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  1. Bucs

Jones: Expect progress from the Bucs, but not miracles (w/video)

Jameis Winston, diving in for a preseason score against Cincinnati, is likely to take some lumps.

TAMPA

For the past several weeks, Bucs coach Lovie Smith has been talking about getting his team "Tennessee Ready."

That means getting his team ready for Sunday's season opener against the Tennessee Titans.

Sounds catchy. Sounds great. But the real issue, in addition to getting ready for Tennessee, is to get ready for everything — and everyone — after that. You know: New Orleans, Houston, Carolina and so on.

With a turned-over roster, rookies in key spots and a new quarterback, the question isn't just about whether or not the Bucs will be ready Sunday but ready for the rest of the season as well.

After taking over a team that won four games in 2013, Smith promptly went out in his first season and led the Bucs to two victories and residence at the very bottom of the NFL in 2014.

Now comes his second year. Now is the time to get "Tennessee Ready.'' Now is the time to get "2015 Ready.

Get ready for this: Five wins. Maybe six if all goes well.

Don't fret. Don't sigh. Five wins? Six? That's not a bad thing. In fact, that would be good. That would be a step in the right direction.

Again, this is a franchise that has won six games total over the past two seasons. Winning six this season would be a positive.

So how do they get there?

It won't be easy.

On offense, the Bucs are starting a rookie quarterback in Jameis Winston. No matter how good Winston was at Florida State — he lost one game in two seasons — this isn't college. There are no Louisvilles or N.C. States on the schedule.

Winston's uneven preseason showed that he isn't going to just step in and dominate. There will be steps forward and steps back. There will be growing pains. There will be interceptions and bad decisions and ugly games. That's what you get with a rookie quarterback no matter how talented he is.

For Winston, this season is about learning, about getting better, about becoming a pro.

Winston especially isn't going to have loads of success unless the Bucs see much-improved play from an offensive line that likely will start two rookies in Ali Marpet and Donovan Smith at the all-important left tackle spot. If you're looking for one specific area where the Bucs might struggle, the offensive line is it.

However, the Bucs have talented receivers in Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson and running back Doug Martin is showing signs that he could repeat his outstanding rookie season when he rushed for more than 1,400 yards.

"I've talked about us establishing a running game,'' Smith said. "We have to be able to do that. I think we will be able to do that. … When we want to pass the football, we want to pass the football not because we have to or situations like that. 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. That's what we've seen.''

On defense, always the Bucs' calling card when they've had success, there are two of the league's best in tackle Gerald McCoy and tackling machine Lavonte David at linebacker. But let's face it, while there is potential, the rest of the defense doesn't really have any proven playmakers after McCoy and David.

Who is going to make the splash plays, which are so key to Lovie's style of defense?

The good news is the Bucs, in the preseason, have shown a penchant for takeaways. The bad news is, well, it was only preseason. But it was enough to get the defensive-minded Smith excited.

"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,'' Smith said.

Still, this is a rebuilding year. It's all about getting Winston seasoning. It's about getting the offensive line experience. It's about finding additional talent on defense.

It's not about winning as much is it about learning how to win.

The attitude is optimistic, but the expectations must be realistic. This is a young team that was the worst in football the last time games were played for real. You don't go from worst in the league to a really good team because of one offseason, even if that offseason acquired some interesting parts.

"We're going to put a Tampa Bay Buccaneers team on the football field,'' Smith said. "The things you are concerned about as a coach and all of us are, 'How will it all play out?' Again, all 32 teams are in the same situation. Last year, the teams that really did well — that can't help them this year. The teams that didn't do well don't have to bring that with you. Everything starts from scratch, that's why we love it."

Time for some football.

Are you ready?

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