Boy, that really got out of hand fast, didn't it? In 2010, the Bucs looked like a team on the rise, winning 10 games and featuring a number of emerging superstars. In 2011? They were one of two teams with a -200 or greater point differential. The Bucs allowed more points per game than any team in the NFL, the offense completely regressed and they closed out the season with an improbable 10-game losing streak that cost Raheem Morris his job.
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Enter Greg Schiano, who might have a bigger challenge ahead of him than putting Rutgers on the map football-wise. He's got one advantage on Morris though: the front office came out swinging in the Offseason champs tournament, adding Carl Nicks and Vincent Jackson in free agency and Doug Martin in the first round of the draft. Those three additions, along with a more disciplined approach from Schiano, should do wonders to help Josh Freeman bounce back to being a legitimate upper echelon quarterback in the NFL. (Jackson is so happy to work with Freeman he even asked for $55 million over five years, to rep Freeman's number.)
The youthful pu-pu platter of Mike Williams, Arrelious Benn and Sammie Stroughter now looks a lot better. Martin will combine with LeGarrett Blount to create an interesting one-two punch, even if Blount's not happy about it. Donald Penn and Davin Joseph should see an improvement in their play along the line with the addition of the physical Nicks.
Defensively, the Buccaneers should be better in 2012, but that's not a byproduct of obvious improvements so much as it is the absolute impossibility of Tampa Bay's defense performing worse. Tampa's invested heavily in the defensive line over the past two years, drafting Gerald McCoy and Brian Price in 2010 and following it up with Da'Quan Bowers and Adrian Clayborn in 2011. Bowers already tore his Achilles and the Bucs can only hope he returns in time to play at some point this season. McCoy is the key for this team to not look like a sieve again: if he's healthy, the defensive line could actually be somewhat of a strength.
Clayborn's a legit candidate to have a breakout season this year. The linebackers should be improved with the savvy draft addition of Lavonte David, a spark plug of a defender. But David's not going to transform this unit alone. Mason Foster needs to continue his solid play, and Tampa needs to hope that Quincy Black can be anything close to average.
The secondary looked like it could end up being devastated this offseason, but then Aqib Talib's nasty court case was dismissed. If he can avoid a suspension from Roger Goodell, he'll be a tremendous asset to Tampa Bay, especially if Greg Schiano can keep him in line. And Talib will also make Eric Wright a much more acceptable second cornerback. Wright (ironically the cornerback who got in trouble this offseason) and E.J. Biggers as the starting cornerbacks would be ... not good. First-round pick Mark Barron should make an early impact -- he'll need to in order to justify passing on Morris Claiborne for a safety.
Roster Departures: Earnest Graham, RB; Albert Haynesworth, DE; Tanard Jackson, S; Josh Johnson, QB; Jeff Faine, C; Tim Crowder, DE; Sean Jones, S; James Lee, OT; Kregg Lumpkin, RB; Corey Lynch, S; Elbert Mack, CB; John McCargo, DT; Nick Reed, DE; Michael Spurlock, WR; Geno Hayes, LB; Rudy Carpenter, QB
Staff: Head Coach Greg Schiano hired to replace Raheem Morris; Mike Sullivan hired as offensive coordinator; Bill Sheridan hired as defensive coordinator; Butch Davis hired as "special advisor"
After reportedly flirting with Oregon's Chip Kelly, the Bucs eventually landed Schiano, a hard-nosed disciplinarian who deserves a ton of credit for making Rutgers football respectable. Schiano's got NFL cred because he's a Bill Belichick disciple, but it's difficult to ignore the fact that college coaches simply don't succeed in the NFL often. Schiano's decision to hire Butch Davis wasn't curious, per se, since Schiano cut his teeth with Davis at Miami. What's strange is that Davis isn't serving as the defensive coordinator, primarily because taking that job would require him to give up the severance pay he's receiving from North Carolina after being fired for a nanny-related academics scandal. But most folks believe Davis will have plenty to do with the team, even in his "advisor" role. For a coach hellbent on accountability and discipline, that's an odd juxtaposition to say the least.
X-Factor: Josh Freeman
Freeman looked to really be blossoming during a 2010 season in which he had 25 touchdowns and just six interceptions. But 2011 was a nightmare all around. Freeman suffered a thumb injury during the Bears-Bucs game in London and wasn't the same. Not helping matters? Freeman aggravated that injury at a gun range a week later during the Bucs bye. Ignore the nature of shooting guns: there's nothing wrong with that in a controlled environment like a range. The issue is that it was in the middle of the season and he uses his thumb to throw the ball. From the Chicago game on, Freeman threw just 11 touchdowns to 16 interceptions. If Freeman is healthy and focused in 2012, he should bounce back to the guy we saw in 2010. Given all the talent the Bucs put around him in the offseason, he doesn't have much of an excuse if he doesn't.
Schiano wants to change the culture in Tampa Bay. And he's done a decent job of getting rid of unhappy campers like Kellen Winslow, who was shipped to Seattle for peanuts. But it's one thing to talk about culture in the offseason when everyone is 0-0. What happens if the Bucs struggle (or maybe when the Bucs struggle) out to a bad start? Morris got run off for not being able to control his players and keep them in line when they started to struggle. Will the players who were brought in by a different regime respond to Schiano's style in a positive manner? That remains to be seen.
The defensive line, as we noted, has been a point of investment for the Bucs over the past two seasons. We already know one pick -- Bowers -- won't return on Tampa's investment this season. Will McCoy finally pan out? Can Price keep up the steady play? Is Clayborn ready to break out? If McCoy struggles and/or is injured again, questions about his ability to stay healthy will really pop up. And if the defensive line doesn't begin to really return on the Bucs investment, the team is going to struggle badly again on defense.
Let me be frank
During the offseason, LeGarrette Blount said he'd be upset about the Bucs drafting Trent Richardson with their first pick in the draft. They didn't, but they traded back up to grab Martin in the first round. This was a necessity -- the Bucs only ran the ball 346 times in 2011, last in the league -- but It'll be interesting to see how a guy like Blount, who hasn't been afraid to speak his mind -- will embrace having another guy around to help share the carries. Tampa needs two motivated guys looking to handle the workload. They don't need a pair of divided running backs fighting over carries.
"The young tackles need to produce if they're going to stop people. They're like everyone else in the division -- will they be able to get that stop when they need it? They definitely added weapons for Freeman. They have the ability to be much more explosive and I'd put the interior of their offensive line, from guard to guard, up against anyone. They will be improved, and I like the combination of Barron and Barber at safety. Barron will be a perennial Pro Bowler. But overall they may struggle some on defense, and you have to wonder how long it takes for all those new parts to come together and get on the same page."
Xs and Os
By Pat Kirwan | NFL Insider
Two years ago Tampa Bay had an emerging superstar at quarterback who reminded people of Warren Moon and a rookie wide receiver who couldn't be stopped. Then along came 2011 and they couldn't score more than 26 points in a single game.
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2012 Preview Schedule
Falcons @ Bucs: 11/25 (1 p.m. ET)
Bucs @ Falcons: 12/30 (1 p.m. ET)
2012 Preview Schedule
Panthers @ Bucs: 9/9 (4:15 p.m. ET)
Bucs @ Panthers: 11/18 (1 p.m. ET)
2012 Preview Schedule
Saints @ Bucs: 10/21 (1 p.m. ET)
Bucs @ Saints: 12/16 (1 p.m. ET)
Now Greg Schiano is the head coach and there will be a return to power football and play-action passing in what many would describe as an old school offense. The 2012 Bucs are not going to beat themselves on offense with turnovers, mental errors, penalties or lackluster play. Of course, to play that way the defense can't be giving up over 30 points a game, which it did eight times last year.
Josh Freeman is still an outstanding prospect at QB and with the addition of WR Vincent Jackson and a savvy tight end like Dallas Clark there will be excellent passing opportunities. Jackson comes over from San Diego, where he was part of a vertical passing game, just what Tampa is trying to do off play action.
Clark has always been receiving tight end, getting open underneath and working the curl and short seam routes. Signing guard Carl Nicks from division opponent New Orleans tells me the inside power run game is the foundation of the offense. It will be interesting to see if LeGarrette Blount can do things the Schiano way or if he finds himself watching rookie Doug Martin run the ball.
The Bucs' defense will be a 4-3 scheme and it is time for the front four with all those high draft picks to come through. A word of caution to the players, Schiano didn't draft you and if you don't play hard and smart every play you will not be in Tampa long. The Bucs have 10 games against top-10 offenses from last year and there is no margin for error.
There could be as many as three rookies starting on defense and that usually means problems with formation recognition, mental errors and just the challenges division quarterbacks Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Cam Newton present. One very interesting defensive draft pick this past spring was linebacker Lavonte David. He has safety skills as well as linebacker skills and he should give the Bucs a hybrid player who can stay on the field when tams go to three-wide sets or use a flex tight end.
By Rob Rang | NFLDraftScout.com Senior Analyst
In selecting Alabama All-American safety Mark Barron at No. 7 overall, Boise State running back Doug Martin at No. 31 and the best weak-side linebacker in the 2012 draft in Nebraska's Lavonte David in the second round (No. 58), general manager Mark Dominik and new head coach Greg Schiano began their first draft together with as impressive a trio of prospects as any selected this year.
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A physical and instinctive defender with excellent ball skills, Barron could provide the leadership in the deep patrol similar to what Schiano had when coaching Ravens All-Pro Ed Reed when the two were at the University of Miami.
It could be another superstar playing for the Ravens -- running back Ray Rice -- that Schiano leaned on heavily while at Rutgers that may have served as the inspiration behind the Bucs aggressively trading back up into the first round to nab Martin.
Like the 5-foot-8, 199-pound Rice (as measured at the 2008 combine), Martin is a bit shorter (5-9, 223 pounds) than scouts would prefer but has an even thicker, more muscled build than Rice. Martin is a tough interior runner who is able to run through contact because of his determined, powerful style. He has excellent lateral agility and balance, a strong stiff-arm and has the speed to run away from defenders in the open field.
The rest of the Bucs' picks:
1st Round - No. 7 overall - Mark Barron, S, Alabama
1st Round - No. 31 overall - Doug Martin, RB, Boise State
2nd Round - No. 58 overall - Lavonte David, OLB, Nebraska
5th Round - No. 140 overall - Najee Goode, ILB, West Virginia
6th Round - No. 174 overall - Keith Tandy, CB, West Virginia
7th Round - No. 212 overall - Michael Smith, RB, Utah State
7th Round - No. 233 overall - Drake Dunsmore, FB, Northwestern