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Buccaneers season preview: D needs improvement

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Around The NFL's season preview goes to the NFC South.

Change we can believe in


The Bucs' roster looks like the NFL equivalent of fantasy football's "stars and scrubs" strategy. They have big-name top-tier talent like Gerald McCoy, Lavonte David and Mike Evans. And they don't have much else. Enter No. 1 overall pick Jameis Winston, immediately the biggest star for a franchise that struggles to hold the attention of their local fans, much less the national public. Despite all the faces to put on season tickets, there's little reason to think the Bucs have demonstrably improved.

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They are banking on rookies (left tackle Donovan Smith, guard Ali Marpet) to improve a beleaguered offensive line. They are banking on old pals of coach Lovie Smith (defensive tackle Henry Melton, safety Chris Conte) to fill out the defense. Getting rid of some of last year's big free agent pickups (defensive end Michael Johnson, tackle Anthony Collins) proves this is an organization trying to find itself.

Biggest Concern


The Bucs need to give Winston a legitimate chance to succeed because he will be prone to rookie mistakes. His aggressiveness is a gift and a curse, and there's little reason to think his teammates will bail him out. The whole point of hiring Lovie Smith was to cut down on drama and bring in a proven defensive system. There's little evidence that the defense is getting better, though, and most of his acquisitions have been disasters. (Cornerback Alterraun Verner remains on the team, but didn't earn his money last year.)

Winston needs his defense to win games, which is hard to imagine when they don't have any pure outside pass rushers. Danny Lansanah was found money at linebacker last year, forming a great duo outside with Lavonte David. There's just not enough to like up front other than McCoy, and not enough proof the defensive roster is better. That's what happens when you spend 11 of your last 12 picks on improving the offense.

Training camp surprise


Offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter begged the team to retain running back Doug Martin, and the 2012 first-round pick has returned the favor with a huge offseason. He lived up to all his minicamp season hype with a strong training camp and preseason. Anyone watching the preseason games sees his old short area quickness is back. He'll need it, because this offensive line is unlikely to open up huge holes.

What we'll be saying in February


We'll be wondering how patient the Glazers will be with this latest Bucs reboot. Smith might provide less drama than Raheem Morris and Greg Schiano, but he's winning fewer games.

Predicted finish: Last in NFC South, No. 15 in the NFC, No. 31 overall in Around the NFL's Power Poll

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