It’s almost time.
Rookies reported to One Buccaneer Place in Tampa on July 18, and the rest of the squad will join them on Thursday. The Bucs’ first training camp under coach Greg Schiano will officially begin on Friday.
There are questions surrounding every NFL team heading into training camp, but in the wake of Tampa Bay’s struggles a season ago (a 4-12 record that led to the end of Raheem Morris’ tenure as head coach) -- and with a new coaching staff and schemes that have been installed, there may be even more questions than usual for the Bucs.
Here are a few questions the team faces as the beginning of training camp draws nearer:
1. Can Schiano turn around the defense?
The Bucs were synonymous with defense under Tony Dungy (that’s why they call it “Tampa 2”), but those days are long gone. Tampa Bay struggled in several areas last season, but none more than on the defensive side of the ball, where the Bucs finished 30th in the league in total defense, allowing almost 400 yards per game.
If Schiano is to find success early in his tenure, that will have to change quickly. But he has hardly been detailed about his plans in that area.
2. Which Josh Freeman will show up this season?
Perhaps because his team was playing from behind so often in 2011, Freeman had to throw more often than during his impressive 2010 season. The results were apparent -- Freeman threw 22 interceptions after only tossing only six in 2010. His QB rating fell from 95.9 in 2010 to 74.6 in 2010.
Freeman has a few new weapons to work with, though. Veteran receiver Vincent Jackson should be a boon to a passing offense that was mediocre at best last year (16th in the NFL at 228 yards per game). If Freeman can adapt to Schiano’s schemes, he should fare better than he did last season.
3. How much have the rookies retained?
The Bucs are a young team, and with new coaches (and new schemes) many young players will have the chance to compete for playing time immediately. Rookies have impressed Schiano since reporting last week, as the new coach said much information appeared to have been retained from June’s mandatory mini-camp.
But the rookies have had the benefit of the coaches’ undivided attention for that first week. The level of competition will rise significantly when veterans report. Will any of the rookies cement themselves in the two-deep roster?
4. Can LeGarrette Blount be a star running back?
Blount averaged 5.0 yards per carry in 2010 and has a nice mix of power and elusiveness. But he fell out of favor with the former coaching staff towards the end of 2011, failing to register double-digit carries in any of the team’s last three games.
If Blount can’t quickly claim his spot at the top of the depth chart, Doug Martin will be waiting in the wings for his opportunity. It could be one of the more compelling position battles of training camp.
5. Who will emerge?
Training is always good for a surprise or two, and a few players will need to emerge from further down the depth chart if the Bucs are to compete at the upper levels of the NFC South. Those who impress Schiano early in practices and preseason games may have a chance to survive cut-down days and make the 53-man roster. Who those players may be, at this point, is anybody’s guess.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers training camp: What to watch
There are questions surrounding every NFL team heading into training camp, but in the wake of Tampa Bay's struggles a season ago -- and with a new coaching staff and new schemes that have been installed, there may be even more questions than usual for the Bucs.
It’s almost time.