TAMPA — The tendency this time of year, at least for struggling teams not headed to the playoffs, is to look ahead and start planning for next year.
The Bucs just can’t do that, coach Greg Schiano said.
Though his team is finishing up a double-digit loss season, Schiano says he has no intention of turning today’s season finale into a tryout camp for 2014.
“We are still a young team trying to establish our culture and how we’re going to do things, so we want to win the football game,’’ Schiano said this week when asked if he might play prospects in place of veterans.
“When you’re involved in competitive athletics — even if you’re 4-11 — that last game sticks with you. You have to live with that taste the entire offseason, so our regular guys need to play.’’
Not only do some of those “regular guys” need to play, a few need to play rather well to assure they remain part of the team’s future.
As the season winds to a close, here is a look at a few of those in that category:
LT Donald Penn
Penn was a Pro Bowler only two years ago but hasn’t looked like a Pro Bowler down the stretch. He has struggled not only as a run blocker but as a pass protector, where he has allowed eight sacks in the last five games alone, according to ProFootballFocus. Penn readily admits he’s struggled while facing some of the game’s top edge rushers in recent weeks, and with the guaranteed portion of the six-year, $41.7 million contract he signed in 2010 now off the books, he may not be around to collect the $6.4 million he’s slated to make in 2014.
RG Davin Joseph
Much like CB Darrelle Revis, Joseph still has not fully recovered from the season-ending knee injury he suffered during training camp last year. What the Bucs have to decide this offseason is whether that or normal wear, tear and aging are the cause of his less-than-adequate play. Now 30 years old, Joseph is at a point in his career where returns tend to diminish and he’s slated to make $6 million next year. Like Penn, the Bucs are no longer on the hook for any guaranteed payouts to Joseph, so he could be facing a release or at least a request to restructure his contract if the Bucs decide he’s nearing the end.
WR Tiquan Underwood
The Bucs pulled Underwood in off the street a few weeks into the season after the loss of Mike Williams to a season-ending hamstring injury. Underwood, however, has consistently underwhelmed. He turned in a couple of good games, but the Bucs need consistency at the wideout spot and Underwood hasn’t delivered. Underwood will probably get a chance to return for training camp next year, but he’ll probably have a high- or mid-round draft pick, as well as Vincent Jackson and Williams, ahead of him on the depth chart.
NT Akeem Spence
None of the Bucs’ rookie newcomers appeared to hit the rookie wall as hard or as soon as Spence did. He flashed regularly during training camp both as a run stopper and a pass rusher, but he has struggled to make an impact since the regular season started. A wrist injury suffered early has no doubt contributed to Spence’s struggles. It limited his weight-lifting regimen and impacted his play on Sundays, but he will need to have a good offseason program and training camp to keep his hold on the starter’s spot. The Bucs still believe in Spence, but he has to reward them for their belief, and soon.
DE Da’Quan Bowers
Bowers was placed on injured reserve this week with a knee injury, so he won’t play today, but he badly needed to. All but handed the starting left end job at the start of training camp, Bowers quickly lost that job and began a slide down the depth chart that didn’t end until he was lagging behind both Daniel Te’o-Nesheim and rookie William Gholston. The Bucs are not on the hook for any guaranteed payouts to Bowers, so they could dump him at any time, but don’t look for that. The Bucs need depth up front, and while they were expecting Bowers to provide much more, they may have to settle for that.