TAMPA ― Ten Bucs players are as old as Tom Brady’s NFL career.
It’s fair to say that there will be plenty of old timers’ games played in Tampa Bay this season.
Experience can be an asset. But players typically don’t become more productive and less injured as the sand runs out of their professional hourglass. The Bucs have the oldest 53-man roster in the NFL at 27.1 years.
On the other hand, it’s hard to not like the Bucs’ depth in the secondary and at the receiver position. However, the offensive line has been largely rebuilt, and the special teams aren’t, well, very special at all.
As we head into the “Sunday Night Football” game at Dallas on Sept. 11, here are some pluses and minuses to the team head coach Todd Bowles and general manager Jason Licht have assembled.
old guys rule
When your quarterback is 45, it stands to reason your roster is going to trend a little older. But the Bucs know Brady is likely playing his final season in Tampa Bay, if not headed back to retirement, when the year is over.
That’s why they’re not buying green bananas. On the contrary, the win-now urgency is evident throughout the construction of the roster.
Most of the graybeards play offense. Brady was involved in the recruitment of several of them, including receiver Julio Jones (33) and tight end Kyle Rudolph (32). But defensive tackle Akiem Hicks is 32, and he also came to Tampa Bay hoping Brady will slip a Super Bowl ring on his finger from him.
Injuries are always the biggest concern with older players. Jones missed seven games in each of the past two seasons. Hicks missed 20 games over the past three seasons with the Bears. Giovani Bernard, who missed five games last season and all of training camp, still secured a roster spot at age 30.
Experience can be good, particularly when you use it to fortify a young secondary with a player such as Logan Ryan (31).
The key will be to put some of these players on a pitch count and try to nurse them through an 18-game regular season and have them healthy for the playoffs. That can be a tough needle to thread.
More athletic defense
While the Bucs have plenty of older players, they made a concerted effort to get a little younger and certainly more athletic on defense.
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After winning Super Bowl 55 following the 2020 season, the theme was to just run it back with essentially the same roster. It sounded good, but in reality it fell flat.
The Bucs defense looked slow, particularly on the defensive front. That’s why players such as Ndamukong Suh and Jason Pierre-Paul are gone. In fact, they’re not in the NFL. While Hicks is no spring chicken, the Bucs drafted defensive tackle Logan Hall and promoted Joe Tryon-Shoyinka to starting outside linebacker. They also added speed in the secondary with cornerback Zyon McCollum.
Unproven, beat-up offensive line
It’s nobody’s fault that center Ryan Jensen suffered a significant knee injury on the second day of training camp and could be lost for the season.
But before Brady unretired, the Bucs had planned for Jensen to leave via free agency. That’s why they drafted Notre Dame’s Robert Hainsey a year ago and moved him from tackle to center.
Hainsey has big cleats to fill but played well in the preseason. Rookie Luke Goedeke, a second-round pick from Central Michigan, will start at left guard after Ali Marpet’s unexpected retirement at age 28. Since allowing a sack and two holding penalties in his first start against the Titans, he has improved.
Shaq Mason blocked for Brady in New England, and the tandem of tackles Donovan Smith and Tristan Wirfs (who is recovering from an oblique injury) are as good as any in the league. However, the Bucs’ depth will be tested after the season-ending injury to Aaron Stinnie.
Questionable special teams play
The Bucs special teams haven’t been very good the past few years. Last season, they ranked 26th in kickoff return average (19.7 yards), while Jaleon Darden has been underwhelming returning punts (7.5-yard average) and kickoffs (19.9)
In their final preseason game, the Bucs allowed a 53-yard kickoff return. Place-kicker Ryan Succop is coming off a season in which he connected on 83.3 percent of his field-goal attempts but none from 50 yards or more.
Rookie punter Jake Camarda appears to be an upgrade over Bradley Pinion but is unproven. It’s hard to see where they’ll be much better in 2022.
The Bucs were smart to sign Jones from this standpoint: the past two years, injuries have thinned the receiver position, and they have been forced to resort to either signing street free agents or promoting from the practice squad.
Any time you can put Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Jones and Russell Gage on the field, it’s a problem for the opposing defense. Godwin is still recovering from ACL surgery on Jan. 3. No problem. The Bucs have Scotty Miller, Breshad Perriman and Darden waiting in the wings. They also were fortunate to get Deven Thompkins and Kaylon Geiger back on the practice squad.
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George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism