It’s finally here. Buccaneer fans have been waiting for this week since that fantastic February evening at Raymond James Stadium when the team hoisted the Super Bowl Trophy.
Training camp officially opens for the Bucs later this week, with the first workout coming up on Sunday, July 25th.
But first, there are a couple of important matters that will be taken care of this week.
First, a trip to the White House on Tuesday to visit with President Biden. Then, a few days later, the Buccaneers will receive their Super Bowl rings in a private ceremony.
Then it’s time to focus on football and the chance to repeat as Super Bowl Champions.
The Tampa Bay Lightning have already set the standard as they won their second straight Stanley Cup earlier this month.
Now it’s the Buccaneers turn to see if they bring a fourth championship to the Tampa area in two years.
For the first time in NFL history, all 22 starters will be returning for Tampa in the salary cap era. That is almost unheard of in this salary cap era, but GM Jason Licht worked hard to ensure that the key players from the Super Bowl-winning team returned.
Tom Brady reworked his contract and signed a two-year deal keeping him in Tampa through the 2022 season.
Brady will be 44 when the 2021 season kicks off. It was a thing of beauty to watch Brady work his magic at the age of 43 last season, winning his seventh Super Bowl.
Last year at this time, there had been no mini-camps or OTAs. All NFL teams conducted their off-season training via zoom. Brady admitted that he struggled to learn the offense and didn’t master the offense until late November when the Bucs went on that winning streak culminating in winning the Super Bowl.
Bucs fans have one question: Can this team be better offensively than the team we saw in 2021? The answer is an unequivocal yes.
In 2020, the Bucs finished seventh in total offense averaging 384 yards per game. The Bucs were also second in scoring at 30.2 points per game.
Brady has had 15 months to immerse himself in this offense. With all 22 starters back and a lot of the key reserves coming back on offense, things should be a lot crisper offensively.
The biggest competition will be at running back. Although Leonard Fournette had a great playoff run for the Bucs, there is no guarantee that he will be the starter. Ronald Jones showed improvement last year, especially with yards gained after getting hit.
The Bucs also signed Giovanni Bernard as a free agent. Add Ke’Shawn Vaughan to the mix, and this will be a fun competition to watch as training camp unfolds.
At wide receiver, Mike Evans and Chris Godwin will be the number one and two. The Bucs re-signed Antonio Brown, but will Scotty Miller or Tyler Johnson challenge Brown for that number three receiver slot?
Add rookie Jaelon Darden to the mix, and there is no reason to think that this high-powered Bucs offense should take a step back. Tight end OJ Howard also returns to form an outstanding 1-2 pairing at tight end with Rob Gronkowski.
Defensively, after a year of playing together under Todd Bowles, the defense should be better. There should be a lot more reacting and less thinking going on.
The front seven of N’Damukong Suh, Vita Vea, William Gohlsten, Jason Pierre-Paul, Lavonte David, Devin White, and Shaq Barrett all return.
The Bucs were number one against the run last season, and I don’t see a drop-off at all. The run defense should be better than what we saw last season. The Bucs did not make significant strides against the run last season until the second half.
Defensively, where the Bucs will benefit the most is the pass defense. The Bucs had one of the youngest defensive backfields last season, and it showed at times as it looked as if they were unsure of the coverage to be in or whom to cover.
With a year in the system, things should be a lot smoother for this Bucs secondary.
Look for Carlton Davis, Sean Murphy-Bunting, Antoine Winfield Jr, and Jordan Whitehead to show continued improvement and play more consistent football.
With the drafting of Jaelon Darden, the return game is one area that the Bucs should see significant improvement.
Darden has blazing speed and had 19 touchdowns in his college career as a return specialist. Darden will be given every opportunity to be the return specialist in 2021.
The Bucs are looking to repeat. This team is loaded. If they don’t repeat, it will be considered a disappointment.
Of course, the Bucs have that confident guy on their roster that knows a thing or two about winning consecutive Super Bowls in Tom Brady.
Brady and the New England Patriots were the last teams to win back-to-back Super Bowls in 2002 and 2003.
Coach Bruce Arians said he is going to make this a tough camp. There will be no resting on their laurels. It is a new season, a new team, and this team is starting the process all over again.
To quote Brice Arians, “We haven’t done shit.”