Gene Clemons, FBGP Analyst
While many in Tampa Bay focus on the flash and bright lights that will descend on One Buc Place when the Buccaneers open up training camp, they may miss some of the serious decisions that need to be made when filling out the roster. Going into training camp, there are five big offensive questions that will shape the Buccaneers “gameplan” this season.
1. Is moving Ali Marpet to center the best move?
Marpet is a good, quality guard in the NFL but let’s not pretend he was a diamond in the rough. The Bucs used a second round pick on the Hobart prospect, making Marpet the 61st player selected. That means he is doing what was expected. While he is good, he’s not great and the NFL is a tough place to learn a new position. If Marpet is just going to be a younger Joe Hawley, or Evan Smith, why weaken a guard position (because the other guards are not as good)? It feels like a move for the sake of making a move. We will wait and see if it strengthens a line that really needs to improve.
2. Who’s going to run the ball?
The Bucs roster is filled with question marks at the running back position. Doug Martin is unavailable for the beginning of the season due to suspension and when he played last season, he wasn’t very effective. He will be motivated to keep that large price tag he has. Charles Sims has proven to be an effective third down back, but not a guy who can carry the load. Jacquizz Rodgers was a good surprise down the stretch last season, but he was also a guy out of football before then. Peyton Barber is a spot guy and rookie Jeremy McNichols is recovering from an injury. The one thing we know for sure is that the threat of the passing game should keep eight defenders out of the box.
3. Who will replace the versatility of Russell Shepard?
We know that the top four guys are pretty set at the receiver position. Mike Evans, Desean Jackson, Adam Humphries, and rookie Chris Godwin give the Bucs potentially the most talented corps they’ve ever had. But Shepard was more than just depth and versatility at receiver, he was the best special teams player on the squad. The fifth, and possibly sixth receivers on the roster will need to be “special” on special teams. There are seven guys fighting for possibly two positions. With a legitimate return man still needed, Josh Huff and rookie Jesus “Bobo” Wilson will definitely get strong looks. Names like Martino and Dye will be familiar to fans, but don’t count out Bernard Reedy who has the most experience in the system and was on the cusp last season.
4. Will OJ Howard overtake Cameron Brate this season as the primary TE?
Regardless of how much you love Cameron Brate, and how much you appreciate his contribution last season, there’s one obvious problem: Brate can’t block. Clearly you don’t get rid of a receiving weapon, and Brate has proven to be just that, but Howard is bigger, faster, stronger, and yes he can block…really well! That versatility allows the play action game to rise to a new level, which equals more snaps for Howard in the run game. If Howard can be what the Bucs thought Austin Seferian-Jenkins would be, then Brate will certainly lose snaps. It will be difficult to unseat him but OJ has the juice to get it done. It will be a great battle to watch during camp and certainly means we will see many more two and three tight end formations.
5, Why are the Bucs seemingly not willing to be patient with Roberto Aguayo?
Nobody will argue that Aguayo had a poor rookie campaign. Although he improved throughout the year, he still needs to get much better. This is nothing new with kickers. Many kickers with 10 plus years of NFL experience have had subpar seasons, and some really good ones have struggled out the gate. Fellow FSU alum Sebastian Janikowski struggled in his first season and is now continuing a hall of fame 17 season career. Aguayo, and the Bucs, can even look at the competition brought in to push him. Nick Folk had four straight seasons with a field goal percentage under 80% that includes a season where he connected on a dismal 64% of his chances. Despite that four year span of futility, Folk was given chances and has become a reliable kicker. He has impressed in OTAs and is apparently pushing the second year incumbent for full time kicking duties.