NFL facing unending series of questions, uncertain answers

Quarterback Tom Brady, center in orange, has already been bonding with his new Tampa Bay teammates.

The Tampa Buccaneers players reported for training camp this week and, after getting tested, will go about the business of preparing for the 2020 NFL season.

In order to help Bucs fans prepare for the upcoming season, the Sun offers a preseason report card for the team. Today we will address the offense and tomorrow the defense and special teams.

Quarterback

You may have heard the Bucs finally cut bait on Jameis Winston and signed a veteran who had some success over in the AFC.

Tom Brady brings his talents, 249 career victories, 14 Pro Bowls, four Super Bowl MVP trophies, three league MVP awards and three first team All-Pro selections to Tampa Bay.

He also brings his six Super Bowl rings.

But in spite of his famous health regiment, he is still 42 years old. While his numbers (4057 yards passing with 24 TDs and only 8 INTs) last season remained impressive, his quarterback rating was his worst in six years.

Bucs coach Bruce Arians doesn’t think Brady will have issues adjusting to the offense.

“He’s way ahead of the curve. He’s a very bright guy – the terminology was the big thing,” Arians said on a call this week. “I think he’s in a great spot right now as far as that goes.”

Brady’s main backups are Blaine Gabbert and Ryan Griffin. Gabbert, 30, is a former Jaguar first round pick who found some success as a backup. But he missed the 2019 season with a shoulder injury. Griffin completed two of four attempts for 18 yards last season.

Grade: B+

Running back

Tampa Bay finished 24th in league in team rushing with 95 yard per game last season.

The Bucs drafted Vanderbilt’s Ke’Shawn Vaughn in the third round to pair with returning Ronald Jones II.

Vaughn, the 5-foot-10, 214-pounder, amassed nearly 2,300 yards rushing and 21 touchdowns in his final two collegiate seasons while catching 29 passes as a senior.

Vaughn became the first Bucs player to be placed on the new Reserve/COVID-19 list this week.

Jones, the former second-round pick out of USC, broke out in 2019 with 724 yards and six rushing touchdowns.

He made the most of his touches and solidified his starting role over Peyton Barber, who had 470 yards and six touchdowns and looks to be more of a role player in 2020.

Grade: C-

Wide receiver

The emergence of Chris Godwin and continued presence of Mike Evans give the Bucs’ an enviable one-two punch at receiver.

Evans tallied 1,157 yards and eight touchdowns in just 13 games last season, while Godwin caught 86 passes for 1,333 yards and nine TDs in his second year.

“We obviously like Mike (Evans) and Chris (Godwin),” Bucs general manager Jason Licht said this spring. “We think we’ve got the best tandem in the NFC, or arguably the best tandem in the NFL.”

After losing Breshad Perriman’s 646 yards and six touchdowns to free agency, the next best returning receiver is Justin Watson with 15 catches. But Tampa tried to address the loss by adding Minnesota’s Tyler Johnson in the draft.

Grade: A-

Tight end

The Bucs’ tight end situation was interesting last season with O.J. Howard, the disappointing former first round pick in 2017, and dependable but unspectacular Cameron Brate.

All of that changed on April 21 when Brady lured former teammate Rob Gronkowski out of retirement.

The 30-year-old Gronk topped 1,000 yards receiving four times, recording more than 50 receptions five times and reaching double figures in touchdown catches five times. He also played in four Super Bowls, was elected to five Pro Bowls and named first team All-Pro four times.

But can he return to form after a year off?

Howard, 25, seemed to backslide last year when he caught 34 passes for 359 yards and just a one TD. To make matters worse he had a few pass drops in key situations.

Brate, 28, has only topped 50 receptions once in his career, but hauled in 27 TDs in his six seasons in the league.

Grade: B

Offensive line

The Bucs thought they’d addressed their line issues (47 sacks allowed) by trading up one spot in the draft to select Iowa tackle Tristan Wirfs at No. 13.

“We think he’s a versatile guy,” Licht said. “He’s started at both right and left tackle and he’s done a good job at both positions.”

But left tackle Donovan Smith alluded to concerns about playing amid the pandemic. While Arians said he expects Smith in camp, the team is prepared should he opt out.

“Obviously, it’s a personal choice for guys to do this, and I respect their choice,” Arians said. “Well yeah, we’d work out a bunch of guys (if Smith is a no show). Joe Haeg has played over there. Tristan (Wirfs) could play over there. Brad Seaton (too) – we’ve got some guys that if he decided not to play.”

Whether Smith is on the left side of the line, the Bucs know guard Ali Marpet will be there. He’ll be joined by center Ryan Jensen, Wirfs and guard Alex Cappa.

Josh Wells filled in for Smith at left tackle when he was injured for two games last season with Seaton, Haeg and center Anthony Fabiano also serving as backups.

Grade: Incomplete (depending on Smith)

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