This time of year expectations and excitement runs high for the die-hard NFL fans of every team. We are all aware of the draft picks made, the free agents signed and the reports of who are the OTA standouts. It is easy to get caught up in focusing on the positive arguments that can be made for practically every team in the league. For the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, expectations run as high as making the playoffs and a Super Bowl run. I believe we’re a year or two away from that being a realistic expectation. However, I do believe that the Bucs will challenge for a wild card spot to make the playoffs in Lovie Smith’s first year as the Bucs head coach.
My biggest concern that may jeopardize the expectation of the Bucs challenging for a playoff berth remains the interior offensive live. Fortunately, the Bucs picked up a solid, young Center from Green Bay in Evan Dietrich-Smith. I believe that he’s an upgrade over last year’s starter, Jeremy Zuttah. Unfortunately, when Tampa Bay traded Zuttah to the Baltimore Ravens for a fifth round draft pick, they lost their most versatile and experienced Center-Guard lineman. The Bucs also did not resign unrestricted free agent, Ted Larsen who was Zuttah’s backup and also capable of playing the Center and Guard positions. Larsen is now an Arizona Cardinal. To date, that void has not been filled since the Bucs have two undrafted rookies, Josh Allen of Louisiana-Monroe and Andrew Miller of Virginia Tech competing with Jace Daniels a one year veteran out of Northern Michigan for the backup center position.
Carl Nicks, arguably the Bucs best offensive lineman when healthy, is the linchpin to the interior line. If he returns this year ready to play and can bring back with him his stellar play, then the Bucs will have a solid starting Center and Left Guard leaving the Right Guard to Patrick Omameh or Oniel Cousins and allowing Bucs veteran Jamon Meredith to either start at Guard or back up Anthony Collins or Demar Dotson at the Tackle positions.
Given the strong likelihood that Tampa Bay will keep eight offensive linemen in their final 53 man roster, interior linemen who can effectively play multiple positions is imperative. I will not be surprised if the Bucs are looking closely for a versatile Center/Guard lineman with zone blocking experience who will be released by another NFL team. Almost half of the NFL offenses employ zone blocking techniques similar to the Bucs. Will that type of an interior lineman fall on the Bucs’ laps? Will the Bucs sign that hypothetical player? Keep posted.