Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Bucs facing lack of depth, experience
TAMPA - Since returning home from a recent trip to the nation's capital, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have been dealing with a nagging deficit problem. That 30-3 preseason loss to the Redskins won't count in the standings when the Bucs play host to the Carolina Panthers in Sunday's 2012 opener, but Washington's dominance was evident as new head coach Greg Schiano rested his regulars. "What bothers you about this roster is the depth,'' said former Bucs safety John Lynch, who worked the broadcast as an analyst. "The Bucs aren't competitive with the twos and threes.'' After whittling their active roster down to 53 players over the weekend, the Bucs appear confident they can rebound from last year's 4-12 record, which ended with a 10-game losing streak.Tampa Bay added three starters early in free agency -- wide receiver Vincent Jackson, guard Carl Nicks and cornerback Eric Wright – while running back Doug Martin, linebacker Lavonte David and safety Mark Barron earned starting spots as rookies. But a glance at the depth chart reveals the Bucs lack proven backups in the trenches on both sides of the ball. A torn patellar suffered by Pro Bowl right guard Davin Joseph against New England in the third preseason game threatens to test the depth of a veteran group charged with opening up running lanes and protecting quarterback Josh Freeman. If Ted Larsen starts at guard or center against the Panthers, Tampa Bay's backups along the offensive line will offer almost no NFL experience. Jamon Meredith and Derek Hardman have each started four games, Demar Dotson has two starts as a pro and Julian Vandervelde, signed Saturday, played in one regular-season game as a rookie with the Eagles last year. Schiano has talked often about the need for a defensive rotation up front to keep his linemen fresh, but the Bucs may be forced to rely on backups still hoping to prove themselves on the NFL level. George Johnson and Corey Irvin have never started a pro game while Daniel Te'o-Nesheim has one NFL start. The salty veteran in the reserve group is defensive tackle Gary Gibson, with 22 NFL starts in six seasons. Tampa Bay's veteran depth at defensive tackle was weakened when the Bucs traded Brian Price to the Bears and released Amobi Okoye, who now appears headed back to Chicago. New defensive line coach Randy Melvin faces an early challenge Sunday as Michael Bennett, Adrian Clayborn, Gerald McCoy and Roy Miller chase after Panthers quarterback Cam Newton in stifling late-afternoon heat at Raymond James Stadium. "There's the depth or lack thereof that is a concern to me if you're a Buc fan,'' Lynch said during last week's Bucs-Redskins broadcast. On Saturday, Schiano said the Bucs don't consider their current roster set in stone, terming the depth chart "a very fluid situation.''