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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Point-Counterpoint: Best Preseason Headline

What headline would we most like to see after the Buccaneers finish up their training camp and preseason efforts this summer? Brianna Dix and Scott Smith pen a couple of optimistic answers

prseason headline

Heading into the 2023 season, NFL-centric media didn't have much interest in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers when power polls were being fashioned and potential contenders were being debated. This was in the aftermath of Tom Brady's retirement, and the Buccaneers' subsequent signing of Baker Mayfield didn't move the needle much for football analysts. Tampa Bay had won the previous two NFC South titles, plus Super Bowl LV the year before that, but few outside team headquarters expected them to make it four playoff trips in a row.

As we know now, those 2023 Bucs were a plucky bunch who shook off a midseason swoon, rushed to a third-straight division title and made it to the Divisional Round before losing narrowly in Detroit. The key difference between what analysts expected of the Bucs and what actually happened was that Mayfield experienced a career revival and ended up in the Pro Bowl after throwing for 4,044 yards and 28 touchdowns.

Surely, if those same analysts had an inkling that Mayfield would play so well they would have set their expectations for the Bucs a bit higher. Maybe a lot higher, because there was a general consensus that there was still a lot of talent dotting the rest of the roster. Maybe if Mayfield had done something to draw headlines leading up to the regular season opener, like torch multiple opponents in the preseason and post gaudy statistics, those power polls might have shifted.

Mayfield was, in fact, extremely sharp in the preseason, completing 93.3% of his passes, throwing no interceptions and compiling a passer rating of 135.7. However, that was on just 15 throws and he only played 34 offensive snaps across two appearances. It was fair to dismiss those shiny numbers as being too small of a sample size. Still, it would have been interesting to see the reaction to headlines screaming that Mayfield was playing like the former first-overall draft pick that he is.

That's the kind of thing Brianna Dix and I are going to speculate on today as we continue our annual round of Point-Counterpoint debates during the week of the Fourth of July holiday. What kind of headlines would we like to see this year as the Buccaneers transition from training camp and the preseason to the games that count? What would we consider to be extremely good news as it relates to the Bucs' chances of running their NFC South title streak to four?

Here is the full schedule for this week's Point-Counterpoint series:

Wednesday, July 3: What headline would you like to read at the end of the preseason?

Thursday, July 4: What specific statistical goal would you like to see the Bucs achieve in 2024?

Friday, July 5: Which Buccaneer will have the most surprising statistical accomplishment in 2024?

These are obviously hypothetical headlines, but we're not going to venture into fantasy with our predictions. "Bucs Take Advantage of New Kickoff Rules, Score on Three Returns," would be fine. "Bucs Swing Shocking Trade for Christian McCaffrey," would not. These should be highly optimistic, but not overly hyperbolic. Since we will not be allowed to duplicate answers, the order in which we choose is important, and Brianna is back in the pole position for this one.

Brianna Dix: "Barton, White and Irving Rev Up Bucs' Rushing Attack"

This is a headline I would love to read ahead of the Buccaneers' 2024 slate. The Bucs will have a retooled offense under the direction of Offensive Coordinator Liam Coen with an emphasis on marrying the run and pass. Tampa Bay's run game, which despite making strides finished last in the NFL in rushing over the previous two years, starts with the men in the trenches. Rookie Graham Barton took first-team reps throughout offseason workouts and will make his highly-anticipated debut during the preseason. Continuity will be key as Barton makes the move to center after starting at left tackle for three years during his collegiate career at Duke. Barton is an explosive drive blocker, known for his smooth second-level climbs at Duke.

In the Bucs' 2024 preseason slate and in my ideal scenario, both Rachaad White and Bucky Irving scored off runs through the A-gap with Barton playing a critical role in opening the lanes. With sound technique, leg drive and mobility, Barton bolstered the Bucs' ground attack. White built off last year's campaign and quickly located the crease, then transitioned to finish mode for the score. His counterpart, Irving, followed suit with a touchdown of his own.

The Bucs selected Irving in the fourth round of the 2024 NFL Draft to add competition in the running back room to foster growth. Irving cracked 1,000 rushing yards in each of the last two seasons at Oregon and averaged 6.2 yards per carry during his tenure with the Ducks, while also catching 95 passes for 785 yards. The first-year player made his mark for the Buccaneers with a touchdown, giving the Bucs' a 14-7 advantage over the Dolphins. Irving decisively charged downhill with Barton serving as the lead blocker, then he made a lethal lateral cut en route to the end zone. He showcased his contact balance and power through the tackles. To see the Bucs impose their will on the ground would be a welcomed sight for Bay area football fanatics in August. Scott, what would your headline be?

Scott Smith: "Diaby, Braswell Shine as Bucs' Edge Rush Looks Lethal"

Man, I feel like those White and Irving touchdowns already happened? You didn't just give us a headline, you gave us the article, too.

Yes, following through on Coen's heavily-emphasized plan to get the running game in career would be the best possible news for the Bucs' on offense. Similarly, I think putting together an edge rotation that can more consistently pressure the quarterback than it has in the last couple years would be the best possible development on defense heading into the regular season.

The Bucs used a third-round pick on Louisville outside linebacker Yaya Diaby in the 2023 draft and actually got more than they expected. The team figured Diaby would be a force against the run and a great edge-setter but were pleasantly surprised at how well he got into the backfield, eventually leading the team with 7.5 sacks. This year, the Bucs used a second-round pick on Alabama's Chris Braswell, who they think can be a similar type of player to Diaby.

If those two look like they are a handful in training camp, then back it up with a handful of sacks across the preseason, that would be a very welcome sight. Maybe Joe Tryon-Shoyinka can take his game as a pass-rusher to another level after three seasons of either 4.0 or 5.0 sacks. Anthony Nelson offers solid play in the rotation and five or six-sack potential. Buccaneers coaches have also talked up 2023 draft pick Jose Ramirez this offseason and there's a chance the potential Markees Watts flashed in some small bits of a playing time could turn into something more.

That's asking for a lot of course, but the point of this exercise is optimism. When the Buccaneers' defense was dominating throughout the 2020 playoffs, a lot of it had to do with a lethal edge rush combination of Shaq Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul. Those two guys are gone now, but if the Bucs could come up with a new edge rush rotation that makes life difficult for opposing quarterbacks, that would probably take a defense that finished seventh in points allowed last year to a whole new level. So that's the headline I want to see when the dust has settled from all the action in August.

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