It’s possible that there wasn’t a team in the league that needed blowing up more than the Buccaneers last year.
They threw a lot of money at problems, and there never appeared to be any solutions, at least any Greg Schiano appeared capable of solving.
From a former first-round quarterback who lost his way to one of their highest-priced players never quite looking like himself, the Bucs were kind of a mess.
So they got a new coaching staff, a new quarterback, and a new sense of hope.
First off, the Bucs have upgraded their coaching staff.
The NFC South’s a loaded division from a coaching standpoint, and new boss Lovie Smith doesn’t have to take a back seat of any of his neighbors.
While he had his critics in Chicago, he kept a team consistently successful, and made a Super Bowl with something called Rex Grossman starting at quarterback. That merits some kind of lifetime achievement award, but Smith’s strength isn’t simply Xs and Os.
After the Schiano era, anyone is going to seem personable and relatable, but Smith has a calm, collected style borrowing from his mentor Tony Dungy, and the Bucs needed that.
The Bucs also have the makings of a very good defense, even by their own standards.
Gerald McCoy has emerged as a legitimate star, and with free agent pickup Michael Johnson coming over from the Bengals, they have a legitimate edge rusher to keep the pressure on.
With emerging star linbebacker Lavonte David and playmakers in the secondary in Mark Barron and Dashon Goldson, the Bucs have the kind of speed and explosiveness to match up with the varying brands of offenses in their own division.
There are reasons to look at their offense and hope, but it’s hard to know exactly what the Buccaneers are getting.
Bringing in quarterback Josh McCown lends a steady, respected veteran who is coming off a hot streak.
But his run of good form with the Bears (subbing for an injured Jay Cutler) might be hard to replicate without Marc Trestman, Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery.
With Vincent Jackson and first-rounder Mike Evans, the Bucs have some downfield targets, and second-round tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins could become one soon). But they’re still mixing the ingredients together under new coordinator Jeff Tedford, so they’re still an unknown commodity.
Their biggest problem is their offensive line, where they still can’t be sure what they’re going to get out of big investment Carl Nicks, and they’ve otherwise blown up the old line.
They added tackle Anthony Collins and center Evan Dietrich-Smith in free agency, but they’re shaky in the middle, and that might make it tough for everything to gel for a team building an offense from scratch.
Oh, pretty much everything. That’s all.
A new General Manager (Jason Licht) and a new coach usually means a lot of turnover, but the rate at which the Bucs cleaned house was amazing.
They cut players (Darrelle Revis, Donald Penn, Davin Joseph), they traded players (Mike Williams, Jeremy Zutttah), and they held the door for most of their own free agents.
Considering the investments the previous regime made in some of those players, the change is dramatic, which should serve as a clear message to the few old guys who remain.
But while the incomings might lack some of the star power, and no islands are named after them, they bought in bulk.
The result could be a team with a drastically different look in 2014, but that was needed after going 4-12 twice in the previous three seasons.
It will be curious to see how former starting quarterback Mike Glennon responds to his benching in favor of McCown. If he develops into a legitimate starter, the Bucs have a chance to build something here around some young skill-position players.
With part of the money they didn’t give Revis for another year, the Bucs spent on Titans free agent Alterraun Verner.
But there should be some healthy competition opposite him, with former Cowboys first-rounder Mike Jenkins and 2013 second-rounder Johnathan Banks.
The other big mystery is right guard (and that’s assuming that Nicks gets back on the field).
Patrick Omameh worked there during offseason camps, but they also bright in veteran Oneil Cousins and could look to Jamon Meredith there as well. Nick’s health exposes a lack of depth in the middle, but they hope Dietrich-Smith lends some stability there.
They’ll also be looking for a reliable third receiver among an odd lot of contestants (from rookie Robert Herron to journeyman Louis Murphy), as well as a backup to running back Doug Martin as they hope to spread the carries a bit.
In another division, the Bucs prospects would be much brighter.
But for all the changes elsewhere, they’re battling against proven programs with recent success.
If McCown is able to maintain the kind of clean play he gave the Bears last year, they have a real chance to make strides. He has a respect level among players and an underrated athleticism, so there’s a chance he could make them stable.
That might be all they need, as Smith should make the defense better by scheme alone.
Schiano was overmatched in the pro game, and his lack of any kind of interpersonal skills made it worse. You can only play the Bill Belichick tough-guy act if you win, and Schiano never did.
Smith doesn’t have an act, he’s simply a good coach. That’s enough to make the Bucs better in a hurry.