The 100th season of the NFL has descended upon us, and although we as fans should be rejoicing and thankful; some NFL fans can’t. Miami is in full-blown tank mode, the Bengals have issues on both sides of the ball, and in central Florida, the tension and curiosity of expectations surround the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Buccaneers have been in the cellar for three of the last four years. The season only brings us more questions than answers.
Will the Running Game Produce This Year?
Barber was a bit more productive than Jones in 2018. He accumulated 871 yards rushing and a total of 92 yards receiving. He amassed six touchdowns for the season. His best game came against the Giants with 106 yards off of 18 carries with one touchdown. Although Barber is at least serviceable, he is nowhere near consistent. He had nine games in which he didn’t gain over 50 yards, which put the offense in bad situations and limited the playbook. This could explain some, but not all of the bad decisions Jameis Winston made last year with the turnovers. If these two don’t get this backfield together, look for the Buccaneers to draft or trade for a running back that can get the job done.
Byron Leftwich As Play-Caller?
Byron Leftwich is a former NFL quarterback out of Marshall. He had a fairly successful career as a starter. From Jacksonville to the Falcons (2007), then to Pittsburgh as a backup, he then traveled to Tampa Bay for one year before returning to and finishing his career with Pittsburgh. He won a Super Bowl ring with the Pittsburgh Steelers as they defeated the Arizona Cardinals. After he retired from playing in 2012, he started to gain momentum for coaching. He was the quarterbacks coach for the Arizona Cardinals (2017-2018) before becoming their offensive coordinator in 2018. He was dealt a sour hand as Josh Rosen was unproductive, and Steve Wilks was fired after a 3-13 season his rookie year as a head coach.
Now in sunny Tampa, he is the play-caller for a high powered offense under the helm of their new head coach of Bruce Arians. He has experience with Arians as he was the quarterbacks coach on Arians last year as a head coach in Arizona.
Can Leftwich be successful with the weapons he’s been given in Tampa? Will he able to reduce the turnovers that plagued the Bucs offense? Can he get the maximum production possible out of a backfield that previously couldn’t produce 1,000 yards between two backs? Can he properly utilize Winston and guide him to increased passing yards and touchdowns?
Is Arians The Answer?
The Virginia Tech Hokie has been given the label of a “Quarterback Whisperer”. Bruce Arians‘ coaching tree is extensive; starting at his alma mater in Virginia Tech (1975-77), to wide receivers and running backs coach at Mississippi State (1978-80), running backs coach in Alabama (1981-82), and head coach at Temple (1983-88). His NFL coaching tree started sprouting roots in 1989 with the Kansas City Chiefs. He was the running backs coach for the team until 1992. He returned to Mississippi State as an offensive coordinator from 1993-1995. His coaching carousel sent him to New Orleans for one year as a tight ends coach (1996). After a brief return to Alabama in ’97, Arians returned to the NFL and made a major impact coaching in the AFC. The Colts (1998-2000), the Browns (2001-2003), and the Steelers (2004-2011) all profited from his tutelage due to his previous knowledge of the game from different angles. He returned to the Indianapolis Colts as an offensive coordinator in 2012 but ended up as the interim head coach due to Chuck Pagano’s stint battling cancer. He earned a head coaching gig with the Cardinals from 2013-2017.
With the year off to gather his thoughts, Arians was intrigued by the Buccaneers offensive output, and Tampa has been blessed to have acquired a head coach with such a long pedigree. The two-time NFL Coach of the Year (2012, 2014) is also a two-time Super Bowl champion with the Steelers. His record as an NFL head coach is 59-35-1.
The only question left to be answered, is can Arians turn the misfortunes of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers around, and can he manage the decision-making of Winston?
Can The Bucs Overcome The Injury Bug?
Kwon Alexander is visiting his old stomping grounds when he returns with his new 49ers. Filling that void is newly-drafted Devin White, but the linebacking core is not healthy. Lavonte David is banged up. The Nebraska linebacker has been dealing with some knee issues, and no one knows if his meniscus has fully healed. To make matters worse, White will be facing the task of covering one of the NFL’s deadliest tight ends in George Kittle. Is he ready for the grueling season ahead of him, let alone Week 1?
Jason Pierre-Paul was a standout defensive edge rusher with the Giants. His time with the Bucs has been challenging, as a fireworks accident cost him some fingers from his right hand. And to make matters worse, he was recently in a horrible car accident that nearly cost him his career, and has left him hampered with a neck injury. What will be his availability for the upcoming season?
Vita Vea is a monster in the middle for the Buccaneers. The second-year defensemen out of Washington is a specimen; when he’s available. An LCL sprain will have the defensive tackle sidelined for four to eight weeks. The switch to the 3-4 could greatly benefit the Bucs and Vea, but can the team hold on until he returns to form?
The upcoming season is approaching with hurricane-like speed. Do the Bucs have the remedy that ails them? Can they escape the basement of the NFC South? Only time will tell. But we will be watching to see the answers.