The Buccaneers have a lot to put behind them after 2013.
But after blowing out the front office, sterilizing the locker room for MRSA and a lot of big names off the payroll (namely Darrelle Revis), it’s a new day in Tampa Bay.
They even changed the uniforms, although that might be one case where new isn’t better.
But for all the turnover in Tampa, there’s at least reason for optimism, which is something that was lacking after two seasons gone awry under Greg Schiano.
1. How quickly can Lovie Smith reshape the team in his own image?
By all accounts, quickly.
The Bucs turned over a roster like few teams in the league this offseason, on both sides of the ball. But this is clearly a team built to Smith’s specifications, with playmakers on every level of the defense, and a quarterback and an offense designed to minimize mistakes.
He’s also giving them a shot of credibility, after the fiasco that was the Greg Schiano experiment.
2. About that quarterback, is this a short-term fix?
Josh McCown has bounced around the league a bit, and has never been able to make a job his own for more than a few weeks at a time.
But he’s also respected in the locker room, and is coming off a brilliant stint in Chicago in relief of an injured Jay Cutler.
Mike Glennon isn’t so bad that they don’t think he can be their guy in a few years, but he wasn’t so good last year that Smith was willing to commit to him. Watching this position develop will be interesting as the season goes on, and if McCown can hang onto what could be his last chance at a starting job.
3. Can they keep either quarterback on his feet?
That might be the biggest question about this Bucs roster.
The offensive line was a hot mess early in the preseason, and they still can’t be sure who the guards are.
They spent free agent money on Anthony Collins to play left tackle and Evan Dietrich-Smith to play center, and Demar Dotson is solid and underrated at right tackle. The spots between them are the big question marks.
They moved one presumptive starter (Jamon Meredity) to tackle after a bad debut, and are still grading a couple of kids at the moment. The two guard spots are far from a finished product, and they’ll likely look to add there via cuts or trades.
4. How much will the offense matter?
Maybe not as much as you’d think.
The Bucs have a chance to have an old-Bucs-level defense, built around defensive tackle Gerald McCoy. He and linebacker Lavonte David give the Bucs a Sapp-Brooks-ish duo in the front seven, and there’s plenty of talent around them.
They’ll need to be great, but there’s a very real possibility that can happen, as Smith puts his imprint on a team with plenty of existing talent.
5. How much ground can they make up in a year?
It would probably be unfair to expect the Bucs to pull off the worst-to-first, but that’s happened often in the NFC South.
Improvement is almost certain, as they have a clear direction and a coach that inspires confidence rather than mutiny.
If they can straighten out the offensive line and run a little, there’s a real chance for them to make a big step.
But playing in a division with the Panthers, Saints and Falcons is going to make it hard to expect a playoff berth in Year One of this project.