Not many people were as low on the 2011 Tampa Bay Bucs as I was, and that was simply because I believed their key contributors in 2010, where they made a great leap forward in their development, would come back to earth in 2011 and their play would level out.
Why did I think this? Simply because it is unlikely that everyone that has a career year is going to come back and better that, little alone repeat that type of year.
What about this year, where they added some much needed veteran influence to a young, temperamental, but talented team? Let’s take a look at my question for in my Tampa Bay Buccaneers 2012 Season Preview.
1. Will the real Josh Freeman please show up?
I was ok with the Freeman selection coming out of Kansas St, but I had my concerns, mainly the lack of talent on the roster at the skill position he was coming into.
Well, that concern showed in his first season until the last three games where Freeman put up respectable numbers: 59% completion, 216 yards per game, 3 TDs and 5 INTs, not mind blowing stats at all, but respectable and showing progress.
Then in 2010 he made a huge jump to 61% completion, 215 yards per game, 25 TDs and only 6 INTs.
He had almost the same amount of INTs in his best three game stretch in his rookie year as all of 2010, that begs the question of, did he make the jump?
Well then 2011 happened, and I don’t know what to make of Freeman. He finishes 8th in the league in completion percentage at nearly 63% but regresses in TD/INT ratio down to 16 TDs and up to an astonishingly bad 22 INTs, the second most in the league.
I don’t understand how you can be such an accurate QB, except when it matters, on scoring plays.
Freeman has to turn the corner this year, maybe not have the drastic 4:1 TD/INT ratio of 2010, but keep the completion percentage the same and get back to a 2:1 or creep into the 2.5:1 ratio and he has the weapons to finally do that, so this will be a defining year.
2. Will Doug Martin give them a running game?
Many wondered on draft day if the Bucs were in the Trent Richardson market because of their need at running back, but I actually like them waiting until the end of round 1, making an aggressive move to get back into the round, and taking the second best RB in the draft, and someone I had going in the early 20′s.
Here is what I said about Martin after the draft:
Martin is good at everything you want a back to be good at, strong between the tackles, attacking the edge, catching the ball out of the backfield, and blocking, and because of that can stay on the field on any down, and be productive.
He may not wow you with measurables, but that is why the game is played on the field and not on paper.
With his ability out of the backfield and running behind one of the better constructed lines in the NFL, I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see Martin put up nearly 1700 yards of combined offense as a rookie.
Martin has to give the Bucs a consistent threat in the run game, which should take some of the pressure off of Freeman and allow the offense to have a little more flow to it.
3. What do the free agents bring to the offense?
Carl Nicks and Vincent Jackson were two of the best free agents on the market, and wouldn’t you know it filled two of the biggest holes on the Bucs roster, and I would say the two biggest on the offensive side of the ball.
Many believe Nicks is the best guard in football, and while I may not agree with it, I am a Grubbs fan myself, he is without a doubt one of the top 3 at his position.
Nicks will have an even bigger role with the injury to RG Davin Joseph weakening the right side of the line even more, I can’t believe Jeremy Trueblood is still a starter in the league, but it really goes to show how bad tackle play is.
With Nicks and perennially underrated Donald Penn at left tackle, the left side of the offensive line is one of the best in the league, but that right side will be very worrisome.
Then you have Vincent Jackson, who has to bring some big play ability to the Bucs, but more importantly has to be the receiver that graded out the highest by Pro Football Focus just three short years ago.
When I talked about the weapons that Freeman has at his disposal, I was talking about the addition of Martin at running back and Jackson at wide receiver.
Those two should relieve enough pressure off of Freeman to make the offense run smoothly for the season.
4. How much has the defense improved?
While the offense made some big bold moves in free agency and brought in a very well rounded back in the draft, the defense didn’t do much in the free agent market, and instead will be relying on rookies to improve a defense that has holes on every level.
Here is what I said on rookies Mark Barron and Lavonte David after they were drafted:
Barron is strong, instinctive player, who is best utilized in the box and against the run. He is an excellent tackler, and big hitter, and does make good plays on the ball when in coverage.
My biggest beef with Barron is his coverage skills and that he looks tight sometimes, and I don’t see him as being worthy of the seventh overall selection because of his limitations.
I have heard a lot of Adrian Wilson comparisons, and I can see that when I watch him on tape, he seems to wrap better than Wilson, but I don’t think he is as good blitzing, right now, as Wilson.
As a Cardinals fan I can tell you the most frustrating part of watching Wilson play is watching him get beat in coverage. He can make bad reads and isn’t the athlete of an Ed Reed or Troy Polamalu to recover.
I am interested to see how the Bucs use him, which really limits my ability to break down his game on the defense the Bucs are running, but if they let him play to his strengths as a box safety, he could have a similar career as Wilson, and that would make it ok for him to be picked seventh overall.
David is an undersized, athletic outside linebacker who needs to be put in a 4-3 defense and allowed to use his instincts and play making ability.
He is very fast, strong at the point of attack, and does a very good job of wrapping up and bringing down the ball carrier.
David has no problem opening up and dropping into coverage, or running with a TE or RB when asked to.
He knows how to blitz, and is without a doubt a three down linebacker at the next level.
There are questions about his size and ability to get bigger, and he tends to use his speed when attacking the play as opposed to taking on and shedding blockers, which won’t be an option in the NFL.
David is going to have a tall task ahead of him, trying to cover up two of the weaker linebackers in the league in Mason Foster and Quincy Black.
Expecting a rookie to have that much of an impact, especially with the holes next to him, is asking a lot.
The other problem on the defense was corner back, and the Bucs made a head scratching move of signing Eric Wright to be the guy opposite enigmatic Aqib Talib.
While there is a talent, and Mark Barron should no doubt become the best player in that defensive backfield this season, how much can Talib progress? How much does Ronde Barber have left? How quickly can Barron get to an impactful part?
Those are all giant question that don’t even bring up the biggest question mark… Eric Wright?
Overall: This is one of the harder teams to predict because new head coach Greg Schiano, as someone that loves the young talent the Bucs have accumulated throughout the last three seasons, I am wary of how Schiano gets them to mesh together, and what mark it will leave on their confidence, Schiano is a known hard ass and the youngsters are used to Raheem Moriss’ player friendly ways.
I am not saying that the Bucs will fold up shop like last year, on the contrary I think Schiano brings a much needed change to the Bucs, but it will be interesting to see how the players respond.