By Brian Kalchik @RantsportsBrian on May 26, 2014
After the disaster that was last season, with Greg Schiano and josh Freeman, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, now under new coach Lovie Smith and quarterback Josh McCown, will be looking to become the next team to go from worst to first in the NFC South. With plenty of new faces on the field, the starting lineup will look completely different than last year.
Here's who will start for the Buccaneers to begin the 2014 season in Carolina.
Coach Lovie Smith brought in Josh McCown to be the starting QB, and McCown was immediately named the starter after he arrived in Tampa. The Bucs do have a solid backup quarterback in Mike Glennon, but he is not the long-term answer and will be the subject of trade rumors all season long.
After recovering from a season-ending shoulder injury last year, Doug Martin will be ready for Week 1 and will regain his starting job. Martin will be backed up by rookie Charles Sims and veterans Bobby Rainey and Mike James. With such a crowded backfield, expect either Rainey or James to be cut due to the tremendous depth at the position.
Vincent Jackson is the unquestioned No. 1 receiver in Tampa Bay, and Mike Evans, the seventh overall pick in this year's draft, will be the No. 2 receiver who will complement Jackson on the opposite side. Backing them up will be unproven players like Chris Owusu, Skye Dawson, Eric Page and rookie Robert Herron.
After the disappointment of Tom Crabtree last season, the Buccaneers signed Brandon Myers away from the Giants to start the season as the No. 1 tight end. Second-round draft pick Austin Seferian-Jenkins will be the No. 2 tight end and a starter as the Bucs move to a two tight end offense. Backing them up will be Tim Wright who is a wild-card player capable of lining up all over the field.
Former Cincinnati Bengal and free agent signing Anthony Collins will be Tampa Bay's next starting left tackle after not re-signing Donald Penn this offseason. Demar Dotson will start once again on the right side, as he was the only Buccaneer to start all 16 games at the same position last year. Backing up these two will be players like veteran journeyman Oniel Cousins and 2014 undrafted free agent Matt Patchan.
Guard is still a position of need for the Buccaneers, but as of today, I see Carl Nicks (if healthy) starting on the left side with Jamon Meredith starting on the right side. Both are question marks because of injuries (Nicks) and inconsistency (Meredith), so don't surprised if either rookie Kadeem Edwards or veteran Patrick Omameh steal a starting role during training camp.
After blocking for Aaron Rodgers the past four seasons, center Evan Dietrich-Smith will now take over as the Bucs' starting center, replacing Jeremy Zuttah, who is now with the Baltimore Ravens. Backing up Dietrich-Smith will be 2014 undrafted free agent Josh Allen, but don't expect Allen to see any significant snaps this season.
Needing to upgrade their pass rush this season, the Bucs signed former Cincinnati Bengal Michael Johnson, and his pass rushing ability will be greatly welcomed in Tampa. Opposite him will be former first-round pick Adrian Clayborn, but he will have to earn his job, especially with backups William Gholston, Da'Quan Bowers and 2014 undrafted free agent Chaz Sutton breathing down his neck.
As a first-team All-Pro selection, Gerald McCoy is one of the best defensive linemen in the NFL and is a no-brainer as a starter. Opposite him as a starter will be former Seattle Seahawk Clinton McDonald. Akeem Spence will be the primary backup, with Everett Dawkins providing even more depth up front.
Lavonte David is not going anywhere anytime soon, and he is guaranteed to be the starter at weak side linebacker. On the strong side, however, expect a competition between Jonathan Casillas and Danny Lansanah. Given Casillas' experience, I expect him to get the job over Lansanah, but that doesn't mean that the Bucs won't look for another linebacker before the season begins.
Mason Foster will be the starter at middle linebacker, and he will be the quarterback of the defense. Behind him will be free agent linebacker Dane Fletcher, who will most likely be a primary contributor on special teams.
After letting Darrelle Revis go this offseason, the Bucs signed CB Alterraun Verner, a much younger player and a better fit for Lovie Smith's defense. Verner will team with second-year corner Johnathan Banks to form an intriguing starting tandem. Free agent addition Mike Jenkins will be the nickel corner, while players like Leonard Johnson and Rashaan Melvin will compete for the fourth and fifth corner positions.
Dashon Goldson is not the prototypical safety for Lovie Smith's cover-two defense, but Goldson is still one of the best safeties in the league, and he will be the starter at free safety. Backing him up will be one of Smith's former players in Major Wright, who will also see time if the Bucs use a three-safety look or if Goldson gets suspended again for delivering illegal hits like he did last year.
After a great season in 2013, Mark Barron is the unquestioned starter at strong safety. Backing him up will be Kelcie McCray, who will only see the field as a special teams player.
After missing all of last season, kicker Connor Barth will handle all of the placekicking duties. Michael Koenen will once again be the team's punter, and the long snapper this season will be Jeremy Cain. In the return game, Eric Page will handle both kickoff returns and punt returns.
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