Each week we reach out to our fellow bloggers to get an inside look at the Bears opponents. This week, we sent our questions to Sander Philipse of Bucs Nation under a flag of peace and we got a response from the Buccos over some rum and escaped without needing to walk the plank.
Windy City Gridiron: The first thing I want to know about is Hard Knocks. One of the common refrains I hear from Bears fans is that it would be a terrible distraction for the team. I think it would be fantastic to see behind the curtain. What are your thoughts on the Hard Knocks experience?
Bucs Nation: I thought it was cool to get a look behind the scenes, and it doesn't seem to have affected the team much so far--certainly hurricane Irma will have been a much bigger distraction. The best part wasn't really seeing how the team worked, though--it was getting a tiny glimpse of different players' personalities and private lives. None of the behind-the-scenes stuff was new, necessarily, but that certainly was.
WCG: Due to Hurricane Irma, you won't be starting your season against Jay Cutler in Week 1 but rather Jay Cutler's former team in Week 2. How concerned are you about having a week 1 bye and playing 16 straight weeks? Do you think this is an advantage or disadvantage for the Bucs this weekend specifically?
BN: For this weekend I expect it to be a minor disadvantage. Many players relocated outside of Florida for the duration of the hurricane, and then had to come back in on time for Wednesday's practice. The gap between practices as well as the strain of traveling will probably take its toll. Over the entire season, though, I don't expect that much of a problem--there have been bye-less seasons before, and everyone survived. The Bucs may have to be a little more judicious with injuries and fatigue, but that's about it.
WCG: Jameis Winston enters his 3rd year with a ton of hype and growing MVP candidate buzz. The Bucs added a deep threat in DeSean Jackson and drafted an athletic freak TE in OJ Howard to pair with one of the best receivers in the league, Mike Evans. What are your expectations for Winston and his growing band of weapons in 2017?
BN: I expect Jameis Winston to turn into a top ten quarterback this season. I actually expected him to do so last season, but he was a bit sluggish. With DeSean Jackson and O.J. Howard in the fold, as well as J.R. Sweezy's return to health, he should have a good enough supporting cast to put up some really good numbers. More importantly, though, he looked much more accurate in training camp and presason than he did last year. One of Winston's biggest flaws was inconsistent accuracy, especially on the deep ball, so if he's remedied that we should see an explosive offense.
WCG: Gerald McCoy has been a favorite non-Bear player of mine since he entered the league and only improved his stock with his display of humility and sense of humor on Hard Knocks. What are your expectations for the defense this year and who besides McCoy should Bears fans keep an eye on?
BN: The defense could turn into an outstanding unit, or it could collapse entirely. It's hard to predict, though the late addition of T.J. Ward makes me lean more toward the 'outstanding' side. That's certainly what we saw in the second half of last season, when the Bucs leaned on takeaways to put up one of the toughest pass defenses in the NFL. If Brent Grimes can stay healthy, Vernon Hargreaves can step up, and Noah Spence can turn his potential into production, the Bucs should have a really good defense. Incidentally, that's who you want to keep an eye on: Noah Spence, the team's premiere pass-rusher who had a promising rookie season. The Bucs hope he can turn that into dominance in his sophomore year.
WCG: I have joked that Dirk Koetter has the perfect name for a Bucs head coach but what is your review of how he's done? He was basically promoted after Lovie Smith was fired and it sure seemed like it was a move totally based on keeping Koetter to pair with Winston (something Bears fans are maybe wishing would have happened with Adam Gase). Was it the right move to unceremoniously dump Lovie for the Dirk?
BN: I don't know if it was the right move to dump Lovie Smith after two seasons--there was a case to be made for a third year and an upward trend, and it's hard to determine whether Koetter's continuing the upward trend set in by Smith or not. But certainly Koetter has done a good job so far, and it looks like he's put together a team and coaching staff that can get them where they need to go.
WCG Bonus: Give us a final score prediction this weekend and seriously though, how nervous are you about the Bears after watching them come within a dropped pass of knocking off Atlanta?
BN: I'm a little nervous about the Bears, especially their running game--the Bucs defense had a lot of issues stopping good running backs last year. But I've seen Mike Glennon too many times to think he can actually win games, so I say the Bucs walk out with a 27-17 victory.
Thanks to Sander and Bucs Nation!