Bucs, Brady look to return to Super Bowl after loss to Rams
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (14-5)
New faces: Coach Todd Bowles (promoted from defensive coordinator); WR Julio Jones, WR Russell Gage, S Keanu Neal, S Logan Ryan, G Shaq Mason, DL Akiem Hicks, TE Kyle Rudolph, OLB Carl Nassib, OL Fred Johnson, DL Logan Hall, TE Cade Otton, G Luke Goedeke, RB Rachaad White, P Jake Camarda.
Key losses: Coach Bruce Arians, who retired after three seasons and one Super Bowl title with the Bucs; S Jordan Whitehead, G Alex Cappa, TE O.J. Howard, RB Ronald Jones, DT Ndamukong Suh, LB Jason Pierre-Paul, CB Richard Sherman, P Bradley Pinion, and TE Rob Gronkowski and G Ali Marpet, who both announced retirements.
Strengths: QB Tom Brady led the NFL in completions, attempts, passing yards and touchdowns last season. It’s not difficult to envision the high-scoring offense being formidable again with WRs Julio Jones and Russell Gage and TE Kyle Rudolph joining an already impressive group of playmakers that includes WRs Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, RB Leonard Fournette and TE Cameron Brate. The run defense anchored by linemen Vita Vea and Akiem Hicks, in addition to LBs Devin White and Levonte David, is among best in the league. Bowles is also counting on second-year LB Joe Tryon-Shoyinka and rookie DL Logan Hall to bolster the pass rush led by LB Shaquil Barrett.
Weaknesses: Injuries decimated the offensive line during training camp, spawning questions about how well the Bucs will be able to protect the 45-year-old Brady. C Ryan Jensen went down with a knee injury on the second day of camp and is sidelined indefinitely. Aaron Stinnie, the top candidate to replace the retired Ali Marpet at left guard, suffered a season-ending knee injury during the second preseason game. Barring a decision to seek help from outside, second-year pro Robert Hainsey is the leading option to open the season at center, with rookie Luke Goedeke and second-year pro Nick Leverett competing to replace Stinnie at left guard.
Camp Development: Under usual circumstances, the team’s offensive line situation would be the summer’s biggest story. But Brady, who announced his retirement in February only to reverse field six weeks later, instead dominated headlines with what Bowles described as a pre-planned break from much of camp for personal reasons.
Fantasy Player To Watch: With Godwin recovering from knee surgery and No. 1 receiver Mike Evans looking to extend his NFL record streak of consecutive 1,000-yard seasons to begin a career to nine, it could open the door to a healthy Jones rebounding from subpar seasons the past two years, when he was slowed by injuries with Atlanta and Tennessee.
FanDuel Says: Win Super Bowl:+750. Over/under wins: 11.5.
Expectations: Brady cited “unfinished business” as one of the reasons for ending his brief retirement, and the Bucs remain committed to trying to surround him with everything the seven-time Super Bowl champion needs to win an eighth ring. In addition to acquiring Jones and Rudolph, general manager Jason Licht signed Hicks to replace Ndamukong Suh on the defensive line, traded for former Patriots OL Shaq Mason to fill an opening at right guard and re-signed Godwin, Jensen, Fournette and CB Carlton Davis. The Bucs are coming off setting a club record for regular-season victories (13) and winning the NFC South for the first time since 2007. Anything short of hoisting the Lombardi Trophy for the second time in three years will be a disappointment.
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