Bucs' starting lineup projection features newcomers on defense

A young Tampa Bay Buccaneers offense led by Jameis Winston continues to build on a promising 2015 season, while a number of new faces will make their marks in Mike Smith’s defense. Here’s a projection of who the starters will be:


Quarterback (Jameis Winston): Winston, who threw for 4,042 yards, 22 touchdowns and 15 interceptions his rookie year, wasted no time this offseason. He came into training camp 20 pounds lighter, thanks to a tough training regimen and not eating after 7 p.m. Look for him to cut down on interceptions and show improved mobility and footwork.

Running back (Doug Martin): After two injury-plagued, uninspiring seasons in 2013 and 2014, Martin rebounded in 2015-16 and showed the burst and explosiveness that brought about a stellar rookie season. He was subsequently rewarded with a new contract. Martin will continue to benefit from not being the lone ball carrier and having Charles Sims around.

Receiver (Vincent Jackson): After four straight seasons of at least 1,000 receiving yards without missing a start, Jackson suffered a knee injury that forced him to miss seven games last year. He is hands-down Winston’s most reliable target and can line up anywhere on the field.

Receiver (Mike Evans): Evans had some uncharacteristic drops in 2015, and his production in the red zone fell from 12 touchdowns to three, but he managed to record his second consecutive 1,000-yard season. He’ll benefit from having a healthy Jackson lining up on the other side and not having defenses zero in so closely on him.

Tight end (Austin Seferian-Jenkins): Seferian-Jenkins has missed 16 games in two seasons, so health is a concern. He was booted from practice during the final week of OTAs because, according to head coach Dirk Koetter, he “didn’t know what he was doing.” He will line up in the traditional “Y” position.

Tight end (Cameron Brate): The former undrafted free agent out of Harvard earned four starts last season and emerged as one of Winston’s favorite red zone targets. Brate will line up in the “F” spot or H-back role. (The Bucs will have two starting tight ends, instead of carrying a traditional fullback.)

Left tackle (Donovan Smith): Just like Winston, Smith dealt with a steep learning curve last year and had to face the likes of J.J. Watt, Cameron Jordan, Robert Mathis, Trent Cole, Greg Hardy, Kony Ealy, Ryan Delaire, Jared Allen, Jason Pierre-Paul and Everson Griffen. At times, he struggled (remember the wicked spin move Griffen put on him?), and at other times, he held his own, including keeping JPP, Hardy and Watt from sacking Winston.

Right tackle (Demar Dotson): Although it’s close between Dotson and Gosder Cherilus, Dotson has the slight edge. Cherilus will be a solid backup swing tackle and will provide veteran leadership in Logan Mankins’ absence.

Left guard (J.R. Sweezy): Despite missing the offseason program because of an undisclosed injury, Sweezy edges out Kevin Pamphile for the starting left guard position. He has massive shoes to fill with Mankins' retirement.

Right guard (Ali Marpet): His jump from Division III to the NFL (and inside from tackle to guard) wasn’t without a few growing pains, and he won’t have Mankins to lean on anymore, but Marpet grew quickly last season and hopes to continue.

Center (Joe Hawley): His performance last season beat Evan Smith for the starting job, and he’ll build on that while Smith serves as a backup center and guard.


Right defensive end (Robert Ayers): The Bucs swung and missed on Michael Johnson in free agency two years ago and are hoping Ayers can finally be the answer to what has been a meager pass rush the past several seasons. Ayers is coming off a career-high 9.5 sacks.

Left defensive end (Jacquies Smith): Smith had offseason shoulder surgery but is expected to be ready for training camp. He missed four games last season with injuries and still managed seven sacks.

Defensive tackle (Gerald McCoy): The four-time Pro Bowler poses the most fits for opposing offenses. The past three seasons, he has totaled 26.5 sacks.

Defensive tackle (Clinton McDonald): Although McCoy’s ultra-fast get-off and Pro Bowl accolades generate the most buzz along the D-line, McDonald is the true vocal leader, something Koetter has raved about.

Weakside linebacker (Lavonte David): After a slow start last season, he reached the Pro Bowl for the first time in his career. He’ll have more variety on his plate in Mike Smith’s defense and could get back to doing more blitzing. He had seven sacks in 2013 under Greg Schiano.

Middle linebacker (Kwon Alexander): Alexander is one of the few bright spots on a Bucs defense that struggled big time in coverage last year. He missed four games last season because of a violation of the league’s policy on performance-enhancing substances. He had the game of his life against the Falcons, with an interception, a forced fumble and 11 combined tackles.

*Strongside linebacker (Daryl Smith): After lining up inside in the Ravens’ 3-4 defense, Smith returns to his old strongside linebacker spot -- the same position he had when playing for Mike Smith in Jacksonville.

Cornerback (Brent Grimes): With the emphasis on playing multiple coverages -- particularly man-to-man -- the Bucs signed Grimes, another veteran with experience in Mike Smith’s defense.

Cornerback (Alterraun Verner): The former Pro Bowler was benched under Lovie Smith but will see a revival under former Tennessee Titans position coach Brett Maxie. Verner will line up on the outside opposite Grimes.

*Nickelback (Vernon Hargreaves III): The Bucs have no qualms about putting the ninth overall pick in at nickelback, as opposed to the outside, where he spent most of the offseason. Hargreaves has the instincts and quickness to defend slot receivers, he’s a sure tackler, and he can play on the outside.

Safety (Chris Conte): Conte showed last year that he can stay healthy for a season, and he seemed to benefit from a three-safety rotation. He finished the year with 79 combined tackles, two interceptions, two forced fumbles and 13 pass breakups.

Safety (Bradley McDougald): The Bucs keep the same pair of starting safeties from last year. The same blend of coverage skills and physicality that impressed Lovie Smith will carry over into Mike Smith’s defense.

Special teams

Kicker (Roberto Aguayo): General manager Jason Licht shocked the league by trading back into the second round for Aguayo, the most accurate kicker in college history. He made all 198 extra points and went 69-of-78 on field goals at Florida State.

Punter (Jacob Schum): Last year’s starter, Schum beats former Jaguars punter Bryan Anger for the starting job.

Long-snapper (Andrew DePaola): He hasn’t missed a start for the Bucs in two seasons.

*Some games the Bucs list their base defense with the SAM LB and other games they list their nickel defense. Nickel plays approximately 60 percent of the snaps in this scheme.