Bucs confident after all of their personnel turnover

Adam Humphries is an undrafted rookie who made the Bucs’ roster as a receiver/punt returner.
Adam Humphries is an undrafted rookie who made the Bucs’ roster as a receiver/punt returner.
Published Sept. 8, 2015

TAMPA — Six days before the regular season opener against the Titans, sixth-year defensive tackle Gerald McCoy walked into the Bucs locker room and noticed even more new faces still trying to find their places. "It's like the first day of school," McCoy said.

Coach Lovie Smith might want takeaways, but when it comes to the 53-man roster, he has presided over Team Turnover. Only 15 players remain who were Buccaneers before Smith took over as coach in January 2014. That's an overhaul of nearly 72 percent. Twenty-five of those players weren't in Tampa Bay a year ago.

Five more bodies were added Sunday with the Bucs flexing their status of owning the league's first waiver claim.

It's all just the fallout from the Bucs' nuclear winter, when they had to make sweeping changes after a 2-14 season.

"I didn't know the numbers but this does seem and feel more like our football team," Smith said. "Not that those teams didn't. Whoever has the Tampa Bay Buccaneer uniform on is ours, but we are getting closer to having guys at every position that we wanted as much as anything. We feel good about where we are right now. (I'm) anxious to see how it's all going to come together this second year."

One thing that jumps out about the Bucs this season is how baby-faced they are. They have 10 guys who never played a regular-season NFL game. Seven others have played 10 pro games or fewer.

So what should get you excited enough to put on that Bucs jersey and face paint?

Smith says it's because even though the Bucs are counting on young players at key positions — rookies in quarterback Jameis Winston, left tackle Donovan Smith, right guard Ali Marpet and middle linebacker Kwon Alexander, to name a few — they are all extremely talented.

"I think it's on the vets to bring the young guys along," receiver Louis Murphy said. "I've seen plenty of times where young guys have stepped up to major roles and done well."

Murphy, entering his seventh season, is right in one sense. Not many of the Bucs rookies have performed as if they are overwhelmed by the leap from college.

Winston, who only lost one game in two seasons at Florida State, was a precocious 19-year-old redshirt freshman when he led the Seminoles to an unbeaten record and national championship while picking up the Heisman Trophy. Why can't he beat the calendar in the NFL?

"The competition level where a lot of us came from in college was very high so coming into the NFL wasn't a huge leap for us physically, but more mentally," said rookie Adam Humphries, an undrafted free agent from Clemson who will handle (gulp) punt return duties.

If that weren't like walking in an earthquake with nitroglycerin, consider that both kicker Kyle Brindza and punter Jacob Schum are rookies. Heck, they both walked through the revolving door last week.

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"Maybe it makes some people uncomfortable," Lovie Smith admits. "But for me, I'm excited because both of them can kick. Both of them have strong legs."

Smith might need a strong stomach the first time Brindza eyes a 40-yard field goal with his team trailing by a point with five seconds left in a game. But the coach really doesn't mind being the pied piper when it comes to his team.

"Our lead running back (Doug Martin) has had excellent off-season workouts," Smith said. "When we want to pass the football … we feel like we can do that. We know we have good skill guys that can catch the ball. We know we have a good guy that can throw the football. We realize we have to protect him.

"Defensively, we've seen our blueprint in play — taking the ball away, scoring, being good on third downs, playing hard and physical as a football team."

Murphy made the boldest prediction Monday. "I feel there's a hurricane brewing in the bay," he said. "That's my prediction. I think there will be a big storm coming."

But you get the feeling with all the changes, the Bucs would settle for even a slight chance of reign.