Tampa Bay Buccaneers 2017 Season Preview

Intro

High expectations and hope were once relics of Buccaneer past, reserved for the days when we had a historic defense and a competent Josh Freeman at Quarterback. As we near the 2017 season, high expectations and hope have made their comeback in full swing. This is a team that fans feel is ready to compete and contend for a playoff spot—where we haven’t been in ten seasons.

The fan excitement is warranted. In Head Coach Dirk Koetter’s first season, the Bucs went 9-7, narrowly missing the playoffs, but getting our first winning record since 2010. Quarterback Jameis Winston is entering a critical third year, and the team invested significant cap space and draft picks to surround him with skill positions he desperately needed in his first two years.

Our defense’s young core is finally getting their sea legs, and if the momentum gained at the end of last season was any indication, the Bucs have a few defensive players poised for breakouts, which I’ll get into more below.

The optimism isn’t without some major caveats, and these caveats are the kinds of things that may not only stall the team’s progression to a playoff team, but are large enough to impede the team’s potential to regress from its 9-7 benchmark. Those caveats include, but are not limited to: Jameis’s decision-making and reduction of turnovers, the interior offensive line protecting him, a secondary that may not be poised to stop the powerhouse QB’s of the NFC South, a huge question mark around Doug Martin, and of course, the circus of our competition for the starting Kicker job (aka Dr. Roberto’s Wild Ride). 

These reservations aside, there’s more to be positive about, and as I’ll get into with my schedule predictions, I predict the Buccaneers wind up with a 10-6 record and win the NFC South.

This offseason preview post will review critical free agent signings, our 2017 draft class and my expectations of them, an analysis of our projected starters, random NFL thoughts, and a trip down memory lane with last year’s review post to see what I got right and what I got abysmally wrong.

Coaching Notes: On Re-Signing Defensive Coordinator Mike Smith

The Buccaneers were fairly active in free agency this year, but the biggest move of all was re-signing Defensive Coordinator (DC) Mike Smith, keeping him in-house. Smith had been the former Head Coach of the Falcons, and upon Dirk Koetter’s promotion to Head Coach in Tampa, Koetter brought Smith back to the NFL (incidentally, Koetter was Smith’s OC in Atlanta, so this was a bit of a role reversal).

It took a while for Smith to prove his worth—in fact, it was pretty ugly as he came back to the NFL and the players adjusted to his scheme. In the first three weeks alone, the Buccaneers allowed a league-high 101 points. The defense had a propensity to give up huge plays. For example, in a span of two weeks against Atlanta and Oakland, Smitty’s defense surrendered a staggering 1000+ yards and 9 touchdowns.

Things began to click. In weeks 10-12, the Buccaneers allowed only 32 combined points, a huge increase in takeaways, sacks, and a 26% increase in redzone efficiency. Our defense quickly went from one of the league’s worst to surprisingly competent. With the strong finish to end the season, whispers about Smitty’s prospects as a Head Coach re-emerged.

Smith was interviewed for multiple head coaching positions, but the Glazers and GM Jason Licht implored him to stay (by implored, I mean paid him a healthy contract extension), and Smitty withdrew his name from the Head Coaching search to stay in Tampa.

Among the many things that have killed the Buccaneers in the last few seasons is a sheer lack of continuity on our coaching staff. From 2010 onward, we’re on our fourth Head Coach, and our coordinators have been serially inept (sometimes I still get nightmares about Jeff Jagodzinski). Smitty re-signing in Tampa allows for the Bucs to continue building a foundation on both sides of the ball that hopefully will restore the team to prominence.

2017 Season Preview Hub

2017 Draft Review

Projected Starting Lineup & Analysis: Defense

2017 Free Agency Review

Projected Starting Lineup & Analysis: Offense

2017 Schedule Predictions

Wrap-Up

If you’ve read my previous Buccaneer posts here, you’ll notice that they’re often full of self-deprecation, a reflection of the state our franchise has been in since our Super Bowl victory. The ineptitude of our past is no more. We have a capable and promising quarterback we’re prepared to lean on, an innovative coaching staff, and enough pieces on both sides of the ball that we will compete in 2017.

Despite the pieces in place, I still consider this a developmental year and am not expecting a well-oiled machine that takes us deep into the playoffs—at least, not yet. As David Mamet said, "Old age and treachery will always beat youth and exuberance." At the start of last season, the Buccaneers had one of the youngest rosters in football. The oldest? The Atlanta Falcons (who blew a 25-point lead in the Super Bowl, by the way). There’s something to be said about “old age and treachery” in this league, and the Buccaneers don’t have those grizzled veterans yet. In time, we will.

What we lack in experience, we make up for in a locker room with more passion for football than we’ve had in a decade, as well as high energy guys who have helped shake our losing culture in the same way the John Lynches, Derrick Brooks types, and Ronde Barbers of the past did.

Tune into Hard Knocks this year. You’re going to see the start of a very special couple of years for us. It’s about damn time.