There has been some buzz building around the Bucs over the course of the offseason. Starting with the signing of DeSean Jackson and Chris Baker. Then with one of the better hauls in this year’s NFL draft, highlighted by super star tight end prospect OJ Howard. Now with all the pieces coming together for team activities a lot of people have started to take notice of how talented this roster is. Many have even named the Bucs as one of the most likely teams to end their playoff drought.
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Well if the hype hasn’t been built up enough at this point, allow me to take it up a notch. The Bucs are a Super Bowl contender. I’ll say it again; the Tampa Bay Buccaneers can realistically win a championship this year. Are they a favorite to do so? No, they’re not. But if you’re looking for a dark horse team who can win it all with a few good breaks in their favor then the Bucs absolutely fall in that category.
That being said, a few guys have to step up their games to get this team to the next level. Specifically there are three guys who need to continue to improve to make this team a real threat to win it all this season. If these three players do elevate their play then you should expect the Bucs to make some noise in the postseason. So who are these critical X-factors? They’re the foundation of the Bucs present and their future.
Going into the offseason everyone agreed that the Bucs needed to add some playmakers to help Winston. Well here we are months later and that’s exactly what they did. Replacing the likes of Cecil Shorts and Allen Cross with some serious star power like DeSean Jackson and OJ Howard. So now we expect Winston to take the step from good to great. From a top 15-10 QB in the game to one of the best players in the league.
However, it’s up to Winston to live up to these lofty expectations. While many QBs make a great jump in their third year, especially the ones as smart and talented as Winston, there are no guarantees in this game. It will take time and effort to develop chemistry with all the new players on offense. So it’s up to Winston, with his new batch of playmakers, to live up to the hype.
Last year was very up and down season for the Bucs rookie cornerback. He was thrown into the action from day one with no restrictions to what the team put on his plate. Obviously there were going to be growing pains. For the first half of the season, those bumps in the road were numerous and pretty ugly to watch.
It’s hard to say exactly when the light came on for VH3, but it’s clear that it did somewhere around the midway point of the season. After that, in the second half of the year, Hargreaves played like you’d expect of the number eleven overall pick. Now coming into his second year he needs to build on that success. The Bucs coaches have talked about him thinking less, reacting more and making more big plays. If he can do those things then it will do wonders for the Buccaneers secondary.
To be completely honest, the Bucs defensive line will be good even if Spence is exactly the player he was last season. That being said, if he does progress and become a double digit sack guy then it will take this Bucs defense to another level. Because while the Bucs have many good pass rushers, they don’t have one established guy one the edge who they can count on to be disruptive every play.
The Bucs drafted Spence in the second round last year with hopes that he’d be that guy. So far he has been good, but not great. Keep in mind that he played with a torn labrum for much of last season, so that did hurt his ability to perform at the highest level. With him coming back healthy and a year of NFL conditioning under his belt, he seems primed to finally give the Bucs that elite pass rusher they’ve been looking for.