Injuries on defense raise questions in Bucs' latest starting lineup projection

Devante Bond, a 2016 sixth-round pick, could be in the starting Week 1 lineup, but he'll have to hold off rookie Kendell Beckwith. Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers could have as many as eight new starters when the NFL season opens, and possibly more, enjoying more depth than they've had in years at a number of position groups. Here's a starting lineup projection:


Quarterback (Jameis Winston): The Bucs are expecting a lot from Winston in 2017 and teammates believe he's ready to take the next step. "He's always been a leader, but the way he's leading, he's taken it up a notch," left tackle Donovan Smith said. "He is the hardest-working guy I know."

Running back (Jacquizz Rodgers): Rodgers will open the season as the starter while Martin serves a three-game suspension.

Tight end (O.J. Howard/Cameron Brate): Consider them 1A and 1B. Howard will serve as a run-blocker and pass-catcher while Brate will serve as an H-back pass-catcher. Both will be used significantly.

Left tackle (Donovan Smith): Offensive line coach George Warhop called him an "unbelievable talent," claiming he can be one of the top three offensive tackles in the league. The key for him is consistency. He's just starting to put it all together, which you could see in the second half of last season. He also hasn't missed a snap in two years.

Left guard (Kevin Pamphile): Pamphile started all 16 games last season for J.R. Sweezy and performed well enough to win the left guard job this year. Koetter expects him to significantly bolster the Bucs' ground game, along with Howard.

Center (Ali Marpet): The Bucs have been pleased with Marpet's move to center this offseason, something they envisioned when they drafted him two years ago.

Right guard (J.R. Sweezy): Sweezy missed all last season while recovering from a back injury that forced him to have surgery. He will step in at right guard.

Right tackle (Demar Dotson): He was sorely missed when he was forced to sit out three games last season because of a concussion. "He's ultracompetitive," Warhop said of Dotson, whom they missed dearly, "especially if he's playing against somebody we deem as pretty good; he literally beats the dog c--- out of them."

Wide receiver (Mike Evans): With his 6-foot-5 frame, Evans will continue to create matchup problems on the outside and won't be double-teamed the way he was last season, thanks to the arrival of DeSean Jackson.

Wide receiver (DeSean Jackson): Winston referred to Jackson as a "Bentley with a Ferrari engine." Jackson's speed and ability to fly downfield vertically give the Bucs' offense a dimension it hasn't had in more than a decade.

Wide receiver (Adam Humphries): Humphries will continue to man the slot and can also serve as their punt returner. Expect to see a lot of rookie Chris Godwin as the third receiver, too, since he can play various roles and was one of the most consistent performers during OTAs and minicamp.


Defensive end (Robert Ayers): Ayers will line up on the outside on base downs and move inside in nickel pass-rush situations, while Noah Spence and Jacquies Smith serve as speed edge rushers. Expect a heavy dose of all of them. Spence's and Smith's roles could be dictated by health as they did not take snaps this offseason because of injuries.

Defensive tackle (Gerald McCoy): The five-time Pro Bowler will continue to occupy the 3-technique spot, but look for some new wrinkles this season. At times this offseason, he lined up on the outside.

Defensive tackle (Chris Baker): He played 3-4 defensive end in Washington but will serve as a defensive tackle in Tampa. Expect to see a lot of Clinton McDonald here as well. Bucs defensive coordinator Mike Smith doesn't believe in maintaining just four starters along the defensive line. He likes to shuffle around bodies based on matchups, downs and distance.

Defensive end (William Gholston): Gholston will continue to serve as the strongside defensive end who anchors the C-gap against the run, while Spence and Smith will come in to rush the passer.

Linebacker (Lavonte David): With last season's injuries behind him, David looked far more like his old self this offseason, flying to the ball, including a diving play in the red zone to close out minicamp.

Middle linebacker (Kwon Alexander): Like David, Alexander made a number of plays on the ball during practices this offseason. Expect him to play even more confidently in Year 2 of Mike Smith's system.

Linebacker (Devante Bond): Rookie Kendell Beckwith could eventually move into this role, but he missed the entire offseason recovering from a torn ACL.

Cornerback (Brent Grimes): Grimes led the NFL with 17 pass breakups, eight coming on third down and three in the red zone. He continues to defy his age at 34.

Safety (Keith Tandy): Both safety spots are up for grabs, but right now, it's Tandy and Chris Conte because of injuries. Justin Evans missed all of minicamp, and J.J. Wilcox missed several practices during OTAs. As head coach Dirk Koetter said last month: "There’s no competition when guys aren't healthy."

Safety (Chris Conte): Tandy could be the harder one to unseat here, as he is the most versatile, and arguably the smartest player on defense, but health will be the determining factor.

Cornerback (Vernon Hargreaves): He has had one of the best offseasons of any defensive player. He took the coaching staff's advice to play more aggressively, and it resulted in several takeaways during organized team activities and minicamp. Koetter even singled him out as having one of the best offseasons on the entire defense.

Special teams

Kicker (Nick Folk): Folk and Roberto Aguayo were neck-and-neck throughout daily competitions in OTAs and minicamp. Folk gets the edge because of his ability from 40-plus yards, an area where Aguayo was just 4-for-10 last season.

Punter (Bryan Anger): He set franchise records for punts inside the 20 (32) and net punting average (42.4) last season, and helped the Bucs become one of the top punt-coverage units in the NFL.

Long-snapper (Garrison Sanborn): Sanborn wins this role by default since he's the only long-snapper heading into camp.