For Bucs, training camp brings many story lines

For the next three weeks or so, the spotlight will be as bright as the midday sun on quarterback Jameis Winston, the No. 1 overall pick from Florida State. [EVE EDELHEIT | Times]
For the next three weeks or so, the spotlight will be as bright as the midday sun on quarterback Jameis Winston, the No. 1 overall pick from Florida State. [EVE EDELHEIT | Times]
Published July 31, 2015


Training camp for NFL teams usually centers on three things: heat, health and hope. For the Bucs, there is one more: hype.

For the next three weeks or so, the spotlight will be as bright as the midday sun on quarterback Jameis Winston, this year's No. 1 overall draft pick from Florida State. Every pass will be dissected, every read will be debated.

Beginning with Saturday's first workout, there should be no mystery about whether Winston is the starting quarterback for 2015. He should get more than his share of repetitions in practice and preseason games with the No. 1 offense.

"The coaches have a great plan — they have since the minute we decided to take Jameis — for his development as a player," general manager Jason Licht said. "I don't think any team that has taken a guy that high has limited his reps in the preseason to what a normal vet would take. I see him taking more than normal."

Winston is the biggest reason for hope that the Bucs can end their string of four consecutive losing seasons. They haven't been to the playoffs since 2007 and have not won a postseason game since Super Bowl XXXVII in 2003.

Nonetheless, coach Lovie Smith set the bar high when he met with the rookies this week.

"Coach Lovie came in (Monday) morning and told us the learning curve is going to be steep and we have plans to win the Super Bowl," receiver Kenny Bell said. "That's every NFL team's mind-set."

All players report to One Buc Place this morning. Here are some things to look for as the Bucs prepare for their regular-season opener against the Titans on Sept. 13 at Raymond James Stadium.

Lay it on the line

Winston is a pocket passer, but he won't be able to function if the pocket folds like origami behind an offensive line that allowed 52 sacks last season, third most in the league.

It's one thing to start a rookie quarterback. Putting him behind a line that should include a rookie left tackle and a rookie right guard is a dangerous mix. But that's what the Bucs plan to do with a pair of second-round picks. Penn State's Donovan Smith will start at left tackle, and Hobart College's Ali Marpet eventually will line up at right guard.

"You're going to take some lumps early," Licht said. "But when you have some really talented rookies, as we think we do, when they're playing together and making those mistakes together, it becomes a fraternity, and those guys grow together and get better together. … I think the position group is going to shock some people this year."

If so, the Bucs will need bounce-back years from veterans guard Logan Mankins, center Evan Smith and right tackle Demar Dotson.

Rush hour

Gerald McCoy says he has lost 12 pounds and 2 percent body fat since June. The hope is the tackle is still strong enough to carry the defense on his back. The three-time Pro Bowl player has had no help on the defensive line, which still is devoid of a proven edge rusher.

The Bucs hope to get more from end Jacquies Smith, who produced 6½ sacks in eight starts after being claimed off waivers from Buffalo last year. The Bucs also signed Lions free agent end George Johnson, who had six sacks last year in a part-time role. And then there are end William Gholston and tackles Clinton McDonald and Henry Melton — somebody has to put heat on the quarterback.

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Running on empty

Whatever happened to running back Doug Martin, a Pro Bowl player as a rookie in 2012, when he rushed for 1,454 yard and added nearly 500 yards receiving? Injuries virtually wiped out his past two seasons, and for that reason, the team didn't pick up his fifth-year option. Martin should be motivated entering a free agent year. He'll get the first reps, but Charles Sims, Bobby Rainey and Mike James will push him.

Lovie's guys

The Bucs swung and missed wildly in free agency last season. So this year, Smith and Licht signed players who have experience in the Tampa 2 defensive scheme under either Smith or longtime buddy Rod Marinelli, the Cowboys' defensive coordinator. Safety Chris Conte, tackle Henry Melton and linebacker Bruce Carter enter camp penciled in as starters. Players with familiarity in the system should help defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, whose unit finished ranked 25th in the league in total defense last year.


In addition to Jameis Winston, Donovan Smith and Ali Marpet, other newcomers could play big roles for the Bucs as well. Rookie receiver Kenny Bell from Nebraska will push for playing time as the No. 3 wideout and could return kicks. LSU rookie linebacker Kwon Alexander, though raw, will challenge Bruce Carter in the middle before the season ends. And the Bucs think they got a steal in safety D.J. Swearinger, whom they claimed off waivers from the Texans in May.