You Can Smell It In The Air… It’s Pigskin Fever!!

TAMPA, AUGUST 1, 2018 – If Ben Franklin were alive today, I’m sure he would’ve revised one of his most famous quotes.  In case you’re unfamiliar with what I’m talking about, Franklin wrote in a letter shortly after the Constitution was established and how long our country may stand was questioned, he stated that nothing was permanent ‘… but in this world, nothing can be said to be certain, except Death and Taxes.’

The man of extra-curricular fun and one of our founding fathers assuredly would’ve been partying on Broad Street this past February following the city of Philadelphia’s victory over the Patriots – as the majority of the United States (aside from New England and pockets of displaced fans of Tom Brady’s team) gleefully celebrated the demise of Bill Belicheat’s…. errrrrrr… Belicheck’s team.

Franklin would’ve been an Eagles’ fan, and after his city’s celebration had subsided and he and the rest of the fans of the NFL would’ve had to endure the interminable length of time between the Super Bowl’s final gun and the start of Training Camp in late July.  His 21st century quote would’ve been ‘… nothing is certain but Death, Taxes and an intolerable wait for the new season to start!!’

Well, that wait for the start of the 2018 Season is FINALLY OVER Football fans, as the Tampa Bay Bucs and rest of the NFL have begun the process of their quest in seeing who will hoist the Lombardi Trophy on February 3rd, 2019.  There are top choices of course – unsurprisingly the Patriots are 6-1 favorites while the Champion Eagles share 10-1 odds with the Rams, Vikings, and Steelers – all playoff participants from last year.  The top non-Playoff teams from 2018 picked to make a run this year are the Packers at 14-1 and the Chargers at 16-1, a dichotomy in itself as the Pack usually makes a strong run with Aaron Rodgers while Los Angeles is usually that ‘snake-bit team’ never living up to their full potential.

The Bucs also fall in the latter category, with great promise for the team yet to be fulfilled.  The Bucs were the ONLY team from the NFC South to NOT make the Playoffs last year, and any chance they have to fulfill their promise rests with a great year from Quarterback Jameis Winston – that is AFTER he serves a three-game suspension to start the season.  Luckily the Bucs have a better-than-average back-up in Ryan Fitzpatrick, who can take his Harvard education and his experience playing for seven teams in 12years and throw to some better than average receivers – Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, DeSean Jackson and Adam Humphries leading the way, as well as standout TE’s Cameron Brate (who re-signed with the club this past spring) and second-year phenom O.J. Howard.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Dirk Koetter answer questions after practice. PC: R. Barnes

Coach Dirk Koetter is on record stating the Bucs’ offense shouldn’t miss a beat having Fitzpatrick back of center, and in that respect, I agree with him.  Personally I think they’re BETTER OFF with Fitz than with the unreliable (to date) Jameis Winston, but honestly what was he going to say…   “Yeah, I think you can chalk up three straight losses at the beginning of the season…” or “You know, we’re hoping our opposition gets lost on the way to the game to give us a better chance of winning…”

Tampa has historically relied on its defense to win their games, and unfortunately for the Bucs they’ve already experienced some setbacks with that regard, as starting Cornerback Vernon Hargreaves has already missed several practices with an injury.  However, the Bucs may have found a ‘gift’ in the play of rookie corner M.J. Stewart, who not only capably plugged himself into the practices but acquitted himself quite well with his play.  The fact that Stewart can play multiple defensive positions bodes well in his quest to remain on the roster at the end of the camp.

Buccaneers receivers huddle up during practice. PC: R. Barnes

The Bucs weren’t quite so lucky when fellow rookie and top-pick Vita Vea has already found himself in a walking boot and is feared to miss a few weeks of practice leading up to the regular season, as the big plugger has a calf-injury of undetermined severity.  Thank goodness the Bucs’ defensive line this year has much more depth, as longtime Bucs Gerald McCoy, William Gholston and Noah Spence are joined by former All-Pro Jason Pierre-Paul and recent Super Bowl champion imports from the Eagles Beau Allen and Vinny Curry.  This group, provided they play up to their capabilities and expectations, should certainly help bring some wins to Tampa Bay, as not only will they plug the running lanes and keep the Bucs’ outstanding linebacker corps ‘clean,’ but should wreck more havoc rushing the passer, something the Bucs were not able to accomplish in 2017.

During Tuesday’s session, the Bucs were joined by an NFL officiating crew – no doubt to get into top form by throwing unnecessary flags at inopportune times throughout their visits to camps around the league, but hey… even the refs need to get into shape.  This year the NFL will lose some long-time officials, to include “Mr. Index Card” himself Gene Steratore, also well known for NOT being able to figure out ‘what is a catch’ during the Dallas-Green Bay playoff game several years ago.  Steratore definitely will never receive any birthday cards from Dez Bryant or the Raider Nation, that’s for sure.  Steratore joins “Mr. Biceps” Ed Hochuli, Jeff “Bad Call” Triplette and Terry McAulay in turning in their whistles for microphones… Triplette and McAulay already have gigs lined up in the booth for ESPN and NBC, respectively, while Hochuli will probably take time away from his law practice to moonlight at Venice Beach with all the other ‘wanna-be-bodybuilders.’

You take the good with the bad… so despite the injuries, suspensions and any other deviation, we can all agree on one thing… HEYYYYYYYYYYY… IT’S FOOOOOTBAAAAAALLLLLL  SEASON AGAIN!! And it certainly took long enough!!

Jay “Captain Jack” Levy, BCP Contributor