The future is bright in Tampa Bay if you ask most Bucs fans.
Though their Week 17 finale lacked offensive fireworks, the Bucs ultimately finished the season with their first winning record since 2010, beating the Carolina Panthers 17-16 to earn their ninth victory.
Once again, Tampa Bay’s defense shined. The secondary picked off Cam Newton three times, while linebackers Lavonte David and Kwon Alexander added two critical sacks and double-digit tackles, respectively. It was the type of effort that leaves good reason for optimism heading into the offseason.
“On defense, we’ve got some really good guys to build around,” Koetter said after the game. “Lavonte, Kwon (Alexander), Gerald (McCoy), Robert Ayers, Noah Spence, (Vernon) Hargreaves. (Brent) Grimes is getting up there [in age], but a guy that still has plenty of ball left. We’re getting there. We’re making progress. We’re not where we want to be, but we’re making progress.”
The offense, meanwhile, wasn’t as crisp during the second half of the season but injuries and youth played a factor. Koetter called Sunday “extremely frustrating” from an offensive perspective, but the Bucs coach is confident the foundation is in place.
Along with their second-year quarterback, who set a franchise record this year in yards (4,090) and touchdowns (28), the Bucs also have three promising guys along the offensive line under the age of 26, a 23-year old Pro Bowl receiver and a second-year slot receiver and tight end who more than doubled their production from 2015.
Bucs QB Jameis Winston – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
“When you look at our offensive team, Jameis (Winston), Mike (Evans), Ali (Marpet), Donovan Smith, four guys you can really build around,” Koetter said. “I think you can throw Kevin Pamphile into the mix there. You could throw Cameron Brate into that mix. We’ve got a good nucleus of guys to build around.”
Now, that’s not to say the Bucs are a finished product, nor are content missing the playoffs. Koetter listed “playmakers” and “speed” to the offensive wish list this offseason, adding that the Bucs’ need in those areas is “just a fact.”
“Every team in the league has things they have to add,” Koetter said. “Every team has weaknesses or perceived weaknesses and every team is looking to improve themselves in the offseason. Easier said than done.”
At the end of the day, though, Koetter is confident Jason Licht and company will continue to get it done – finding core players in the draft and supplementing the roster through free agency.
Tampa Bay fell short of its postseason goals, but as Panthers coach Ron Rivera told Koetter at midfield before the game, building a championship contender ‘doesn’t happen overnight.’ The Bucs appear to be on the right path.
“Our goal is to not only get in the tournament but win the whole thing,” Koetter said. “Only one out of 32 teams get to do that. We’re certainly not satisfied with [9-7]. I’m very sincere when I say that. We’ve got to be better in all areas, but we also have to realize that it’s not easy to go from where we started all the way to being a contender to win this whole thing because there are some really good teams in this league.
“I do think we’re on the right track. We’re anxious to get into free agency and get into the draft. We’ve got to add some pieces, but I’m really excited about it. We’ve proved that this team will come out there and compete week in and week out.”