A lot has been written lately about the positive strides made by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers via free agency and the NFL draft regarding their offensive skill positions. During this past off season, the Bucs have upgraded their wide receiver, running back, tight end, and quarterback positions. Tampa Bay’s offensive coordinator, Jeff Tedford, has been given very talented players to execute his creative offensive schemes. However, none of the Bucs newly acquired skill players will be effective without solid play by their interior lineman.
On paper, the Bucs have put together a group of interior offensive lineman with a lot of potential. How well and how quickly these athletes gel into a cohesive unit will define the Bucs 2014 season. The Bucs did not ignore these positions during free agency. They signed the Green Bay Packer’s starting center, Evan Dietrich-Smith, up and coming Anthony Collins from the Bengals, and Oniel Cousins from Cleveland. Dietrich-Smith and Collins are expected to start and Cousins is in the mix competing for a starting role.
Carl Nicks, regarded as one of the NFL’s finest linemen two seasons ago has been riddled with injury and illness since the Bucs signed him away from the Saints after the 2012 season. Nicks has performed at a very high level when healthy starting 70 of his 73 NFL games. He could be the most influential player in this unit. Demar Dotson has the most experience starting 31 of his last 32 games with the Bucs. Jamon Meredith has the second most with 20 starts in his last 30 games for the Bucs.
It seems likely that the Bucs will keep eight interior lineman on their final roster. Evan Dietrich-Smith, Anthony Collins, Demar Dotson, Carl Nicks, Oniel Cousins, Jamon Meredith and Patrick Omameh seem to be the strongest contenders for seven of the eight roster spots. The stiffest competition seems to be the guard position and interior lineman who can play multiple positions.
With a new offensive coordinator and coaching staff and many players new in a Bucs uniform competing for interior line positions, there are several big questions that need to be answered in the next few months. Can Carl Nicks remain healthy and return to his Pro Bowl form? Will Anthony Collins consistently play to his potential as a full time starter for the first time in his NFL career? Evan Dietrich-Smith played very solidly for the Packers last season starting 16 games in a season for the first time in his career. Will he do the same for the Bucs? Will this unit provide the depth and versatility essential for a 16 game season? How quickly will this group pick up Tedford’s offense and work well together? How this unit performs this upcoming season will largely determine how many Ws go on the Bucs win column.