Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

If The Season Began Today, Episode 2: Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Projected Starting Lineup

Welcome to the second installment of “If the Season Began Today”, a monthly series I will be doing up until opening day to give you all a gauge to measure the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ progress this offseason. Today’s installment is all about the  starting line up as it stands after the 2013 NFL draft.

Last month, I wrote about how the starting line-up could be drastically altered by both the rumored Darrell Revis trade as well as the 2013 NFL draft, and it appears as though that may be the case. Looking back, what looked like a position of weakness last month has turned into a position of strength not only in the starting line-up, but also in the depth behind the starters. On top if that, Tampa added a potentially dynamic player to the front four, and a potential successor to Darrelle Revis down the (hopefully very long) road. So let’s go ahead and dive into the starters as it sits today.

OFFENSE

WR Vincent Jackson

LT Donald Penn

LG Carl Nicks

Jeremy Zuttah

RG Davin Joseph

RT Demar Dotson

TE Luke Stocker

WR Mike Williams

QB Josh Freeman

RB Doug Martin

FB Erik Lorig

Not much to say on the offensive side of the ball. Tampa has shown that they believe that this offense is ready for a post season push.

Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

At Quarterback, Freeman is still the man. Many fans who were not so high on the 5th year signal caller may be disappointed that Mike Glennon is not penciled in here, but that fact of the matter is Glennon was drafted to be a backup until further notice, and that is what he will stay for the 2013 season unless Freeman goes down with an injury.

[Related: Breaking down all of Josh Freeman's 2012 Interceptions]

The other offensive skill positions are as you remembered them last year. Jackson and Williams hold down the edges, while Doug Martin provides dynamic playmaking ability from the backfield. Erik Lorig returns to provide the surprise plays he provided on occasion last season, and Luke Stocker takes over for Dallas Clark, looking to finally put together a solid season that an convince Tampa they have a keeper at TE.

The offensive line also remains intact, with Demar Dotson finally heading into a season with his name in the starting line-up. Nicks and Joseph look to rebound from disappointing endings to their respective seasons. Zuttah returns to the center position after playing all over the line last season, and Donald Penn rounds out one of the most expensive lines in the NFL.

All in all, no drastic change or turnover has come for the Offense, a unit that looks to grow more cohesive and prove they are one of the top offenses in the league.

DEFENSE

LDE Da’quan Bowers

NT Akeem Spence

DT Gerald McCoy

RDE Adrian Clayborn

WLB Lavonte David

MLB Mason Foster

SLB Adam Hayward

LCB Johnthan Banks

RCB Darrell Revis

SS Mark Barron

FS Dashon Goldson

As was the case when we last examined the starting units, the defense provides the most change. Tampa has done a lot this offseason to improve upon its league worse pass defense from a year ago.

Mandatory Credit: Bradley Leeb-USA TODAY Sports

It all starts up front, and this year you will see to different names on the line, one that is familiar and one that is brand new. Da’quan Bowers takes over at LDE for the departed Michael Bennett. Bowers, a 2nd rounder from 2011, has yet to have a full season in his short NFL career. When he has hit the field, he has shown dynamic ability. His problem now is to just stay healthy. Akeem Spence takes over for Roy Miller, who left for Jacksonville. Spence, for all intents and purposes, is a cheaper Miller with a little added pass rush ability and athleticism. In his last season at Illinois, he accounted for 72 tackles and 1 sack according to ESPN. He should step in and provide an immediate presence in the middle. McCoy is coming off a Pro Bowl season and looks to improve upon his first full season in the NFL, while Clayborn looks to bounce back from a knee injury that kept him out of the last 13 games in 2012.

The linebacking corps remains as it did a month ago. David and Foster stay entrenched as returning starters, while Adam Hayward  should have the inside track to replace Quincy Black at the strong side position. Don’t be surprised if Dekoda Watson or Jonathan Casillas push for the starting role in training camp.

The secondary is by far the biggest change from a year ago. The safety position now consists of All-Pro Dashon Goldson and 2012 7th overall pick Mark Barron. Together, these two men create one of, if not the most physically imposing safety tandems in the league. At cornerback, the long-rumored Darrell Revis trade finally happened, and now Tampa has the single best corner back in the entire league. Revis is the definitive shut down cornerback, giving any defense he is part of free rein to play 10 on 10 and leave Revis to take away the opposing offense’s best receiver. Beside him, I am placing my bet on 2nd round pick Johnthan Banks to win the starting job from Eric Wright. Banks is a long, lanky corner with the size necessary to cover today’s bigger NFL receivers. He excels in press man coverage, which is exactly what this defense requires. Banks is already in line to take a starting role next season after Eric Wright’s contract ends, but I look for him to accelerate the process and win the job in training camp.

SPECIAL TEAMS

K Connor Barth

Michael Koenen

PR Johnthan Banks

KR Michael Smith

LS Andrew Economos

The special teams outlook is the same as before, but with changes to the Kick and Punt return positions. Johnthan Banks returned Punts in college, and that probably makes him the best man for the job in Tampa, where no one else seems to be able to handle it. At Kick returner, Michael Smith will battle it out in training camp, but I cannot think of anyone who can do a better job than him, which isn’t saying much.

If the season began today, Tampa would have the making of a Championship caliber team. And depending on the health of Darrell Revis, they may even be early favorites to win the NFC South division. All this hinges on the health of Tampa’s players as well as their ability to come together and play as a unit. If all goes well, look for Tampa to be deep in the playoff hunt next season.

So what do you think Buccaneers’ fans? How should Tampa improve on this list? Let us know in the comments below as to the needs you see remaining on the roster, and how they can be filled.

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