NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Titans face the Buccaneers in the regular season opener on Sunday in Tampa Bay.
It's a battle of 2-14 teams from a year ago, each with a rookie quarterback – Marcus Mariota (Titans) and Jameis Winston (Bucs).
I caught up with Roy Cummings, Bucs beat writer for the Tampa Tribune, for five questions on the team he covers this week. You can follow Cummings on Twitter at @RCummingsTBO.
Wyatt: Like Marcus Mariota in Tennessee, Jameis Winston arrived with the Buccaneers with high expectations. What have you see from him so far and how do you think he'll do out of the gate?
Cummings: "I'll tell you one thing: Jameis has a great deal of confidence, and he is a different quarterback than Marcus in the fact this kid is a real gunslinger. I mean, when you think of Jameis Winston, think of Brett Favre, maybe not to that level of success, but he'll take chances. He's not at all afraid to take chances down the field. He's going to have some moments where he looks great, and he's going to have some moments where you shake your head and say, 'What in the world was he thinking?' They are trying to break him from that a little bit, but it is kind of in his DNA, he is just that type of quarterback and he is going to take chances and try and beat teams with his arm. He certainly has a good arm. He has shown a lot of savvy. I think the most impressive thing about Jameis Winston is he has an ability to go to the line and quickly diagnose what the defense is doing and put his team into the right play. He has shown that on several occasions. Now he'll obviously start facing some more difficult defenses, especially with Dick LeBeau and Ray Horton throwing stuff at him, but he has a pretty good base knowledge of how to succeed and I think that stands well for him."
Wyatt: Fans in Nashville seem pretty pumped about Mariota. What's the Tampa Bay fan base think about Winston?
Cummings: "I've been surprised fans have embraced them as much as they did, almost from the onset. I think the Bucs did a pretty good job of letting everybody know that this was going to be their guy, kind of softening the blow come draft day. But he was wildly and happily accepted on draft day, and they had a big party at the stadium and everybody was cheering when he was picked. He's been a very popular pick, and I think people are starting to realize it is going to take some time with this kid, he's not going to win you 12 or 14 games right off the bat, he is going to have some growing pains, and I think they are starting to accept that because I think they see down the road he has the ability to be arguably the best quarterback the Bucs have ever had. So I think they are very excited about it and I think they have embraced him really well."
Wyatt: Coming off a 2-14 season, what are some of the biggest question marks heading into 2015 for the Bucs?
Cummings: "The offensive line and the defensive line. Those are the two parts of the team that still probably aren't fixed. As people know in Tennessee, you can't fix everything at once. It takes time. The Bucs have their quarterback, and they have a lot of other pieces around the quarterback, but the offensive line is still a work in progress. And on defense, what they are lacking is defensive ends. The team has tremendous defensive tackle talent in Gerald McCoy and Henry Melton, Clinton McDonald and Tony McDaniel – those guys can play in the middle. But they lack guys who are established on the outside. George Johnson and Jacquies Smith are the guys they hope can do it for them at end, but they are unproven. George Johnson has never started a game in the league. He'll be making his first start against the Titans. Can they do it consistently? They need that edge rush but they are not sure they have it. On the offensive line they are in the process of rebuilding. They think Logan Mankins will be a better left guard than he was a year ago, but they have a rookie at left tackle in Donovan Smith and they have a rookie at right guard in Ali Marpet. The center, Kevin Smith, is a good player, not a great one, and at right tackle their most consistent guy is hurt and out for six weeks so they had to go out and pick up Gosder Cherilus. So it is a bit of a make-shift line at this point with the best talent and most upside in the two rookies. How good is that unit going to be in protecting Jameis Winston? I don't know, but I'd say every other position is in good shape.
Wyatt: Titans fans are certainly familiar with cornerback Alterraun Verner, who signed with the Bucs last offseason after spending his first four seasons in Tennessee. How has Verner performed?
Cummings: "It took him about a half a season last year to figure out the defense, the Tampa 2 the Bucs play, but once he did and now you see him this year, he looks a whole lot more comfortable and a lot more effective. I think the Bucs are going to get the playmaker this year they were hoping to get last year and I think that is based on a couple of things. First off he is healthy – he had an ankle injury slow him down last year at the beginning of the year. And two, he has now figured out the defense, and everybody struggled with that. So he has looked tremendous. He is going to start for them for sure, and I think they consider him one of their legitimate strengths."
Wyatt: What do you expect out of the Bucs this year from a win-loss standpoint?
Cummings: "Given the issues up front, I think they are a 6-win team. With a rookie quarterback, it is always kind of rough sledding at some point, so I think they are a 6-win team. I think the talent is there at most positions for them to be an 8-win team or a 9-win team, but I think with a rookie quarterback who is going to have moments where he is going to struggle, and rookies up front on the offensive line, I just think they are going to have a hard time. So I see them with 6 wins, and I think if they get there after winning 2 games last year I think people should be pretty happy because I think that would be a pretty good sign of progress. Fans want to win right now, but I think this team is still a year away from truly being a contender."