With training camp finally underway, the Buccaneers face an unprecedented month before the regular season. The NFL cancelled all preseason games this year, reducing time for the team to work together under Tom Brady and opportunities for young players hoping to break into the league.
The source of the new paradigm isn't going away either. COVID-19 looms over every practice, threatening to take down not just the players but the entire organization with just a handful of positive tests.
The Bucs were not going to enter the 2020 season without a few significant issues across the roster. Depth remains an issue, particularly on defense.
Here are five questions facing the Bucs during this year's training camp:
Will Tom Brady learn enough of the Bucs' offensive playbook?
Tom Brady may be one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, but he would have to be the Borg to assimilate Bruce Arians' playbook in one offseason, much less one complicated by a pandemic.
Brady himself admitted to the difficulty of learning his first new offense in two decades, hearkening the "mental energy" he has not needed to exert in 19 years (via SI's Luke Easterling):
No doubt a portion of Brady's long-term success can be attributed to his decades-long continuity with New England offense. While Arians is the type of coach to tailor his offense to his quarterback and incorporate Brady's input, there is going to be a distinct learning curve in terminology.
Getting on the field to execute plays will obviously help, but without the in-game experiences of the preseason or even joint-team scrimmages, Brady will be behind the curve versus any other veteran quarterback playing with his same 2019 team.
Can the Bucs get to the regular season without a major COVID-19 outbreak?
The COVID-19 pandemic has fundamentally changed life for nearly every person on the planet. While the NFL deals with small potatoes in comparison to the challenges faced by most of the world in this regard, the virus could easily take a major toll on the Bucs.
The Bucs have been relatively unscathed by COVID-19 so far. They currently have no players on the reserve/COVID-19 list and only back-up offensive tackle Brad Seaton opted out of the 2020 season. That does not mean the Bucs will be good to go when the season begins.
Florida was one of the recent hotspots for the virus and has recorded over 560,000 cases, second-most in the country and third-most per capita. Even with the NFL's safeguards, the Bucs operate in one of the most affected areas in the country. A potential positive test could happen any day.
One positive case could easily turn into several, and we do not know enough about the virus to say how each person might be affected. Over 160,000 people have died from the virus in the US in just over six months. Like the rest of the country, the Bucs cannot take this deadly disease for granted.
Can any of the tryout players make the final roster?
One of the less appreciated consequences of the pandemic-altered offseason is the drastically reduced opportunities for rookies entering the NFL. From the workouts cancelled by lockdowns to the limits placed on camp tryouts, this offseason has been downright hostile for first-year NFL players.
The Bucs' eleven undrafted free agents are no exception. Tampa's stacked offense was already a long shot for any of the Bucs' new recruits like quarterback Reid Sinnett, but the lack of preseason games eliminates their ability to get any play on tape to help tip the scales.
The tryouts on defense have a better shot, but not by much. Players like linebacker Cam Gill and cornerback Parnell Motley have no choice but to excel during camp if they have any hopes of wearing red and pewter in September.
Will the defense build enough depth to be competitive during the season?
Tampa's defense took significant strides last year after a decade lost to mediocrity. However, much of their success was owed to the relative health of their starting lineup as the Bucs current defensive depth appears inadequate for a long playoff run.
The biggest question marks lie with the outside linebackers. Shaq Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul are a formidable starting duo, but their primary back-up is second-year OLB Anthony Nelson, who was a veritable ghost in 2019.
The defensive line is a little better off thanks to the versatile Rakeem Nunez-Roches, but behind him there is little certainty. Tampa will have to count on the development of 2020 sixth-round pick Khalil Davis or second-year lineman Jeremiah Ledbetter to back up Vita Vea and Ndamukong Suh.
Only the Bucs' inside linebacker group has much semblance of depth, thanks to Kevin Minter and Jack Cichy. In theory, the secondary is the deepest group on defense, but the lack of experience draws that notion into question.
In the past three years, the Bucs invested seven mid-round draft picks in the secondary. This plan appeared to start paying dividends in the latter half of the 2019 season as Carlton Davis, Sean Murphy-Bunting, Jamel Dean, Mike Edwards and Jordan Whitehead came into their own.
Still, only CB Ryan Smith and S Andrew Adams have more than three years of NFL experience in the secondary. The rest of the group will have to take ownership of their positions in training camp to emerge as a legitimate force this season.
Who will become Tom Brady's favorite target in Tampa Bay?
Leaving the only team he's ever known in the NFL could not have been easy for Tom Brady, but knowing that he was getting arguably the most talented group of offensive weapons he has ever had probably made it a little easier.
Brady is blessed with an overabundance of talented pass-catchers. Mike Evans is one of the best and most consistent receivers currently playing in the NFL, recording six consecutive 1000-yard seasons. Chris Godwin made a case for being the best receiver in the NFL last year, ranking top five in receiving yards, receiving touchdowns, yards per game and yards per target.
Brady is also joined by an old friend, tight end Rob Gronkowski, who took a year away from football only to follow the only NFL quarterback he has ever had to Tampa Bay. Throw in TE O.J. Howard, TE Cameron Brate, WR Scotty Miller and fifth-round pick WR Tyler Johnson, and Brady suddenly has the actual challenge of having too many good receivers to target.
While Brady's shared history with Gronkowski might suggest that he would be the go-to guy, Evans and Godwin cannot be ignored. Evans is the prototypical receiver Brady has not gotten to work with since Randy Moss left New England, and Godwin is every bit as dangerous from the slot as Wes Welker or Julian Edelman were for the Patriots.
Brady will not have to choose just one to feed, but it is likely that he will develop a rapport with one or two of these talented receivers in training camp. His new surroundings may be a little uncomfortable, but there's nothing like a Pro Bowl-caliber security blanket to make everything all right again.