1) Under the microscope: Last season, the million dollar question was, “Which Josh Freeman is the real Josh Freeman?” This season that question has hardly changed, aside from swapping out the surname.
Which Josh McCown is the real Josh McCown?
If you scan the landscape of pro football punditry, you’ll find wide and varying opinion on McCown’s game. "Career journeyman backup" is where most conversations begin. A few of them end, somewhat hopefully, with his play last season in Chicago subbing in for the injured Jay Cutler. For many, those eight games and five starts are an anomalous blip on an otherwise unspectacular career. Others, this staff among them, see the impeccable ball placement, gutsy, sometimes daring, play as proof positive that the light bulb came on.
But, can they really expect to win-now with Josh McCown?
The answer to that is the same as the answer to our million dollar question. The regime thinks they know what they have in McCown. Lovie Smith has indicated that he knew when he walked through the door that he wanted McCown to lead his squad. Lovie feels they know the answer to the million dollar question and they are perfectly comfortable with McCown as the leader of their team.
The answer of "which McCown is the real McCown?", requires some drill-down. We have to get past 11 years of anonymity, a departure from the game to coach high school football, time spent in other leagues just trying to keep the embers of a career burning. We also have to discard 5 good games from a year ago.
We have to drill down to what is authentic with Josh McCown. The reality is that Lovie wasn’t looking for a quarterback, a signal caller, a dude to sling the ball around the field. Lovie was looking for a leader of men.
2) Fresh meat: The Bucs went big early in the draft with 6-5 Vincent Jackson clone, Mike Evans, of Texas A&M and 6-5 TE, Austin Seferian-Jenkins of Washington. Then, to the dismay of some fans, they departed the pattern spending their third round pick on RB Charles Sims of West Virginia, and welcomed him to the crowded pool of players at the deepest position on this team. Knowing a bit more than the rest of us about Jeff Tedford’s offense, Jason Licht found Sims irresistible when he was still sitting there in the 3rd. Despite the fact that he still had significant gaps in his OL, Licht went after a completely different kind of back than those already on the team.
Sims is taller and longer than the other backs on the roster and has one particular skill that Tedford and Licht covet – pass catching ability. Not as compact or explosive as some of the other backs on the roster, Sims’s pass-catching ability is better than all the rest. Having drawn comparisons to one of Lovie’s previous backs, Matt Forte, the question at this position then becomes, “What does this acquisition tell us about Doug Martin?”
Last season, the staff gave lip service to lightening the load on Martin. They never could figure a way to take him off the field, however, and he was well on his way to a 330+ carry season. That may well have been the end of Doug Martin. Today, like the story at QB, the story at RB is quite a bit different outside One Buc Place than inside.
Outside the building, Doug Martin is already being written off in some circles. Injured last season and not having a great deal of success when the injury occurred; upstaged by the backs that followed him in the lineup; had a great rookie year, but most of that came on one day in Oakland, the arguments go.
You can take all of that and toss it right out the door, because the story inside the walls of OBP is very different. There has never been any doubt who the lead dog is for Lovie and his staff. Doug Martin piled up almost 2,000 yards of combined offense in his rookie season, and nothing we’ve seen since then turns that into some kind of hoax. Martin was the sole focus of every defense he faced last season because of that rookie success and the fact that our QB didn’t scare anyone.
In this offense, Martin and the ground game will be a key to success, but not something opposing defenses can key on. The attack will be balanced, and at times, run-heavy. Martin’s only limitation will be the effectiveness of the interior linemen. Charles Sims comes in to be the third down back and fulfill the promise of taking some of the load off of Martin. His arrival says far more about Mike James and Bobby Rainey, however, than it does about Doug Martin.
In the end, Charles Sims is exactly what Doug Martin needed.
3) Weak link: While opinions vary on the QB position and the RB position, there is one opinion that is pretty well universal in Buc-land. Mystery abounds with Jeff Tedford’s offensive scheme. The stance of most Buc fans with this OL is far more akin to a big, fat, Whisky Tango Foxtrot?!?
Like everything else, let’s take it apart and see what we get. Gone are long-time stalwarts like Donald Penn, Jeremy Zuttah and Davin Joseph. Gone, as well, is short-time hopeful Carl Nicks. The only Buccaneers remaining from last year’s OL are one-time developmental project, Demar Dotson, and the multi-faceted (though underwhelming), Jamon Meredith.
At bottom, the key to this unit and the changes the new staff made doesn’t lie in personnel. Though Anthony Collins is a clear upgrade over Penn and Evan Dietrich-Smith is an upgrade at center, OG is a shamble of cast-offs and low-round picks. More than any other factor, a change in philosophy is what drove the changes to this OL. The Bucs are shifting to a zone blocking scheme. As such, gone are the road-graders and enter the smart, light, athletic replacements.
Well as that may be, there are still significant questions on this OL. It’s pretty clear that the staff knew some time ago that Carl Nicks wasn’t going to play again. It’s also clear that they knew there was no there-from-here with the men they had on this unit. They’ll count on names like Meredith and Oniel Cousins to offer immediate support (in the form of experience) for what may well be a floundering unit. They’ll also rely on guys like Patrick Omameh, Jace Daniels and Kadeem Edwards to get up to speed quickly and supplant those experience guys.
If there’s a clear gamble on this team, the OL is it. The only pseudo-good news story is that they were shifting schemes anyway, so there was already going to be a gradient. May as well rip the band aid off and get busy restructuring the unit.
4) Wildcard: The clear wildcard with this unit is south of #2 on the WR depth chart. While the fish-wraps are running the “Dunkaneer” moniker into the ground, the real magic with this unit is the assemblage of speed at the position. It’s pretty clear who the starters are and exactly what they intend to do with them. What’s more innocuous, is what they intend to do on the inside.
The Bucs have assembled a mixed roster. They have experienced options like Louis Murphy, David Gettis and Lavelle Hawkins, all with prior injury or ineffectiveness concerns. They have a middle tier of players like Chris Owusu and Tommy Streeter with good size/speed combinations, but similar injury and failure-to-thrive concerns. Finally, they have a tier of raw matchup nightmares like Robert Herron, Solomon Patton and RB Jeff Demps.
The common ingredient in all of that is speed. The Bucs go into this camp looking for a difference maker who is not only a matchup problem, but reliable. There is no clear answer at #3, but the Bucs are banking on one or two of many turning out.
This position will be a battle. Herron, Patton and Demps are the media darlings of the group, but I look for Owusu and Murphy to be the real factors. Whichever of those two plays the most consistent football in preseason will be the go-to #3 on this team. That’s as far as it goes, however, because you’re going to see a lot of 2TE with the assemblage of talent, and more importantly, reliability, being far superior at that position.
5) What to expect: The real wildcard at this position, with the offense as a whole, may well be what this mysterious new offensive system Jeff Tedford has cooked up actually looks like. Mum’s the word around OBP on what to expect. Tedford himself has offered only a few cryptic hints about innovation and trickery, and there not really being any such thing as innovation or trickery in the NFL. The answer of what this double top secret riddle wrapped up in an enigma, known as Jeff Tedford’s offense, looks like requires us to look into the same crystal ball we had to look into to answer the million dollar question at the beginning of this post.
There probably should be a spoiler alert, or more appropriately, a let-down alert, associated with this section. When we boil down to the knowns in Tedford’s system, the answer has already been provided. The “mystery” morphs into just what Tedford reported it to be – not all that mysterious.
From an overall philosophy perspective, expect this offense to mirror the staff’s approach to personnel acquisition. They came into the free agency period with the stated intent of jumping out to the early lead and then letting the “game” come to them. They really didn’t cast all that wide a net, but early on, they went out and got Michael Johnson, the DE who most fit their prototype for a T2 weak end. They bagged Alterraun Verner, with the prototypical short area quickness and instincts they were looking for in a CB. Then, they sat back and let their reputation, early aggressiveness, and the old fashioned bro-network (Johnson and Clinton McDonald trading text messages) do the rest.
Tedford’s offense will do the same on game day. Based on the height they’ve assembled, they’ll get vertical in the passing game, early and often. They’ll get vertical with the TEs, as well, and pressure the seam. With the bigs on the outside and the TEs getting vertical and inverting the coverage, look for a lot of underneath game. They’ll use their speed guys on bubble screens and traditional screens, alike. They’ll look to isolate speed in space and then let it work for them.
Expect a good deal of involvement from the RBs in the passing game, especially if the interior OL is a weakness or the OL is slow to gel. The running game will look a good bit different than we have seen in the past. The zone scheme is all about creating opportunities for big plays, less about grinding and crushing force than dazzling speed and downfield cuts on a dime. Expect some early struggles as both the linemen and the backs get up to speed in this system, but in the long-run, this scheme fits the talents of the backs on-hand. If you thought Doug Martin was dangerous hiding behind a big lineman mashing defenders, wait until he’s cutting off their tails and hitting a wide lane behind the zone block.
Finally, Tedford-led offenses have always been about keeping the opposition off balance. As the season wears on and everyone gets comfortable with their assignments and reads, you’ll see some tempo tricks like no-huddle and hurry-up. They’ll capitalize on McCown’s experience with check options at the line of scrimmage and rely on outside size and inside speed mismatches. Look for red-zone efficiency near the top of the league and between the 20s play that is exciting and daring.
Overall, expect exactly what this team is built on: measured, deliberate, aggression.
6) Small print:
Mike Glennon: Not even a mention? Hard to ignore goofy, right? If you hear Mike Glennon’s name this season, that probably doesn’t say much for Lovie and yours truly in evaluating Josh McCown. My hunch is that Mike Glennon, aside from some gaudy preseasons stats, is going to fade into memory a bit for the next year or two. When he re-emerges, Buc fans are going to be very happy with the result.
Doug Martin: Heard a guy say the other day that Martin's injury was upper vice lower body and that fact was significant. I agree.
Jeff Demps: Little mention above, but more is to come. This staff is just as enamored with Demps as a Gator fan in a pickup. The key to Demps will be staying healthy. If he does, he’ll be on the field and part of this offense because he is the very definition of speed in space. Wet yourselves Gator huckers. I said something good about one of yours.
Mike James & Bobby Rainey: Make no mistake, these two are fighting for their lives. As much as they’d like to keep five RBs, they just won’t be able to. Both have skill, but James is coming back from a broken ankle and Rainey’s effectiveness seriously waned last season when his tendency to dance in the hole caught up with him. I think James is the guy, here, provided he’s completely recovered from the bum ankle. I don’t think this system is going to do Rainey any favors, and while I like the kid’s story, I don’t see him performing well in this scheme.
Robert Herron: There’s a lot of buzz around this kid, but I don’t think he’s ready. Like Solomon Patton, he’s just too raw. The speed position on this squad is going to go to Demps, if he stays off the injury report. Herron will find his way to the PS. Hanging onto the ball will be the deciding factor with him in the long-run.
Chris Owusu & Louis Murphy: I think both make the team, but barring injury, which is less like a bar and more like a barrier for Owusu, he’ll win the 3-spot. I think they are looking at Murphy as their primary backup if one of the top two go down. Don’t sleep on Tommy Streeter. He’s got the size and speed to be a dangerous player. Question is whether he can polish his game and find other ways to contribute while he’s waiting his turn.
Tim Wright: Don’t be surprised if this guy leads the position in receptions. He’s no fluke as a TE because of the way he attacks the ball and gets underneath separation. I expect Austin Seferian-Jenkins to get off to a bit of a slow start and maybe even disappoint a bit. Flat fact is, he's missed a lot of off-season work. In the long-run, he’ll succeed, but he’s a little bit behind right now and Tim Wright is probably the best surprise this staff got when they took over, excepting perhaps, Glennon. Don’t sleep on Brandon Myers, either. He’s more than capable and will be on the field a lot. Right now, he’s the most well rounded TE in the bunch.
Luke Stocker: His spot really comes down to a decision of keeping a FB or keeping Luke Stocker. He is, without a doubt, the closest approximation of a Tackle among the TE group. He's also expendable because of Brandon Myers. I genuinely don't expect them to keep a FB for this system, but if they have their sites set on a guy to lead block in Jumbo, that guy may just as well be Stocker as either of the two FBs on the roster.
Patrick Omameh: This guy will be a starter on this team beyond this season. He’s got exactly the kind of ability they are looking for and didn’t arrive here by accident. This guy is probably the good-news story at OG.
Kadeem Edwards & Kevin Pamphile: Both of these guys are developmental projects. Pamphile, more so than Edwards. Pamphile is a real long-term guy, but he has the build and athleticism to take exactly the same route as Demar Dotson. Edwards may well be starting by season’s end, but I don’t think that will necessarily be because of anything he does himself.
Source: OBP Expectations - Offense