In 2007, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers won the NFC South division. In 2008, they were 9-7 and just missed the playoffs.
So what the heck happened?
|Last April's top pick Josh Freeman looks like he could be the long-term answer at quarterback. (Getty Images)|
One thing the Bucs do have is a quarterback. Josh Freeman showed last season as a rookie that he has the look of a franchise passer. He played well at times, but he needs to be more consistent. The one thing you love is that he understands the passing game. He loves watching tape, which is a big plus.
Second-year general manager Mark Dominik has a lot of work in front of him. This is a team filled with holes, but they can fill a big one with the third overall pick. They also have two second-round picks.
The Bucs are the perfect case study in how quickly things can turn around in the NFL. They better hope the flip the other way can happen just as fast as the fall.
QB: With Freeman entering his second season, the Bucs are set here for a long time. Freeman showed well as a rookie last season when he started. He is athletic and he has a good arm and also reads defenses well. Josh Johnson and Byron Leftwich are the backups. Both started last season, and Leftwich has been a decent starter in the past. But there still could be change.
RB: Cadillac Williams bounced back from two knee surgeries to have a good season in 2009 and proved a lot of doubters wrong. Derrick Ward came over as a free agent and didn't get as many carries as he expected but he is a capable backup. Clifton Smith is the No. 3 back. Earnest Graham is the fullback, but he can play running back, his more natural position. They could use an early pick on a runner.
WR: If the season started today, Michael Clayton and Reggie Brown, who came over from the Eagles in a trade, would be the starters. Ouch. After a good rookie season, Clayton has been a major flop. Brown didn't do much in Philadelphia, but a change of scenery might help. Mark Bradley, Maurice Stovall and Sammie Stroughter are the reserves. Stroughter played so well as a rookie that he should push for a starting job. There is still a chance that the Bucs could release Clayton.
|Five possibilities: Buccaneers|
Gerald McCoy, DT, Oklahoma: He would be the next Warren Sapp in Tampa, minus the attitude.
|Draft strategy: Buccaneers|
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Team Needs: All 32 teams
TE: The Bucs traded for Kellen Winslow and he had a successful season. Although he doesn't always run the right routes, Winslow is a good pass-catching tight end. He was a Freeman favorite once he took over as the starter. Jerramy Stevens is a good backup who gives Tampa Bay a nice double-tight set. John Gilmore provides true depth.
OL: The Bucs thought their line would be a strong point in 2009 but it didn't play that way. Left tackle Donald Penn wasn't as good as the year before. They lost Arron Sears to a personal issue and Jeremy Zuttah, his replacement, wasn't as good. Sears is back now and should take back his job. The other guard is Davis Joseph, a mauler in the run game. Right tackle Jeremy Trueblood is an above-average player and center Jeff Faine is solid in the middle. Aside from Sears, there isn't a lot of depth. Shawn Murphy does have some playing experience at guard.
DL: When Tampa Bay won the Super Bowl, it did so in large part because of the defensive front. They've taken a dramatic fall since then. They have a lot of bodies, but no stars -- that hurts. Ends Tim Crowder, Stylez White and Jimmy Wilkerson (coming off an ACL injury) are decent, but not much more. They do have some pass-rush skills, but the team had only 28 sacks last season. Kyle Moore is a player to watch. The inside four of Ryan Sims, Chris Hovan, Roy Miller and Dre Moore is a solid group but there are no stars there. They were gashed by the run last season. The Bucs do have high hopes for Miller, a second-year player.
LB: Barrett Ruud is a good player in the middle but he doesn't have great speed, which you want in the middle linebacker in the Cover 2 scheme. Geno Hayes played well outside in 2009, showing a real knack for getting to the football. The team bragged on Quincy Black in the summer, but he didn't live up to the expectations. He does have ability. Adam Hayward, Jon Alston and Niko Koutouvides are the backups.
DB:Cornerback Aqib Talib has star ability but he has to gamble less. He gets beat because he tries for the big play too much. Ronde Barber, the starter on the other side, is beginning to show his age and it's about time to replace him. The problem is there isn't much behind him. Elbert Mack, Derrick Roberson and Stoney Woodson aren't exactly pushing him. Safety Tanard Jackson is a good player, but he missed time last season when he was suspended by the league. He has to be on the field. The Bucs want to replace Sabby Piscitelli because he struggles in coverage and he misses a lot of tackles. They did sign Sean Jones from the Eagles. Backups Corey Lynch and De'Von Hall aren't the answer.