Overhauled defense could put Bucs back in NFC South contention

Rookie defensive tackle Vita Vea will be counted on to invigorate a Bucs pass rush that had the league's fewest total sacks (22) last season. Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers ended their offseason program on Friday. Here's a look at how they fared:

Offseason goals: The Bucs didn't just bolster their pass rush -- one that finished with a paltry 22 sacks last season -- they completely overhauled the unit, bringing in three new starters to work with six-time Pro Bowler Gerald McCoy. They then used their first-round draft pick on 347-pound defensive tackle Vita Vea and devoted three draft picks to improving a secondary that surrendered 260.6 passing yards per game last season -- more than any other team in the league -- and gave up 37 rushing plays of 12 or more yards, tied for seventh most in the league.

How they fared: Above average. The Bucs took care of business in-house too, securing quarterback Jameis Winston's two favorite targets -- wide receiver Mike Evans and tight end Cameron Brate -- to long-term deals, and bringing back quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. He'll continue to be a steadying force for Winston and serve as insurance amid Winston's league investigation for allegedly groping a female Uber driver.

Move I liked: By trading from No. 7 to No. 12 in the draft, the Bucs recouped more than a lost third-round draft pick that was used on defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul -- they nabbed two cornerbacks with starting potential in Carlton Davis and M.J. Stewart and addressed getting some depth along the offensive line. Since it's unknown what type of player the Bucs will get in cornerback Vernon Hargreaves after a down 2017 season, the team has to prepare for the future when Brent Grimes decides to retire. What's interesting though, is that Stewart and Davis are both corners who excel in press-man coverage, and the Bucs play mostly off-man technique. So this move only gets an "A" if they actually allow these corners to play the same aggressive style they did in college. Coach Dirk Koetter did say that they would be pressing more in training camp.

Move I didn't like: In a perfect world, the Bucs would have made the safety position more of a priority in free agency, rather than wait until Day 3 of the draft to select Jordan Whitehead, an undersized strong safety out of Pittsburgh. As of now, Tampa Bay has Justin Evans and Chris Conte as its starters, the same combination it had last season, with the exception of T.J. Ward, who was rotating in with the group.

It was also surprising the Bucs opted to part ways with Kevin Pamphile, who can play all five positions along the offensive line -- an invaluable resource with J.R. Sweezy and Demar Dotson both recovering from knee surgeries. Not re-signing Pamphile shows they feel good about the development of Caleb Benenoch, Leonard Wester and Cole Gardner, who have all gotten a lot of reps this offseason because of those injuries.

Biggest question still to be answered in training camp: How quickly can the Bucs' defensive line gel and how much of an impact can Pierre-Paul make? The Bucs have swung and missed a number of times over the past 10 years when it comes to pass-rushers -- both in free agency and in the draft -- with Gaines Adams and Da'Quan Bowers, letting Michael Bennett leave, and Michael Johnson was a one-and-done after signing a five-year deal worth $43 million.

Quotable: "Coming off of a disappointing year last year, you can definitely sense something different in the facility. Maybe there's a little more sense of urgency. Everybody knows how big this year is for everyone in the building. All of the players can feel it, the coaches feel it. So, I think there is that sense of urgency. It does feel a little bit different this year, for sure." -- Cameron Brate

Salary-cap space: $8,996,170 (Source: NFLPA)

2018 draft picks: Round 1. DT Vea (Washington), 2a. RB Ronald Jones (Southern California), 2b. CB Stewart (North Carolina), 2c. CB Davis (Auburn), 3. OL Alex Cappa (Humbolt State), 4. Whitehead (Pittsburgh), 5. WR Justin Watson (Pennsylvania), 6. LB Jack Cichy (Wisconsin)

Undrafted rookie free agents signed: QB Austin Allen (Arkansas), WR Sergio Bailey (Eastern Michigan), OL Cole Boozer (Temple), TE Donnie Ernsberger (Western Michigan), DE Demone Harris (Buffalo), OG Ruben Holcomb (Indianapolis), TE Tanner Hudson (Southern Arkansas), S Godwin Igwebuike (Northwestern), K Trevor Moore (North Texas), CB Mark Myers (Southeastern), DE Evan Perrizo (Minnesota State), WR Ervin Phillips (Syracuse), TE Jason Reese (Missouri), LB Shaheed Salmon (Samford), RB Shaun Wilson (Duke)

Unrestricted free agents signed: DT Beau Allen (Eagles), DE Vinny Curry (Eagles), C Ryan Jensen (Ravens), DL Mitch Unrein (Bears), K Chandler Catanzaro (Jets), QB Fitzpatrick (Bucs), CB Grimes (Bucs), RB Charles Sims (Bucs), OG Evan Smith (Bucs), DE Will Clarke (Bucs), S Keith Tandy (Bucs), LS Drew Ferris

Restricted free agents signed: TE Brate (Bucs, new contract), WR Adam Humphries (Bucs), LB Adarius Taylor (Bucs)

Players acquired via trade: DE Pierre-Paul (from New York Giants)