LEADER OF THE PACK: Vincent Jackson
Jackson heads into the 2014 season coming off his two statistical seasons yet. In each season with the Bucs, he has caught more passes for more yards than at any point while in San Diego. He is exceptional fighting off defensive backs on deep routes and has some of the better hands in the league. His work ethic in the film room, the weight room and the community is the reason he’s been deemed a team captain in his first two years in the red and pewter. Don’t expect Jackson to slow down any time soon, he’s in his prime.
ALL EYES ON: Mike Evans
Seriously, who else will have more attention entering camp than the 1st-round draft pick? Evans is a mirror image of Vincent Jackson physically, with more top end speed. He tweaked his hamstring during OTAs, but is now 100% and ready to work. Evans has been staying close to Jackson, learning from him and absorbing any and all information that will benefit his development. Expect the Texas A&M standout to get a lot of action early in the season. Jackson will get a lot of coverage early on, it will up to Evans to give QB Josh McCown another big play option.
X-FACTOR: Slot Receivers
You have the “twin towers” on the outside all set, but the slot positions are wide open. Free-agent wideouts Lavelle Hawkins and Solomon Patton made good plays in offseason workouts, but that’s without the pads on. Chris Owusu was a star in training camp last year, but injuries and an inconsistent preseason kept him grounded. And now 6th-round pick Robert Herron from Wyoming enters the fray, dominating the Mountain West Conference conference in college. We might even see some running backs and tight ends there from time to time. There are several scenarios in play here. The players that show the most versatility will gain more reps with the starters.
CAMP OBJECTIVE: Speed In Space
It’s a term offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford has been using since he arrived at One Buc Place. It’s also an area where the Buccaneers have struggled for several years now. Tampa Bay ranked last in passing yards, yards after catch (YAC), and first downs in 2013. The receivers must make plays with their feet and make defenders miss on a regular basis, particularly over the middle and in the flat. When you can extend plays and gain those critical extra yards, it lifts team morale and creates serious momentum for long drives and more scoring opportunities.