If asked to identify the face of the Denver Broncos, most football fans wouldn’t miss a beat in coming up with Peyton Manning as their answer. The same can be said about Tom Brady in New England and Adrian Petersen in Minnesota. That understanding begs the question, who is the face of the franchise in Tampa Bay? Looking around the rest of the NFC South, it is clear to identify Drew Brees, Cam Newton, and Matt Ryan as the Saints, Panthers, and Falcons respective faces. But who can even begin to carry that mantle for the Buccaneers? The face of a franchise is more than just a Pro-Bowl player; he is a leader on and off the field. His name is synonymous with his teams’. Here are three potential candidates who could emerge as The Face(s) of Lovie Smith’s new look Buccaneers.
1. RB Doug Martin: If this question were posed directly after Martin’s stellar rookie campaign of 2012, it is safe to say that Martin would have gotten a majority vote to become the face of the Buccaneers. However, a complete regime overhaul, coupled with a subpar/injury riddled 2013, leaves Martin’s role in the offense a matter of speculation. A strong 2014 from Martin would see him at the forefront of a refreshingly effect Bucs offense, while another down season will likely leave Martin on the outside looking at a packed Bucs backfield. With success, Martin could once again be poised to become The Guy in Tampa.
2. WR Vincent Jackson: Jackson is undoubtedly the Buccaneers biggest offensive weapon. If he can sustain his 1000 yards and eight touchdowns a year average for another four to five years, they will be sculpting his bust in Canton one day. He is a legitimate superstar, but can he be the face of a franchise? Over the past 20 years or so, wide-outs have earned a reputation as temperamental divas. No whether that reputation is deserved or not is up for debate, but the NFL doesn’t see too many receivers emerging as Franchise faces. Jackson is not without his faults and the way he ended up leaving San Diego didn’t help his case in the court of public opinion – Though he has been nothing but fantastic since coming to Tampa. Throughout the turmoil this team has seen since Jackson came to town, he has remained out of the headlines and continues to get in to the endzone. A team turn around in 2014 will help Jackson’s case as the franchise’s face, and the Bucs have acquired the pieces to make that possible.
3. DL Gerald McCoy: McCoy is the Buccaneers premiere defender by leaps and bounds. His stats alone put him in the upper tier of NFL linemen and 2014 is poised to be his best yet. It has been almost a decade since another interior defensive lineman in a Bucs uniform terrorized the NFC. That guy now has a Gold Jacket for his efforts. Though McCoy is not Warren Sapp caliber yet, the significant personnel upgrades on the defense this off season will only help McCoy showcase his dominance. Defense will have to lead the way in the early part of the season, and McCoy will have to lead the charge.
So clearly there is nothing clear about who will assume the face of the franchise mantle in Tampa Bay. Though you won’t find a Peyton Manning or an Adrian Petersen on the Bucs roster, this team does feature a hungry group ready to make their mark on the 2014 NFL landscape.