The 2022 season was full of frustration and disappointment for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, despite back-to-back NFC South titles and a third straight trip to the playoffs.
With a daunting offseason ahead, and tons of question marks on both sides of the ball, the Bucs will need some huge improvements from key members of the team if they want to be competitive next season.
Here are six Bucs who need to make a big leap forward in 2023:
OLB Joe Tryon-Shoyinka
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Tampa Bay’s first-round pick in 2021, Tryon-Shoyinka showed flashes of brilliance as a rookie, while rotating through the lineup as a situational pass-rusher behind established veterans Shaq Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul.
JTS vaulted into the starting lineup in 2022 to replace JPP, but the jump in production the Bucs were hoping for never happened.
Barrett is 30 years old and coming off a torn Achilles, and Anthony Nelson is set to hit free agency after a strong finish to his 2022 campaign. The Bucs desperately need Tryon-Shoyinka to become the player they hoped he could be when they made him the No. 32 pick in the draft.
OL Luke Goedeke
(AP Photo/Tyler Kaufman)
The Bucs traded up for Goedeke in the second round of the 2022 NFL draft, enticed by his nasty demeanor and physical playing style.
But after moving him from right tackle (where he played at Central Michigan) to left guard, Goedeke struggled mightily after being thrust into the starting lineup in Week 1 due to Aaron Stinnie’s season-ending knee injury in the preseason.
The physical traits are there, the mentality is there, but Goedeke’s technique and consistency need to make huge leaps this offseason if he wants to compete for a starting job again.
CB Zyon McCollum
(Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images)
The Bucs traded this year’s fourth-round pick for the right to select McCollum in the fifth round last year, enamored by his rare combination of size and athleticism, which he put on display with a dominant performance at the NFL Scouting Combine.
But the Sam Houston State product experienced the expected growing pains of going from a smaller college program to the NFL level, struggling in coverage for much of the season when he was thrown into the lineup to cover for injured veterans.
McCollum’s physical abilities still give him tons of upside, and his contributions on special teams improved throughout the season. But with the Bucs set to lose two of their top three cornerbacks to free agency this offseason, they’d love to see McCollum make a second-year jump worthy of the No. 2 spot across from Carlton Davis III.
WR Russell Gage
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Gage was handed a hefty three-year contract in free agency last year, as the Bucs hoped he could replace the production they lost when No. 3 receiver Antonio Brown jumping-jacked his way off the team in the middle of a game the year before.
But a hamstring injury that started in training camp nagged him through the early part of the season, and other injuries piled up throughout the rest of the year. Gage still finished second on the team with five touchdown receptions, but failed to make the kind of consistent impact the Bucs were hoping for with that contract.
Tampa Bay will be hoping Gage can stay healthier this time around, and deliver on the promise he showed when he put up big numbers against the Bucs while playing for the division-rival Atlanta Falcons for four seasons.
QB Kyle Trask
(Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images)
Despite being in “win-now” mode, the Bucs spent their second-round pick in the 2021 NFL draft on a quarterback who has been a healthy scratch for nearly every game of his two-year NFL career so far.
Trask finally saw some preseason-esque action in the Bucs’ regular-season finale this year against the Atlanta Falcons, but didn’t show much promise in his first regular-season appearance.
With Tom Brady and Blaine Gabbert both hitting free agency, Trask is the only quarterback currently under contract for the Bucs in 2023. That’s certain to change before training camp, but after failing to get himself above the third string for two years, Trask has got to prove himself worthy of the second-round investment, or the Bucs will have to admit they made a huge mistake.
HC Todd Bowles
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Despite a losing record in his first season as the team’s head coach, Bowles likely bought himself at least one more year by winning the NFC South and making the playoffs.
Firing Byron Leftwich and overhauling the offensive staff gives Bowles an opportunity to hand-pick his own coaches on that side of the ball this time, something he didn’t get to do when Bruce Arians retired in late-March last year.
It’s hard to put the offense’s struggles this season on Bowles, and it’s easy to wonder if his defense would have been more effective had the offense pulled their weight. That said, his performance in the big-picture head coach responsibilities (clock management, timeouts, fourth-down decisions, etc.) left much to be desired. Put simply, he’ll have to be better in 2023 if he wants to coach the team again in 2024.