Every sports fan is aware of the concept of the sophomore slump. It’s as synonymous with sports as trophies or Gatorade. “Sure, that rookie was good, but how will he do when teams have more tape on him?” is the question that’s asked following any successful rookie campaign. For the 2016 Bucs, it will be a season-defining theme.
The Bucs were fortunate enough to have had four big-time rookie contributors last season, which means they have an equal number of players susceptible to the sophomore slump. Each of the four are set to play huge roles this season and any one of them regressing would be a major blow to the team. Jameis, Kwon, Ali, and Donovan all face the challenge that every second year player does; how do you continue to stay a step ahead of the 31 defenses, and build upon your work as a rookie?
It’s no secret what the causes of the sophomore slump are. Complacency is a killer in almost any professional walk of life, and football is no different. Players suffering from the sophomore slump rest on their laurels after a successful first year, and rely on their natural talent to carry them forward into year two. Complacency often manifests itself in poor work ethic and an overall lack of passion for the game. It can be fostered by a poor locker room environment and a lack of overall leadership; all things that, fortunately for the Bucs, won’t be concerns.
Work ethic and the drive to be successful may be the Bucs biggest strength as a team at this point, and two of the four rookies are shining examples for the respective units. Jameis Winston and Kwon Alexander seized the reigns of the offense and defense last season and never let go. There’s little reason to believe that will change in 2016. The Bucs locker room by all accounts is a healthy, tight-knit, and particularly energized group with a strong foundation of leaders, and a stable of fiery, competitive coaches. This should directly help eliminate any chance for complacency.
The safest bet to avoid the slump is Jameis Winston; I don’t think many people will argue with that. Winston has the ideal blend of talent and legendary work ethic that every super-star athlete has, and should be practically immune from the sophomore slump. Kwon Alexander is nearly on the same page, with absurd athleticism and a fire for the game that only Jameis can match. With that said, he still has to prove that he can be a consistent tackler and be disciplined in coverage. Ali Marpet was an absolute monster at times in the run game, but needs to improve his pass-game chops. Donovan Smith got markedly better as the season went on, but still needs to improve across the board.
Despite the strong locker room and hands-on coaching staff, it’s unlikely that all four will avoid some form of regression. While all of them seem to exhibit the requisite awareness, work ethic and talent to continue trending upward, it’s far from a sure thing. Injuries and an inability to get tangibly better are tough things to predict. Bucs fans can only hope and pray that the football gods are merciful this season.