“Counterparts to be counted on” is a 32-part series where we the “Front Office” of couchpotatogm.com analyze one offensive player and one defensive player on each team that MUST have a particularly strong individual season in 2015 for their respective teams to have a successful 2015 campaign. The ultimate goal is to win a Super Bowl but a successful season doesn’t always result in hoisting the Lombardi Trophy. No matter what “you” consider to be a success these counterparts are essential to achieving that goal.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers “Counterparts to be counted on” 2015
Jameis Winston – The new Buccaneers’ face of the franchise quarterback, out of Florida State, Jameis Winston enters his rookie season with the city of Tampa on his back. Not many quarterbacks in league history have lived up to the pressure of being the first overall pick at the most important position on the field while also trying to revive a franchise. Winston hopes to follow in the foot steps of: Terry Bradshaw, John Elway, Troy Aikman, and the Manning brothers as quarterbacks drafted #1 to lead their franchise to a Super Bowl victory. On the other end of the spectrum the Bucs’ worst case scenario would be if Winston face plants, sets the franchise backwards, and vanishes into thin air ala a Tim Couch, David Carr, or Jamarcus Russell. It takes a special talent and “IT” factor for a young player to lead grown professionals (getting paid millions of dollars) to buy in and look to you to take them to the next level.
If Jameis wants to succeed at the next level and he must succeed as the Bucs’ offensive “counterpart to be counted on” he will need to improve certain characteristics many evaluators questioned about him on his path to the league. Number one will be maturity, by now we all know the troubles Jameis struggled with in college off the field. With the label of “face of the franchise” associated with the star QB, Jameis needs to conduct himself in a professional manner both on and off the field, bottom line its all about wins and the dollars he will produce for the Bucs’ franchise. Secondly, Winston will need to limit his turnovers. I know the immense talent he possesses and the resiliency he shows by bouncing back from tumultuous hardships within a game, but bottom line is this is not the ACC and poor decisions with the football can torpedo your team’s chances at success.
In my estimation Jameis is the guy who will take this franchise back into the playoffs but whether or not it will happen this season is another question and will depend on the offensive line in front of the rookie quarterback. Winston is a natural leader who has the mental makeup to make the right calls on the field while putting his teammates in the best position to produce, essentially making everyone on the team better. So far in camp there have been rave reviews about Winston’s energy, leadership, and studying habits as he lives in the film room and is always looking to improve at his craft. The next progression for the Seminole legend is translating that preparation to the field when the games really matter.
Jacquies Smith – Who is Jacquies Smith? Well, he is a relative unknown player who was undrafted in 2012 out of Missouri who took the hard road to gaining NFL success. He was initially signed by the Miami Dolphins in 2012 before being cut from the 53-man roster, played sparingly in the Canadian Football League, made pit stops on the Jets’ and Bills’ practice squads before eventually signing with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Since joining the Buccaneers last year he has gone from a rotational player for the first half of the season to a starting defensive end in the second half. Smith finished his first official season in the NFL with 6.5 sacks which was the second most on the team behind Gerald McCoy.
The Buccaneers came into the 2014 season thinking they solidified their defensive line under new head coach Lovie Smith and his 4-3 cover 2 defensive scheme. The team shelled out a 5-year $43 million contract to free agent pass rusher Michael Johnson last season to stabilize the Bucs’ pass rush but Johnson was cut after just one season after playing ineffectively, finishing the season with only 4 sacks. On the other side of the line former 2011 first round pick Adrian Clayborn was set to bookend Johnson and provide heat to opposing quarterbacks but tore his biceps in Week 1, missed the remainder of the season, and signed a one year deal with divisional rival Atlanta Falcons in the offseason. All of these mishaps for the Bucs created an opportunity for Smith who took full advantage and is now fully entrenched as the best edge rusher for the Buccaneers.
The rags to riches 6’4 264 pound defensive end exceeded all expectations and has quickly developed into the Bucs top edge rusher largely in part to his tremendous motor and hustle. The well traveled Smith will be the Bucs’ defensive “counterpart to be counted on” this upcoming season as the Bucs 4-3 defense counts on getting to the QB with their front four. After years of trying to develop young/high draft picks Adrian Clayborn and Da’Quan Bowers the franchise appears to have found a diamond in the rough and will look to him and McCoy to lead the defense in the trenches. This will be a big year for Smith to prove he can duplicate his small sample size last season with a full offseason under his belt within Coach Smith’s system.