TAMPA, Fla. – The NFL's suspension of Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston for the first three games is something that will certainly impact the team. Winston is the starter for a reason, even if some say he hasn't come close to reaching the expectations of being the first-overall pick in 2015.
With Winston out, veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick will be the starter in the opener against the New Orleans Saints, then home games against the Super Bowl-champion Philadelphia Eagles and Pittsburgh Steelers. That's a brutal stretch, no matter who is playing quarterback.
Fitzpatrick started three games for Winston last season and went 2-1, throwing three touchdown passes and one pick in those games.
Veteran Bucs receiver Mike Evans said the team is ready for Fitzpatrick's three-game stint to open the season.
"It's great to have him (Fitzpatrick) on our team, all the experience he has," Evans said. "It wouldn't be much of a drop off from him and Jameis. They're both really good players. Jameis' situation is difficult, but it happened. We have to control what he can control. Fitz is going to be the starter and I think we'll be all right."
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Here are some more observations from Buccaneers training camp.
Aching offensive line could be trouble
The Bucs are banged up on the offensive line, which could be a problem the final two weeks of the preseason and into the regular season. The biggest injury of note up front is to left tackle Donovan Smith, who is expected to miss 2-4 weeks after suffering a knee injury Monday.
The problem with Smith being down is that two of his backups are also hurt. Guard Ali Marpet sat out practice Wednesday and right tackle Demar Dotson is just back practicing after missing all the offseason work following surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his knee.
By signing center Ryan Jensen and moving Marpet back to left guard, the Bucs felt good about their line going to camp, but the injuries have hurt the progress.
The Bucs could move right guard Caleb Benenoch to left tackle if Smith, who has started 48 straight games, can't go in Week 1 against the Saints.
Rookie might start at cornerback
There is a chance that rookie Carlton Davis, a second-round pick from Auburn, could start opposite Brent Grimes at corner. Davis has impressed the Bucs with his ability in coverage and, although he missed time with an ankle injury, could be the opening-day starter. The Bucs would like to play Vernon Hargreaves inside in the nickel. M.J. Stewart is another rookie who has impressed, but he suffered a foot injury last week against the Titans and isn't practicing. Stewart could work himself into the lineup early in the season as a corner.
Second-year safety Justin Evans is expected to take a big leap forward this season, but he is down with a foot injury, although he is expected back for the opener.
Add it up, and there could be a lot of youth playing early on the back end for Tampa Bay.
Top two picks haven't shown much
The team's top two draft picks – defensive tackle Vita Vea and running back Ronald Jones – have not given the Bucs much bang for the buck just yet.
Vea suffered a calf injury on the first day of camp and has not practiced since, although he is expected to be back for the Saints game. He was expected to be the starter next to Gerald McCoy inside, but it appears that job will go to Beau Allen, who was signed as a free agent from the Eagles.
As for Jones, he has 11 yards on 12 carries and is second on the depth chart to Peyton Barber. In fairness to Jones, the line hasn't given him much room to run, which is why the coaches still think he will be a big part of the offense. He's also dropped his fair share of passes and his head is spinning a bit.
Jones has home-run speed to help give the Bucs a big-play threat that they haven't had in a while at running back.
Big things expected for Godwin
The player who is getting a ton of rave reviews is second-year receiver Chris Godwin. He is starting opposite Evans and is having an outstanding preseason. Veteran DeSean Jackson will play behind Godwin, with Adam Humphries in the slot. Jackson has also been getting work inside, and has had a nice camp as well.
Godwin caught 34 passes as a rookie, but the team expects a major jump in that number this season. At 6-1, 205 pounds, he has the size to win a lot of contested passes and he's a good route runner. He doesn't have Jackson's speed, but he can run well enough.
"He's a beast," Evans said. "He's going to be a really good receiver in this league for a long time. He came in as a pro already. You don't have to ask him to do anything. He never complains about anything. He's going to be a fantastic player for a long time."
Add in tight ends O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate, and it's easy to see both quarterbacks will have a nice array of weapons in the passing game.
JPP has become a leader
Defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, who was acquired from the Giants in a trade last spring, has turned into a leader on this young team. The coaches love the way he's taken that role on in his first season with the Bucs.
Pierre-Paul had two Pro Bowl seasons in his eight with the Giants, and Tampa Bay is counting on him to liven up a pass rush that was nonexistent last year. At 29, Pierre-Paul will team with Vinny Curry, who signed as a free agent, to give Tampa Bay a nice 1-2 edge tandem.