The Tampa Bay Buccaneers revealed their 2015 team captains on Wednesday, and while the list isn't exactly surprising it did have one unexpected wrinkle.
The Buccaneers picked a total of six captains after having five in Lovie Smith's first year at the helm, and the reason was simple: The voting was just too close.
The 2015 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Team Captains
That was the case on defense, at least, where the team will put a "C" on the jerseys of Gerald McCoy, Lavonte David and Clinton McDonald. McCoy and David were both captains in 2014, as well, but McDonald obviously made an impression on his new teammates after arriving as an unrestricted free last year.
On offense, the Bucs re-elected wide receiver Vincent Jackson and paired him with Logan Mankins. Mankins, who arrived just before last season in a trade with New England, is another respected veteran who quickly became a team leader.
The special teams unit will have a new captain after the departure of punter Michael Koenen. That honor now goes to wide receiver Russell Shepard, who has been the team's best kick-coverage player the past two seasons.
Smith huddled the team around him at the beginning of practice on Wednesday to reveal the captains, who were chosen by votes cast by the players and coaches themselves. Each name was greeted with clapping and cheering.
"It means an awful lot to get selected when they've seen what you've done," said Smith. "For our guys now the second year around, they've had a long time to really see players in that leadership role."
- The Buccaneers revealed another list for the first time this season on Wednesday: the official injury report. Fortunately, it is a short list, though it could have significant implications for the passing game and the pass rush.
The Bucs had just two names on their first injury report: wide receiver Mike Evans and defensive end T.J. Fatinikun. Evans is recovering from a hamstring strain while Fatinikun is trying to overcome a shoulder injury, and neither practiced on Wednesday. Evans was the Buccaneers' leader in receiving yards as a rookie last year while setting a team record with 12 touchdown catches. Fatinikun only played in 10 games with no starts but was expected to be a significant part of the team's edge-rushing rotation this season. The Buccaneers were thin enough at defensive end to claim Kourtnei Brown off waivers from the Houston Texans on Sunday.
Of course, the brevity of that list is encouraging in itself. As a comparison, the Buccaneers' Week One injury report in 2014 had eight players on it, and the first one of 2013 featured seven names. Notably not on Wednesday's report were the names Donovan Smith or Jacquies Smith. The team's presumptive starters at left tackle and right end, Smith and Smith had missed much of the second half of the preseason with minor injuries but practiced without limitations on Wednesday.
As for Evans, his inactivity on Wednesday is in keeping with Lovie Smith's careful approach to returning from hamstring injuries.
"If there is one injury that I've always been cautious with it is that," he said. "They let you know. Mike is a fast healer. That's coach talk again. He is ahead of schedule. That's coach talk some more. We'll never let a player go out there until he is ready. It's about the big picture and the big picture is when they are ready they play. I'm not there talking to our trainers, 'Hey, let's get him out there.' When he's ready we'll play him and I just know he is making a lot of progress."
- Opening the season at Raymond James Stadium will give the Buccaneers an immediate opportunity to work on one of their main objectives in 2015: re-establish a home-field advantage.
The Buccaneers went winless at home in 2014, a first since their 0-14 season as a new expansion team in 1976. They got to taste victory at Raymond James Stadium during the preseason with a dominant Week Two win over Cincinnati, but a regular-season win is obviously far more critical.
"By the way we ended last year and the progress the defense showed last year, it showed we can come out fast on Sunday and basically have a fast start and try to get a win," said David. "The main thing is, our team goal is to win all our home games. We're starting out with a home game and our main goal is to win this football game."
With a rookie at the helm of the offense and the offensive line featuring several NFL newcomers as well, a rising defense may have to lead the way, at least in the early going. David says the Buccaneers' defense has four goals for the 2015 season, goals they must meet in order to build on their second-half improvement from 2014:
- Get off the field on third downs
- Create more turnovers
- Score on defense
- Create chaos
Only the first three are quantifiable, but Buccaneer fans will likely recognize goal number four if they see it. David is notably good at creating his own chaos, as evidenced by his six-sack, five-interception campaign in 2013 and his consistent placement among the league leaders in tackles for loss. As a team captain, he knows how to lead the way to getting the rest of the defense playing the same way.
"[We] are excited to get out there and get this thing rolling today by practicing the way we play, then getting out there on Sunday and playing fast and playing hard. We're just going to try to go out there and dominate and end the game with a victory."
- Doug Martin drew raves for his work in the offseason and was one of the team's best performers during preseason games, even in limited action. It appears as if Offensive Coordinator Dirk Koetter plans to lean on his fourth-year running back, which could lead to the type of ultra-productive season Martin had as a rookie in 2012.
Asked on Wednesday who the "X-factor" was in the Bucs' offense this year, Koetter had a quick answer:
"Doug Martin, easily Doug Martin," he said. "I can't tell you when Vincent [Jackson] or Mike [Evans] is going to get the ball. I can't tell you when Austin [Seferian-Jenkins is going to get the ball]. I know when Doug is going to get it. All we have to do is turn around and hand it to him. There's a guy we can put it in his hand and he has the ability – he's shown it in the preseason. Any player that has the ability to create explosive [plays] on his own – that guy is an X-factor. I also think the two guys behind him can do that as well."