As we look toward the 2016 season, there are a lot of questions facing the NFC South. Over the next few weeks, my esteemed colleagues -- Sander Phillipse of Bucs Nation, J.R. Ella from Canal Street Chronicles, and Brian Beversluis of Cat Scratch Reader -- join me to dissect these topics and establish some expectations for the division this season.
Let's take a look at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a team that parted ways with head coach Lovie Smith and replaced him with former Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter. Koetter opted to hire former Falcons head coach Mike Smith as Tampa's defensive coordinator.
The question Sander Phillipse of Bucs Nation posed to our roundtable was: The Bucs then added a lot of talent to their defense, though most of those players are aging and don't have that many years left. Do you think the Bucs made the right moves to fix their defense?
J.R. Ella, Canal Street Chronicles
Despite their disappointing 6-10 record last season, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers may have fired Lovie Smith for his team losing five of its last six games in 2015 and for the Bucs' overall inefficiency over Smith's tenure more than for a defense (Smith's specialty) that was never up to par. Current head coach and then offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter ran a Bucs offense last year that wasn't significantly better (17th in offensive efficiency via Football Outsiders) than the defense Smith was coaching (18th in defensive efficiency). But it appears that Tampa Bay has decided to put all its eggs in the Jameis Winston basket and give the promising young quarterback an offensive-minded head coach, which in my opinion is a very good idea. Winston will only get better and with Koetter as his "quarterback-whisperer" and Doug Martin behind him, the Bucs could field a very dangerous offensive attack next season.
As for the defensive side of the ball, the Bucs are clearly hoping that the additions of young players like cornerback Vernon Hargreaves and defensive end Noah Spence will mix well with the signing of veteran cornerback Brent Grimes, defensive end Robert Ayers and linebacker Daryl Smith. Add to those the already great impact of players like Kwon Alexander and Lavonte David and Tampa Bay's defense could turn a few heads next season. The only potential problem that I can see for the Bucs is the fact that several of their defensive free agent signings are players that are a bit long in the tooth, so a dip in performance in the second half of the season could be an issue. But as things stand on paper, the Bucs in my opinion have as good a chance as any of their three division rivals to win the NFC South.
Brian Beversluis, Cat Scratch Reader
I really liked the moves the Bucs made this offseason. Specifically regarding the Panthers, Gerald McCoy will always be a problem, and Lavonte David is probably the only other pure 4-3 outside linebacker I'd rank above Thomas Davis in the NFL. I always felt the main problem for them was the secondary, though pass rush is something they needed to address, and they did with Noah Spence to pair with some veterans.
I felt Vernon Hargreaves was a match made in heaven, and Brent Grimes will be a solid addition despite the presence of my favorite person ever Miko Grimes. They still could use some help at safety, but the Panthers have been an example of a team who made it work with below average secondary pieces. With Kwon Alexander pairing with David and a decent rotation lined up on the defensive line, they have a chance to field a solid defense. Based on the cards they were dealt, I think it worked out.
Jeanna Thomas, The Falcoholic
So I have kind of a unique perspective on this, because obviously, I'm very familiar with Mike Smith. Smitty is a good coach, and I think he's the kind of coach who is perhaps better suited for a coordinator role, which is a plus for the Bucs. I loved what the Bucs did in with their first two draft picks, selecting Vernon Hargreaves III and Noah Spence. (Beyond that, trading up for a kicker ... well, anyway, you didn't ask for my opinion on that, haha.)
Yeah, the Bucs also have some aging players on defense, but guys like Brent Grimes (another former Falcon I'm very familiar with) and Robert Ayers still have plenty left in the tank, in my opinion. I can understand why their age and contracts would give fans pause, but I think they'll fill the team's needs short term.
Also, defense has really been a strength for the Bucs, anyway, and with the veteran talent they have, I don't see that changing. I can only imagine how happy Smitty must be to be coaching guys like Gerald McCoy and Lavonte David. It's too early to tell how it's going to play out, but with the talent Smitty has to work with, I think the defense will continue to be a strength.