Buccaneers training camp preview
TRAINING CAMP GOALS
1. The Bucs made a lot of decisions in the offseason based on one simple goal: save quarterback Josh Freeman. Two years ago, Freeman passed for 25 touchdowns and only six interceptions. But last season, affected by the lockout and a suspect supporting cast, Freeman struggled to throw only 16 touchdowns and 22 interceptions.
Coach Greg Schiano began by hiring Giants quarterbacks coach Mike Sullivan as offensive coordinator. Sullivan is credited with helping Giants quarterback Eli Manning the past two years. The Bucs also improved Freeman's weapons. They signed a legitimate No. 1 receiver in free agent Vincent Jackson and Saints guard Carl Nicks. The Bucs also used the No. 31 overall pick on Boise State running back Doug Martin, who can be effective on all three downs. Freeman has to improve his accuracy and fundamentals while learning his third offense in four years. But he's off to a good start.
2. The Bucs' front seven on defense has to come alive. Defensive tackles Gerald McCoy and Brian Price have not been able to stay healthy the past two seasons and therefore have not come close to fulfilling their potential. Tampa Bay did not really address the defensive line in the draft or free agency and Da'Quan Bowers, the team's second-rounder in 2011, tore his Achilles and could be out for the season.
There's also no help for the young linebacking corps. The Bucs plan to go with Mason Foster again at middle linebacker and added LaVonte David on the weak side. Tampa Bay gave up 494 points last year -- a franchise record. New defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan has his work cut out.
PLAYER TO WATCH
Running back Doug Martin reminds Schiano of one of his former Rutgers players -- Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice. That's pretty high praise and Martin would be lucky to approach that level of greatness. But the point was made. The Bucs needed a back who can stay on the field during passing downs. LeGarrette Blount has slimmed down and is saying all the right things. But Blount knows he has to work on ball security, but it's hard to believe the starting job won't be won by Martin. Word of caution: Martin rarely had 25 or touches in any game at Boise State, so it remains to be seen if he can carry the load for the Bucs. Look for Blount to get carries.
ON THE HOT SEAT
Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy has to stay healthy. The last two seasons, McCoy has been derailed by a torn biceps muscle in each arm. McCoy, the third overall pick in the draft, has only four sacks in his career and the Bucs have had less than 26 in each of the past two seasons. McCoy is signed through 2013, but general manager Mark Dominik has made it clear that McCoy's expiration date is getting close.
Wright arrested for drunk driving
--Buccaneers cornerback Eric Wright was arrested early Monday (July 2) and charged with drunken driving.
The Los Angeles Times reported that Wright was involved in an injury accident near the Staples Center in downtown LA. The driver of the other vehicle refused medical treatment.
Wright was arrested on suspicion of felony driving under the influence. He indicated to Los Angeles Police officers that he had been drinking, but he refused field sobriety tests or a Breathalyzer.
He was booked into the Metropolitan Detention Center in lieu of $100,000 bail, the Times reported.
Wright was a major free-agent acquisition by the Buccaneers during the offseason, signing a five-year, $37.5 million contract. He was being counted on to shore up their secondary.
--Defensive tackle Brian Price and safety Mark Barron were involved in a fight several weeks ago at One Buc Place, during which Price punched and "bloodied" Barron, according to multiple reports.
From the beginning, coach Greg Schiano's recent explanation of Price's whereabouts was sketchy and raised questions. After reporters noticed Price was not in attendance for a recent practice, Schiano indicated Price was dealing with a physical issue as well as coping with the recent death of his sister -- the latter leaving him hospitalized after his body wore down. All that may be true, but it appears Price did attend at least one OTA and got into a scrap with Barron.
--Former Bucs tight end Kellen Winslow gave some insight as to why he was traded to the Seahawks, during an interview with Realrobreport.com.
Schiano came over there and he (yelled), 'Toes on the line! Toes on the line!' Blowing the whistle," Winslow said. "You can't laugh. You can't joke around. So, I decided not to go to OTAs. They got my man Rah (Raheem Morris) up out of there, and I was loyal to him. I would take a bullet for that dude. So, I had to roll."
--Rookie running back Doug Martin impressed the coaching staff during offseason workouts despite being hampered at times by a hamstring problem. Most notably, Martin was adept as a pass blocker.
Said running backs coach Earnest Byner, "The thing that they (rookies) struggle with most of the time is pass protection and especially nickel pass protection, but I don't think that's going to be an issue with him. He has done some good things. He has some quickness. Doug is really smart, and eager to grab some of the concepts that we are teaching. He is excited to come out here and play for the Buccaneers."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "They fired the wrong guy." -- Former TE Kellen Winslow, who was close to former Bucs coach Raheem Morris.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Wide receiver Mike Williams could see action as a kickoff and punt returner this season, something he hasn't done since his days at Syracuse.
--DT Amobi Akoye underwent arthroscopic surgery on his knee but will be ready for training camp in July.
QUARTERBACKS -- Starter Josh Freeman. Backups -- Dan Orlovsky, Brett Ratliff.
Much of what the Bucs did this offseason was to surround Freeman with better weapons. The question is whether he is more like the quarterback who threw 25 touchdowns and six interceptions in 2010 or the guy who threw 16 touchdowns and 22 interceptions last season. Freeman has rededicated himself this year, losing 20 pounds and is working to improve his footwork under quarterbacks coach Ron Turner. New offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan had a lot of success as the Giants quarterbacks coach working with Eli Manning. He hopes to help Freeman eliminate mistakes. Orlovsky is a capable backup and has a history with Turner while they were both with the Colts.
RUNNING BACKS: Starters -- Doug Martin, FB Erick Lorig. Backups -- LeGarrette Blount, Michael Smith, Mosis Madu.
Martin reminds Bucs coach Greg Schiano of Ravens running back Ray Rice, whom he coached at Rutgers. The Bucs needed a running back who could play on every down. Blount was pretty one-dimensional last season and has had some fumbling problems. He's fumbled nine times in two seasons, losing six. Smith brings the Bucs some rare speed in the backfield and a change of pace back. The Bucs will have a committee approach, but look for Martin to get most of the work. Madu got some experience last season as a third down back.
TIGHT ENDS: Starter -- Dallas Clark. Backups -- Luke Stocker, Chase Coffman, Drake Dunsmore, Collin Franklin, Zack Pianalto, Danny Noble.
The Bucs bid farewell to Kellen Winslow, trading him to Seattle. He never really bought into Schiano's coaching regimen. Furthermore, even though he averaged about 70 catches for 800 yards and five touchdowns each of his three seasons in Tampa Bay, the Bucs saw him as a situational tight end. The Bucs signed former Colts tight end Dallas Clark, whom if healthy, can become a huge weapon. Stocker was a disappointment. He began the year with a hip injury and wasn't nearly the blocking tight end the Bucs coveted. But the Bucs eventually want Clark to groom Stocker as their every-down tight end.
WIDE RECEVIERS: Starters -- Vincent Jackson, Mike Williams. Backups -- Arrelious Benn, Preston Parker, Sammie Stroughter, Dezmon Briscoe, Tiquan Underwood.
The Bucs landed the biggest fish in free agency: Chargers receiver Vincent Jackson, who gives Freeman a legitimate No. 1 wideout and a big target who can stretch the field. That enables Williams to move to the secondary role, where he should thrive with coverage rotating toward Jackson. Williams had 65 catches but only averaged 11.9 yards per catch and saw his touchdowns fall from 11 in 2010 to only three last season. Benn never made it fully back from an ACL injury and was sixth on the team with 30 receptions. Parker emerged as the Bucs' best third down receiver and Briscoe was their best route-runner. Briscoe came on late and led all players with six touchdowns. Underwood has good speed and quickness and is a former Rutgers star under Schiano.
OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters -- LT Donald Penn, LG Carl Nicks, C Jeremy Zuttah, RG Davin Joseph, RT Jeremy Trueblood. Backups -- G Derek Hardman, T James Lee, T Demar Dotson, G Ted Larsen, T Jamon Meredith.
The strength of the Bucs' team might have been their offensive line, especially after adding Nicks, one of the most physical offensive linemen in the NFL. Zuttah, who played for Schiano at Rutgers, moves from guard to center, which is a more natural position for him. The Bucs feel good about Joseph and Trueblood on the right side. Penn has made a Pro Bowl, but he struggled with some weight issues last season and played lousy down the stretch. Overall, it's an experienced group that should be one of the stronger units in the NFC South.
DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters -- LDE Michael Bennett, DT Brian Price, DT Gerald McCoy, RDE Adrian Clayborn. Backups -- DT Amobi Okoye, DE Da'Quan Bowers, DT Roy Miller, DE Nick Reed, DE Daniel Te'o-Nesheim, DT Gary Gibson, DE Wallace Gilberry, DE George Johnson, DE Jayme Mitchell, DT Frank Okam, DE E.J. Wilson.
The Bucs got a bad break when Bowers tore his Achilles in the offseason. That means Bennett, who is coming off foot surgery and had four sacks last season, will be the starter at left defensive end for a unit that only had 23 sacks last year. The key for the Bucs is whether they can get full seasons out of McCoy and Price. McCoy has landed on injured reserve his first two years with torn biceps in each arm. For depth, the Bucs signed Okoye, who will be a capable backup and push Price for a starting job.
LINEBACKERS: Starters -- MLB Mason Foster, SLB Quincy Black, WLB Lavonte David. Backups -- Dekoda Watson, Adam Hayward, Najee Goode, Rennie Curran, Jacob Cutrera.
The Bucs elected not to go the free-agent route to improve their linebackers. The club admits it might have been a bad decision to make Mason Foster the middle linebacker as a rookie with no offseason due to the lockout. Geno Hayes played poorly and was allowed to leave via free agency. Black was unable to play and be effective on passing downs. David has great instincts, but with two rookies at linebacker, there's going to be problems. Schiano has some history with Goode, who played against him while at West Virgina. It's a young, athletic group but lack of experience may be a problem again.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters -- RCB Eric Wright, LCB Aqib Talib, S Mark Barron, S Ronde Barber. Backups -- S Cody Grimm, CB E.J. Biggers, S Larry Asante, S Ahmad Black, CB Leonard Johnson, CB Anthony Gaitor, S Devin Holland, CB Myron Lewis, CB Derrick Roberson, CB keith Tandy.
Barber, in his 16th year, is attempting to make the transition to safety and could be effective there. He'll still play inside in some nickel situations. The Bucs used their first-round pick on Barron, who in addition to being a big hitter, played in a complex pro-style defense at Alabama under Nick Saban. The Bucs signed Wright to a five-year, $38 million contract and he's expected to start at Barber's right cornerback spot. The Bucs had concerns about Talib, who faced assault with a deadly weapon charges in Texas. But the case was dismissed and he has a clean slate. However, injuries have been a factor for Talib, who had only two interceptions last season. Johnson, a free agent from Iowa State, can play both cornerback and safety.
SPECIAL TEAMS: P Michael Koenen, PK Conner Barth, KOR/PR Preston Parker, LS Andrew Economos.
Koenen is a weapon for the Bucs, both as a punter and a kickoff specialist who can change field position. The Bucs used their franchise tag on Barth after he had a career year and was among the most consistent field-goal kickers in the league, going 26-of-28 in field-goal tries. Parker is the primary punt and kickoff return man, but there has been some talk about moving Smith or Williams back there on kickoffs. Overall, the kicking game should be one of the Bucs' strengths in 2012.
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