The arrival in January of Lovie Smith as the 10th head coach in Tampa Bay Buccaneers history sparked a significant change in the vibe at One Buc Place.
The environment is more positive and upbeat. The hope, of course, is the improved environment will result in an improved bottom line. The goal is to win consistently during the regular season, but how well certain individuals and units play in the preseason could tell us a lot about the Bucs' chances of doing that.
With that in mind, ignore the scoreboard during tonight's preseason opener against the Jacksonville Jaguars at EverBank Field and focus instead on these five areas of play.
The Bucs have tried desperately to keep first-year NFL coordinator Jeff Tedford's scheme under wraps. Other than letting on that it will probably be an up-tempo scheme along the lines of what the Philadelphia Eagles ran last year, little is known about it. It's unlikely the Bucs will reveal much more tonight, but fans can always hope. How quickly the Bucs get in and out of plays, how often they huddle and how quickly they get the ball into the hands of their playmakers are worth noting, because they may give us an idea of what's to come.
The offensive line
If there is one unit that has Bucs followers and insiders worried, it is the offensive line. Smith and general manager Jason Licht changed out four of the five starters during the offseason, but no one knows if the changes will make the line better. The greatest concern is at guard, where veterans Jamon Meredith and Oneil Cousins are the projected starters. But the Bucs keep talking up prospects such as rookie Kadeem Edwards and second-year pro Patrick Omameh. Tonight's starters might not be the starters come opening day.
The young pass catchers
The Bucs are counting heavily on mostly untried talents at wide receiver and tight end. Most have performed admirably in training camp, but you never really know about a pass catcher until the lights go on and someone threatens to hit him. The Bucs will use games like this to decide who will be the second and third receivers behind Vincent Jackson and where tight ends Tim Wright and Austin-Seferian Jenkins fit on the depth chart. The Bucs appear to have a lot of depth and flexibility here.
Place-kicker Connor Barth
Connor Barth has made an impressive comeback from the ruptured right Achilles tendon injury that cost him the 2013 season. His kicking leg, he said, is as strong as before he got hurt, but Barth has been a little short on some 50-plus yard field-goal tries — and the Bucs have taken note. The team is impressed with first-year pro Patrick Murray, who can also punt, and tried out former Pro Bowl kicker Rob Bironas last week. Barth and Mike Koenen are still the favorites at kicker and punter, respectively, but a good night by Murray could put pressure on one of the incumbents.
Cornerback Johnthan Banks
Lovie Smith said not to read too much into the depth chart for this game, but it's hard not to read something into the fact veteran cornerback Mike Jenkins was listed ahead of incumbent starter Johnthan Banks. Banks started 16 games as a rookie last year, but it really wasn't until Jenkins went down a few days into camp with a sore leg muscle that Banks began working regularly with the first-team defense in this camp. With Alterraun Verner nursing a hamstring injury, Banks figures to get a lot of playing time tonight, so he has a chance to win back a job.