TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (2-14)
OPEN CAMP: July 31, Tampa.
LAST YEAR: One of NFL’s biggest disappointments under first-year coach Lovie Smith and rookie general manager Jason Licht, who inherited talented young roster they augmented by spending generously in free agency. Most moves fizzled, and to make matters worse, health issues sidelined offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford during preseason and he never returned. 2-14 finish was Tampa Bay’s worst in 28 years. Smith and Licht owned up to their mistakes, releasing three high-priced free agent acquisitions — QB Josh McCown, DE Michael Johnson and OT Anthony Collins — after just one year.
IMPORTANT ADDITIONS: QB Jameis Winston; LB Bruce Carter; DT Henry Melton; S Chris Conte; CB Sterling Moore; DE George Johnson; T Donovan Smith; G Ali Marpet.
IMPORTANT LOSSES: S Dashon Goldson; LB Mason Foster.
CAMP NEEDS: With Winston coming in as No. 1 overall draft pick, there’s not only pressure to play him right away but be successful early. August will be all about getting him ready for season opener, likely showdown with Tennessee’s Marcus Mariota, No. 2 pick in draft. Will be important, too, to determine how quickly two other draft picks, second-rounders Smith and Marpet, can be integrated into offensive line that will have to protect Winston and open holes for running attack that needs to be more productive to take some burden off young QB.
EXPECTATIONS: Bucs have missed playoffs past seven seasons, but aren’t typical team coming off a two-win season and expecting to take modest step forward while growing with rookie QB. Carolina won NFC South with losing record last year, and there’s enough talent on offense and defense to close gap in hurry. Winston has pair of receivers in Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson coming off 1,000-yard seasons. RB Doug Martin is one-time 1,000-yard rusher hoping to regain form. Ultimately, though, escaping basement for first time in five years figures to come down to how quickly Winston develops in new offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter’s scheme, and whether defense anchored by Pro Bowl tackle Gerald McCoy and LB Lavonte David can do its part.