TAMPA — The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have only themselves to blame for the fact that they’ve played mostly out of the spotlight and have failed to establish a firm foothold in the national conversation for the last 10 years.
Their owners have changed coaches (and right along with them, systems and players) so often during that span that continuity in the locker room has become elusive and losing has become the only constant.
Appearing on HBO’s “Hard Knocks” won’t help them change that, but it will provide a team comprised largely of unknowns a chance to show that there’s more to see here than a couple of players worth drafting for your fantasy team.
With that in mind, here’s a look at five Buccaneers who fans may know little or nothing about but have the personality to steal the show and make this season of “Hard Knocks” worth more than just a cursory look.
Jameis Winston, QB
Many still think of Winston as that immature college troublemaker from his days at Florida State University. That, however, is not the Winston the Buccaneers have come to know. There is still a lot of little kid in Winston. In his downtime, for instance, he loves watching cartoons. But Winston has matured immensely since coming to the NFL, and in addition to being one of the game’s best young quarterbacks, he is fast becoming one of the game’s best young leaders.
He’s a player who teammates love to play for, and the Buccaneers are truly proud to have him wearing the pewter and red. He has an infectious personality and charisma, which is one of the reasons HBO chose to feature the Buccaneers in the first place.
Donovan Smith, LT
The 6-foot-6, 338-pounder out of Penn State has a personality that’s as big as he is. He’s one of those guys who can make everyone around him laugh and also has the ability to laugh at himself. He’s got some style about him, too. One of the best-dressed Buccaneers, he’s a New York (Hempstead) kid with a Los Angeles feel who’s in love with his Audi.
Oh, and talk about having a story to tell. Smith spent a couple of years living in Amityville, New York, where, each day on his way to school, he walked past the infamous Amityville Horror house. Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised that he has a special interest in paranormal activity.
Gerald McCoy, DT
McCoy is a Batman fanatic who arrived for the start of training camp a couple years back wearing a bathrobe and slippers. That’s typical McCoy. He’s a bit of a cut-up in a quirky sort of way. Still just 29 years old, McCoy is also a devoted family man. A husband and father of four, including twins and a pre-teen son, he often puts in a full day’s work as a dad before he ever arrives for the start of work at One Buc Place.
A five-time Pro Bowler, McCoy is one of the best three techniques in the game, but he’s long been criticized by fans, the media and even some of his peers for being too nice of a player. How McCoy deals with that criticism and balances life on the field with life off the field is a storyline “Hard Knocks” is sure to find intriguing.
Doug Martin, RB
You want drama? Here’s drama. A two-time Pro Bowl running back, Martin is only 27 years old, but his NFL career is now in jeopardy after he was suspended four games for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs in Week 17 of last year and then admitted to having a drug dependency issue that he went to rehab for.
Now out of rehab, Martin’s comeback bid is just the kind of story “Hard Knocks” likes to lock in on, but wait, there’s more. Martin has a very buoyant personality, one that has made him a favorite among his teammates. He’s a bit quirky as well, and he has some hobbies outside of the game that some might consider out of the norm for a football player, including his love of anime, a passion that brought him to Japan for a couple weeks last summer.
Alan Cross, TE
Talk about a feel-good story. Cross made his college team at the University of Memphis as a walk-on long snapper, then made the Buccaneers as a rookie last year despite failing to garner an invitation to the NFL Scouting Combine. Cross looks nothing like a football player, which may be one of the reasons he’s struggled to draw attention.
Cross was nicknamed “Honcho’’ by a Buccaneers coach who says he looks like John C. Reilly’s character, Mike Honcho, in the movie “Talladega Nights,” which he does. He’s anything but a chiseled athlete, but he throws a mean block, can catch a pass, and he has a knack for being funny even when he’s not trying to be. He’s a bit of a cross, no pun intended, between Rudy and Ringo, whom HBO should love.