The Tampa Bay Buccaneers return to training camp at the AdventHealth Training Center this week, embarking on their journey toward the goal of repeating as Super Bowl champions.
Training camp will offer Tampa Bay the grounds to pick up on where they left off in the 2020 postseason, winning games as a cohesive unit on all three sides of the ball. In a more normalized offseason than last year's, which dealt with varying schedules and protocols amid the coronavirus pandemic, the team may have an easier path toward building more chemistry and absorbing coaching in these practices.
However, with camp comes storylines worth monitoring. Especially for a Super Bowl champion squad.
Below, AllBucs has compiled the five most important storylines on the offensive side of the ball entering Buccaneers training camp. Whether it relates to top players on the roster or a competition for a spot among the final 53, the questions below should be answered by the time Tampa Bay kicks off the year in week one.
How is Tom Brady's knee following an offseason surgery?
At the beginning of the offseason, Tom Brady underwent what was described as a "clean-up" surgery on his left knee. Into the offseason, quarterback coach Clyde Christensen expanded upon the injury and deemed it a "nagging nuisance."
This month, it was revealed the Brady actually played on a fully torn MCL. Much more drastic than the original "minor" label that hovered around the operation.
Brady's surgery was successful and he had no issue competing throughout the team's mandatory minicamp. However, those practices were without pads, and now Brady will begin taking on contact as we approach the preseason which will naturally increase the stress level on his knee.
How will Brady handle that pressure? Although the tears were to different tendons, it's worth remembering that Brady suffered a season-ending torn ACL in 2008 and played 16 games the following season, tossing for 4398 yards and 28 touchdowns, Brady isn't the spring chicken at 43 years old that he was in 2009, but considering the 40-touchdown performance he posted across his first season in Tampa Bay, it's fair to assume he can bounce back strongly once again.
Who will win the backup quarterback battle?
After selecting former Florida passer Kyle Trask in the second round of the draft, Tampa Bay will hold a competition for one of three spots in the quarterback room throughout camp and the preseason.
Obviously, Brady has the starting gig locked down with plenty of job security. Given Trask was a day two pick who the Buccaneers look to develop, he's a safe bet to make the roster as well. That leaves veterans Blaine Gabbert and Ryan Griffin in a battle for one spot, which would likely be Brady's immediate backup.
Gabbert held the role in 2020 with Griffin serving as QB3, throwing for 143 yards and two touchdowns when Brady was provided some rest. Griffin is entering his seventh season with the Bucs, however, and that familiarity could offer him an edge so long as he shows out in practice and preseason games.
How large will Giovani Bernard's role be?
Tampa Bay made less than a handful of free agency additions before the draft this offseason, but the one they made could end up becoming a major contributor.
Ronald Jones II and Leonard Fournette are expected to earn the lion's share of carries throughout the 2021 season, especially considering both players are in a contract year. However, neither running back has proven their worth on third downs and in the passing game, combining to drop 12 passes last season, which is exactly what led to Giovani Bernard's signing.
It's worth noting, though, that Tampa Bay passed the ball more than any team in the league last year other than Jacksonville and Pittsburgh, doing so 62.9 percent of the time compared to running the ball on 37.1 percent of plays. Even if Bernard isn't the first running back on the field for the Bucs in 2021, odds are he will take the gridiron fairly often in a passing-down role.
In 2020, Bernard averaged 9.2 yards per reception on third downs specifically and caught a total of 47 passes, his highest mark since the 2017 season. Brady has found plenty of success with pass-catching backs in the past, and Bernard's skill-set is a perfect fit to mesh with Brady as a check-down option.
Will O.J. Howard find a way to re-emerge after his injury?
O.J. Howard was beginning to put together a career year with Tampa Bay in 2020, hailing in 146 yards and two scores in the first four games of the season. A torn Achilles prevented Howard from finishing the season, though, but the production from Rob Gronkowski and Cameron Brate softened the blow that came from Howard's loss.
That leaves Howard in a tricky spot, however. He is on track to participate in training camp and has earned rave reviews from head coach Bruce Arians in his recovery process, but the talent ahead of Howard at tight end means reps could be limited for him to make a huge impact.
Obviously, if Howard is comfortable and returns to the level of play that he put on the field last year, the Bucs will find a way to get him the ball. But there are a lot of mouths to feed in Tampa Bay's pass-catching corps, and it's fair to consider Howard a bit behind the 8-ball until he shakes off the rust.
Who will be Tampa Bay's swing offensive linemen?
An offseason ago, Joe Haeg signed on as the Buccaneers' swing offensive lineman, offering starting experience and the versatility to move between different spots. A year later, Haeg is no longer with the team - when he took the field for the Bucs, his play was rather disappointing.
Tampa Bay is left with four options to fill Haeg's role: Offensive tackles Josh Wells and Brad Seaton, and interior linemen Aaron Stinnie and Robert Hainsey. Ideally, one backup can bounce between the outside and inside, but the Bucs can afford to split this role into two jobs for tackles and guards.
Wells offers the most experience of the bunch as he has appeared in 67 games as both a left and right tackle, starting 12 in his seven years in the NFL. Seaton has zero games of pro experience but has been kept around as an intriguing prospect despite opting out of the 2020 season.
Stinnie was a star for Tampa Bay in the playoffs, filling in for the injured Alex Cappa in the final three rounds of the playoffs and allowing only one sack. Hainsey was Tampa Bay's third-round pick this offseason and is being groomed as a potential future starter.
Stay tuned to AllBucs for further coverage of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' offseason updates, and other news and analysis.