before we go on, a couple of important points:
a) Don't obsess over the running back position. I've listed rookie Doug Martin as the starter, but that's based on his broader skill set, something coach Greg Schiano has consistently said he looks for. LeGarrette Blount is going to have a role, and it could still be a rather big one. But at the end of the day, Martin is a first-round pick whom the Bucs traded up to select. Whichever back actually starts is going to have share touches.
b) The kick- and punt-return men aren't listed because that's still too wide-open to determine. Just know that most of the players who returned kicks last season are again in the mix, as well as a couple of others (Tiquan Underwood, for example). We'll delve more into this at a later time.
With that said, here goes nothing:
QB: Josh Freeman -- Unchallenged, hoping for big things
RB: Doug Martin -- Likely to share carries with Blount
FB: Erik Lorig -- Could be challenged
LT: Donald Penn -- Pro Bowl selection
LG: Carl Nicks -- Top free-agent lineman signed in March
C: Jeremy Zuttah -- Finally has a permanent position
RG: Davin Joseph -- Coming off Pro Bowl season
RT: Jeremy Trueblood -- Entering a contract year
TE: Dallas Clark -- Can he stay healthy?
WR: Vincent Jackson -- Josh Freeman's new best friend
WR: Mike Williams -- A better fit in current No. 2 role
LDE: Michael Bennett -- Must step up for injured Da'Quan Bowers
DT: Brian Price -- Has had a rough offseason. Someone to watch
DT: Gerald McCoy -- High expectations from twice-injured top pick
RDE: Adrian Clayborn -- Will build on strong rookie year
WLB: Lavonte David -- Rookie expected to be big playmaker
MLB: Mason Foster -- More settled in Year 2
SLB: Quincy Black -- Needs to step up as a veteran
LCB: Aqib Talib -- Case closed in Texas but is suspension looming?
RCB: Eric Wright -- Very capable No. 2 CB
FS: Ronde Barber -- New position means new challenges
SS: Mark Barron -- Big hitter should help run defense
P: Michael Koenen -- Was a game-changer last season
K: Connor Barth -- Has new contract coming off career year