Training camp is nearly upon us. The offseason tends to be the most hated and most overly analyzed part of the entire football year. That’s the nature of the beast with offseason. Months pass without a single real game or significant practice causing severely addicted football fans to scratch and claw at anything close to a fix they can get to keep them leveled out until it’s time for a regular season injection. Sunday, December 29th, 2013 was the last time we got to see the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on the field. Over seven months have already passed, and we’ve got a bit longer still before we get to see it again. Fortunately, it’s finally time for the primer. Training camp starts today Friday, July 25th.
Imagine that you’re in the hospital ready for an injection of adrenaline. That injection won’t arrive until Sunday, September 7th when the Buccaneers go up against the Panthers for the regular season opener. We won’t even get fluids or saline to prep us until Friday, August 8th in the preseason opener against the Jaguars. You can feel it coming though. The nurse is in the room. She’s slapping your arm getting the veins ready for everything. Okay, it’s not the prettiest metaphor, but you get my point. The drug we really want, regular season football, is about to arrive. Many things are going to be interesting, but three specific, exciting unknowns have my attention as we start camp. I’m much more interested in what we don’t know, rather than what we do know.
— Austin Seferian-Jenkins —
Austin Seferian-Jenkins, henceforth referred to as ASJ, is a bit of an enigma compared to other rookies due to his being unable to participate in previous mini-camps and workouts. Rest assured, this has nothing to do with off the field trouble or injuries. Rather, school regulations prevented him from participating until the semester was over. Unfortunately, they do things weird up in the Pacific Northwest, and he was still in classes during the time of those practices. That is duly taken care of though, as we’ll get to see ASJ in action in training camp.
As far as size goes, ASJ is exactly the prototype you want for a tight end. He’s 6’ 5’’ tall, 262 lbs, and even comes with the coveted basketball background everyone hopes for in a tight end. In comparison, let’s take a brief look at New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham. Graham is one of, if not the, best tight end in the league today. I don’t think there’s much arguing that point. Graham is 6’ 6’’ tall, 260 lbs, and has a basketball background. An inch or a pound here or there, and ASJ was cut from exactly the same cloth.
Some of his main competition at tight end will be newly acquired Brandon Myers and incumbent Tim Wright. Myers is an excellent blocking tight end and almost works like an extra lineman in the mix. ASJ is likely going to arrive at camp and soak up anything from Myers’ experience like a sponge. If ASJ holds onto his already impressive catching threat and ability to fight for the ball, added blocking ability will make him a huge piece of this offense. Wright will have to go a long way to fight for his spot, but I see ASJ at the lead by the time training camp wraps up.
— The Offensive Line —
I was a little back and forth on including this, but to me it’s one of the most intriguing things going into camp. It seems clear who our big names on the line are, but exactly how that line is made up by the time the season arrives is still in question. The only confirmed thing about this line is Evan Dietrich-Smith at center. Smith was an effective and versatile player during his time in Green Bay.
Aside from being a great player, there were also unconfirmed reports recently from former Packer Matt Brock that Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh’s stomping incidents during the 2011 Thanksgiving Classic between the Packers and Lions were a result of Dietrich-Smith and other players untying his shoes while at the line of scrimmage. I don’t know if that’s true, but I love it either way.
Outside of center, everything else is still up in the air. There’s no doubt that, if healthy enough, Carl Nicks will be a lock at left guard. I have high hopes for this, but there’s no denying the fact that he isn’t a guarantee. As of right now, it looks like we’ll see former Bengal Anthony Collins at left tackle. Last season in Cincinnati, Collins didn’t commit any holding penalties or allow a single sack. That’s huge, especially considering the sea of penalty flags thrown against the Buccaneers last season.
The right side of the line is a little more crowded at the moment. Patrick Omameh, Demar Dotson, Jamon Meredith, Kadeem Edwards, and Kevin Pamphile are all completely possible starters at the right side of the offensive line. We’ve seen bits and pieces from them during the mini-camps and OTAs, but you can only learn so much from watching them without pads. In the end, it’ll all be about how the line gels together. I sincerely hope someone gets them some fast drying gel, because they’ll be thrown into the fire when we open against Carolina.
— The Offensive Scheme —
Our actual offensive play style and scheme may be the biggest enigma going into training camp, and may remain an enigma even into preseason. When I talked about the different options we had at wide receiver in a previous article, I made mention that all we had at the time to go off of were some vague comments by Josh McCown. One month has come and gone, and that’s essentially still what we have. It all comes down to newly acquired offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford, who was previously the head coach at Cal.
When I heard of his hire, my first thought was to look up why he got fired from Cal. Getting fired from a coaching position in football, college or pro, never means that person isn’t going to go on to be a great coach. It can, however, be telling about their weaknesses. It seemed fairly clear that Tedford’s biggest weakness was simply being a head coach. Tedford is an offensive genius and a highly touted quarterback guru, but he crumbled under the multitude of duties that came with being a head coach. When he panicked, he retreated to his playbook.
All of this might sound pretty damning, but considering that he’s our offensive coordinator and not our head coach, it has me very excited. Tedford may not be comfortable in the NFL, but all signs say that his medium is the offense. Tedford’s reaction to being a head coach was essentially like taking a natural oil painter and handing them only a pencil and paper. That’s not his medium, and Lovie put him back where he belongs. Tedford was well known for his interesting offense plans, but how exactly he’s going to translate that with this new pile of weapons on an NFL level is completely up in the air. The only thing I know about Tedford’s offense is that I desperately want to see it in action, and right now that’s all I need to know.
These three mysteries will be holding most of my attention during training camp, but camp is only the beginning. Just as camp gets rolling, it’ll be time for the NFL Hall of Fame game. Then preseason will go full force, and we’ll have regular season football before you know it. There are still questions for a Buccaneers team that has received an immense amount of national praise and hype for this upcoming season. Most of all, I’m just glad that these questions are ones I am dying to know the answer to, rather than dreading. It’s almost time, prepare the cannons!