Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Tampa Bay BucsNFL Team Column
By Scot Acocks

2010 NFL Draft

6 September 2011

Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Pre-Season Roster Report

The Story: No other team in the league has more promise for the future than the Buccaneers. They have one of the youngest rosters in the league, a rising star at QB in Josh Freeman, and they were $59 million underneath the salary cap when free agency opened in July. It does not appear that the front office has any intentions of spending all that money on expensive free agents, but rather reward the young guys that have worked hard and have grown with the team, such as OG Davin Joseph and OT Donald Penn.
 There is a lot of youth in the defensive front seven and wide receiver so there may still be some growing pains felt in 2011 but this team is capable of reaching a 10-6 record once again and challenging for a playoff spot in late December. In another year or two this team has the talent to evolve into a perennial playoff contender and I am willing to bet that they will challenge for a Super Bowl berth within the next five years. The NFC South is a very competitive division but the Bucs are primed to become the best of the bunch.
Key Additions: DE Adrian Clayborn (Iowa), DE Da'Quan Bowers (Clemson), P Michael Koenen (Falcons), LB Mason Foster (Washington), TE Luke Stocker (Tennessee), S Ahmad Black (Florida)
Key Losses: WR Maurice Stovall (Detroit)
Quarterback: Josh Freeman, Josh Johnson, Rudy Carpenter - Freeman has all the tools, including work ethic and leadership skills, to become an elite NFL passer. At this point he reminds me of a mix between Ben Roethlisberger and Joe Flacco. His 25 TD's to only six INT's in 2010 was outstanding for a second-year player. If he were playing for a higher profile team, such as the Cowboys, Giants, or Jets he would be talked about every day on sports talk radio shows. Johnson and Carpenter may never touch the field this year but both have shown promise as backups.
Analysis: Freeman is already a top ten QB in this league and he should only get better. Look for him to hit the 30 TD mark soon.
Grade: B+

Running Back: LaGarrette Blount, Earnest Graham (RB/FB), Kregg Lumpkin, Allen Bradford, Eric Lorig (FB/TE) - It is likely that this will not be the final arrangement on the depth chart. Blount, who rushed for 1,000 yards in seven starts last season after joining the team after being cut by both the 49ers and the Titans. He is big (6'0" 247 lbs), tough, athletic, and he should improve in his second year. I expect him to touch the ball 300 times this fall and the team would like him to score a dozen TD's. Graham is a tough, versatile player that is willing to do it all for the team. Lumpkin and Bradford are both big runners in a similar mold to Blount. Both might be worth keeping around. The Cadillac Williams era is officially over in Tampa as he has moved on to the Rams. Armando Allen has also looked good in the preseason and he may get a shot in the regular season.
Analysis: Overall, the team appears to have a stable of big, strong backs that might be able to pound it down the middle of defenses throughout the course of a game. However, there is a possibility that depth and an overall lack of experience catches up to them very quickly if some major injuries occur.
Grade: C+

Wide Receiver: Mike Williams, Arrelious Benn, Dezmon Briscoe, Sammie Stroughter, Michael Spurlock, Preston Parker - Williams was a fourth round draft pick in 2010, become a starter on the first day of training camp, and has never looked back as he caught 65 passes for 964 yards and 11 TD's. His route-running and hands are outstanding. Benn is a tough runner after the catch but ended his rookie season on IR with a knee injury. He seems healthy and should be a solid second option at the position. Stroughter is the veteran of the group in his fourth season but needs to step up his production from the slot. Briscoe had some bright moments late in the season and he has made waves in training camp. He could be the number two guy if Benn stumbles at all. Spurlock and Parker will both vie for return duties and provide adequate depth at the position.
Analysis: An extremely young but talented group that the coaching staff envisions maturing along with QB Freeman and developing into one of the league's best units.
Grade: C+

Tight End: Kellen Winslow Jr., Luke Stocker, Daniel Hardy - Winslow Jr. is a beast that led the team in catches last season (66). His knees may be getting shaky but he does not back down from any challenges and still has enough skills to beat most defenders one on one. Stocker was drafted to be the second big receiving option at the position but he can block as well. He is currently inactive with an injury but seventh round pick Hardy might be able to pick up the slack.
Analysis: Above average unit that could become very good as the season progresses and the younger guys develop.
Grade: B-

Offensive Line: Donald Penn (LT), Ted Larsen (LG), Jeff Faine (C), Davin Joseph (RG), Jeremy Trueblood (RT), James Lee (T), Derek Hardman (G/T), Jeremy Zuttah (G/C), Demar Dotson (T) - Penn mad the pro-bowl last year after signing a new contract. He is a perfect left tackle in the Buc's scheme. Zuttah has been a great backup for the last three years. He, Larsen, and Hardman all filled in admirably when injuries began to mount during the second half of the 2010 season. Larsen now has a chance to keep his job at left guard. Faine is a pro-bowl caliber center if he can stay healthy. The same goes for Joseph at right guard. Trueblood has been good but not great and he will be challenged by Lee every week.
Analysis: It appears to be a solid if unspectacular group that is strong at the point of attack, good in pass protection, and deep enough to withstand two or three losses to the starting five.
Grade: B-

Defensive Line: Adrian Clayborn (RE), Roy Miller (NT), Gerald McCoy (UT), Michael Bennett (LE), Tim Crowder (RE), Brian Price (T), Da'Quan Bowers (LE), Frank Okam (T) - Clayborn was taken in with the 20th pick in this year's draft. So far he has looked active in camp. The team hopes he can seal up the edge in the running game and produce 10 sacks per season. Miller is a steady, hard worker in the middle and McCoy brings big-play potential to the under tackle position. After ending last season early with an injury, McCoy has worked hard in the off-season and his upper body looks chiseled. The Bucs expect him to get double digit sacks as well. Bennett has emerged as a strong candidate to start at left end but needs to hold off Bowers, who has tons of pass-rushing ability. Price should get a lot of playing time and Okam has the size to help during short yardage and goalline situations.
Analysis: The organization has invested a lot into the D-line in terms of high draft picks the last three years. As a result, there is a lot of potential and minimal experience. We can only wait and see.
Grade: C- (until that potential truly gets tapped)

Linebackers: Geno Hayes (W), Quincy Black (S), Mason Foster (M), Tyrone McKenzie (M), Adam Heyward (W), Dekota Watson (S), Darrelle Smith (M) - Hayes has the ability to fly all over the place and make tackles. He was in on 82 tackles and four sacks last season. Look for those numbers to improve as the D-line grows. Black has great athleticism and could get more sacks after collecting two last season. Foster comes in after being the second-leading tackler in the nation at Washington last year. He and McKenzie both appear capable of manning the spot and the organization decided not to bring back Barrett Ruud as a result. Some have called Foster "the steal of the draft". Watson might challenge Black for a starting spot. He, Heyward, and Smith should all be active on special teams.
Analysis: A young, talented group that needs to stop the run better.
Grade: C

Defensive Backs: Aqib Talib (CB), Ronde Barber (CB), E.J. Biggers (CB), Sean Jones (SS), Cody Grimm (FS), Myron Lewis (CB), Corey Lynch (S), Larry Asante (S), Ahmad Black (S) - Talib and Barber form a solid pair of corners that helped the Bucs put together one of the best pass defenses in the league despite an anemic pass-rush. Biggers made some starts and played well. He is emerging as a possible star of the future. Jones and Grimm form a solid if unspectacular safety tandem and they should be better in their second season as starters together. Tanard Jackson remains in the mix somewhere at safety but after being suspended all of last season his future is in doubt. Lewis, Lynch, Asante, and Black all could contribute and all should be special teams regulars.
Analysis: A solid group of young pros led by one of the most seasoned and respected veterans (Barber) in the entire league.

Grade: B+

Scot Acocks covers the Bucs and Lions for the Draft Dog and can also be found covering all things football at www. 100yardspin.blogspot.com

Back to the Top

23 July 2011

The New CBA Gives the Buc's an Interesting Dilemma

Now that the league is wrapping up discussions and finalizing a deal on the new collective bargaining agreement, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers find themselves in a bit of an interesting position concerning free agency. The new deal currently puts the salary cap around $120 million and the Bucs, being the cost-conscious organization that they have been the last few years, will be well below that cap. In fact, they are about $59 million beneath the cap and they are now faced with a salary floor that will force them to spend about 90% of their cap money.

With all that space to work with and the league's directive to spend it, it is needless to say that the abbreviated free agency period could be very interesting for the Bucs. The team may even cut a few high-priced players or rework their contracts, including troubled CB Aqib Talib and C Jeff Faine, which would create more space under the cap.

Having said all that, just what are the Buc's priorities as the business of football resumes and the season gets set to begin? Let's take a look:

12 Preseason Personnel Priorities for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers:

  1. Resign OG Davin Joseph - He is one of the top linemen available in free agency this year. He has had some injury issues but if the Bucs want their running game to prosper and young star QB Josh Freeman to stay clear of pass-rushers then they need to keep their best blockers locked up.
  2. Resign CB Ronde Barber - Yes, he is well into his 30's and should be retiring soon, but I know that every Buc fan out there would love to see him stay and retire in Tampa. His leadership on the field and in the locker room is priceless when you consider how young this roster is as a whole. Besides, Ronde's skills have not declined so much over the years that he should be put to pasture quite yet. He is a stud and is still one of the best nickel and dime players in the game.
  3. Resign LB Quincy Black - Black is not an all-pro candidate but he has developed into a nice player and can make up a lot of ground when beaten due to his athleticism. The chances are high that middle linebacker Barrett Ruud could be gone so keeping the starting unit together as much as possible is a priority. He should not cost the team that much either so resigning him should not be too difficult.
  4. Resign LB Barrett Ruud - He might be demanding more than the Bucs are willing to give him despite his solid play over the years. He did get a lot of criticism for his play last season, especially in coverage, but the D-line was lacking any real push up front, which left a lot of weight on the shoulders of the back seven. With improved play upfront Ruud could be a pro-bowl candidate.
  5. Sign the Rookies - It is important that guys like DE Adrian Clayborn, DE Da'Quan Bowers, LB Mason Foster, TE Luke Stocker, and the rest of the rookie class get into training camp on time if the organization wants to utilize their skills as much as possible this season. Some big things are expected from this bunch and every day lost cannot be made up.
  6. Sign a Cornerback - If the team has to make use of its cash then they may as well go after the most prized free agents available, namely Nnamdi Asomugha. With all the trouble starting CB Aqib Talib has been in it may be time to just cut ties and move into another direction. Asomugha would completely make up for any loss that the team would suffer from cutting Talib and then some. Brent Grimes, who would be a nice steal from the division rival Falcons, and the Bengal's Jonathan Joseph would each be good consolation prizes if the team cannot acquire Asomugha's services.
  7. Resign FS Tanard Jackson - Jackson has been a good player for the Bucs since day one of his rookie season but has also gotten into some trouble. He missed most of last season after violating the league's substance abuse policy a third team. However, the team likes him and he should come back relatively cheap compared to a lot of safeties of his abilities. It's not like he pulled a gun out and shot at anybody.
  8. Sign a Running Back - The team could resign Cadillac Williams, who played well as a third down back last season, but somebody like Darren Sproles might compliment starter LaGarrette Blount a little bit better. Reggie Bush, who might be cut from the Saints, could also be an option. Joseph Addai and Jerious Norwood are nice options as well but at that point the team should just stick with Caddy.
  9. Resign TE John Gilmore - He is not a starting caliber player but he is a decent blocker that has a lot of value in the running game.
  10. Resign WR Maurice Stovall - Another player that is not a starter but does a lot of other things for the team that make him somewhat valuable. His kick coverage on special teams is at times outstanding.
  11. Sign Another Lineman - Right tackle Jeremy Trueblood will probably be allowed to leave as a free agent and the Buc's have some nice young players in the front line, including two rookies that started at guard for most of the second half of the season last year. The team could use another left guard and right tackle to compete in camp. If Logan Mankins gets out from under the franchise tag in New England he would be the top player to go after but a guy like Ryan Harris (Denver) would not be bad either.
  12. Give Josh Freeman a Long-term Contract Extension - Franchise QB's are hard to come by and when you've got one you better make every attempt to keep him. The team needs to utilize its cash so why not reward your best player? Mark my words: Josh Freeman will make several pro-bowls and break every major Buccaneer passing record before he's done, provided he stays in Tampa and doesn't take his services elsewhere.

Scot Acocks covers the Bucs and Lions for the Draft Dog and can also be found covering all things football at www. 100yardspin.blogspot.com

Back to the Top

2 May 2011

The Bucs Hit Another One Out of the Park

Although the jury will be out on this draft until some actual games are played, at first glance one has to think that no other team had a better weekend than the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in terms of getting good value with their picks. The big needs on defense definitely got addressed without reaching and it can be argued that the Bucs got the biggest steal in the entire draft in the second round.

However, the picks that truly make this a solid effort by the organization is the picks in rounds four through seven, where the team seemed to add guys loaded with the potential to contribute in a variety of ways. Just as much, the Bucs added more young guys with the type of character they want representing the team on and off the field. At the very least, the defense and special teams coverage units will have a wealth of talent to utilize in the near future.

Round One, Pick #20: DE Adrian Clayborn, 6'3" 281 lbs. Iowa - One of the biggest needs on the team got a boost when the Bucs took Clayborn. Not only is he a quality pass-rusher with double-digit sack potential, but he is a tough player that works hard and has earned the respect of teammates, coaches, and opponents alike. The Bucs had one of the worst run defenses in football last year so it was important to get a guy that the team knew would fit the scheme and put forth great effort in all phases of the game. Overall, it's a great pick in terms of value as Clayborn could have gone in the top ten and was at one time widely considered one of the top prospects going into the 2010 season.

Round Two, Pick #51: DE Da'Quan Bowers, 6'4" 280 lbs. Clemson - Another guy that was widely considered a top five prospect during the 2010 season, Bowers slipped down into the second round due to some concerns over a possible degenerative condition in one of his knees. At this point it's mostly speculation and no matter how you look at it the value was way to high here for the team to pass up. In the end, the Bucs could have a bookend pair of players to seal the edges in the running game and put pressure on the passer. Bowers did lead the nation with 15.5 sacks in 2010 and if he stays healthy he could develop into an all-pro player.

Round Three, Pick #84: LB Mason Foster, 6'1" 245 lbs. Washington - With Barret Ruud facing free agency as soon as the labor agreement is worked out the Bucs are at risk of losing their leading tackler from the last few seasons. Foster could potentially step in right away to fill in as he has displayed good range against the run, solid tackling ability, and a knack for being in the right place while dropping back into coverage. However, the team would most-likely benefit from allowing him to play on special teams for a year before being asked to be the QB of the defense. Eventually he should challenge for a starting spot.

Round Four, Pick #104: TE Luke Stocker, 6'5" 258 lbs. Tennessee - This was a pick I projected over a month ago as Stocker has all the tools to become a well-rounded offensive weapon and blocker. He definitely has the size, the hands, and work ethic to find success in the NFL. Hopefully he can earn the backup spot behind Kellen Winslow Jr. and contribute immediately in two tight end sets.

Round Five, Pick #151: DB Ahmad Black, 5'10" 184 lbs.
Florida - The Bucs waited until round five to address the secondary and came away with a solid prospect in Black. He is listed as a safety but can also play some cornerback. He somewhat reminds me of current Buc pro-bowler Ronde Barber as he is very instinctive and athletic enough to make game-changing plays on a regular basis. Do not be surprised to see Black lining up in nickel and dime packages sometime in the near future.

Round Six, Pick #187: RB Allen Bradford, 6'0" 242 lbs. USC - An average overall prospect that does not seem to do anything great but is well-respected on and off the field. His size and speed combination alone makes him worth a look here and he could very easily be the third back on the Bucs depth chart.

Round Seven, Pick #222: CB Anthony Gaitor, 5'10" 175 lbs. Florida International - A nice scouting job here as the Bucs get a good athlete that has enough skills to contribute on special teams immediately and earn playing time on defense down the road. He may need to add a little more bulk to his frame but in a few years this pick could pay out big dividends.

Round Seven, Pick #238: TE Daniel Hardy, 6'4" 250 lbs. Idaho - All-around average player with enough skills to develop into a player. The competition has just gotten thick at the position though so he may be a long-shot to make the roster. However, it would not be unlike the Bucs to carry four TE's on the roster if the talent is there.

Overall Draft Grade: A It is way too difficult to argue against this group of young talent. There are two players with star potential, a few others that could become starters, and at least five guys that should be able to make an impact on the roster in some form or another very quickly. Getting Clayborn and Bowers is a classic Buccaneer move that once again shows how much this team values it's D-line.

Back to the Top

7 April 2011

Seven Round Buccaneers Mock Draft

The Bucs are one of the best young teams in the NFL after going 10-6 in 2010 and just barely missing the playoffs. Bigger things will be expected of this group but they may still be a year or two away from being a strong playoff team. With eight picks in the draft they will have ample opportunity to add more talent and increase their chances of competing in the years to come.

Round One, Pick #20: DE Ryan Kerrigan, Purdue - Get the ends while they're hot! Kerrigan has great agility and led the nation in tackles for a loss last season for the Boilermakers. He should be a nice addition to a young, developing D-line that is already loaded with potential.

Round Two, Pick #51: CB Ras-I Dowling, Virginia - Considered a solid zone-coverage corner, Dowling seems to be a perfect fit in the Bucs' schemes. With the fact that starting corner Aqib Talib could miss the upcoming season due to a felony gun charge, taking a corner at some point becomes more of a priority.

Round Three, Pick #84: TE Luke Stocker, Tennessee - The Bucs need somebody to solidify the backup spot behind Kellen Winslow Jr. Stocker is a capable receiver and a willing blocker that has the size to provide quarterback Josh Freeman with another big red-zone target.

Round Four, Pick #115: LB Casey Mathews, Oregon - Could immediately be a standout on special teams while backing up on the inside as well as the outside. Mathews may not be the player that his brother is but he doesn't have to be to make it in the NFL. He will come in and find a spot by working hard at his craft.

Round Five, Pick #151: DE Karl Klug, Iowa - Hard-working, undersized end could become key backup and special teams performer.

Round Six, Pick #187: WR Mark Dell, Michigan State - Developmental prospect that could pan out in a few years.

Round Seven, 222: OL Derek Newton, Arkansas State - Is still recovering from postseason knee surgery but has enough ability to stick around and develop into a contributor. His instincts and awareness appear to be his best attribute.

Round Seven, 238: WR Jeff Maehl, Oregon - Probably has enough ability to stick around and refine his skills before becoming a regular contributor down the road.

Back to the Top

9 March 2011

Imagining the Possibilities

No other team in the NFL has drafted better than the Bucs over the last 20 years. The last couple years have been no exception. Linebackers Barrett Ruud and Geno Hayes have emerged as tackling machines, quarterback Josh Freeman and wide-out Mike Williams have bonded quickly to form a formidable passing duo, defensive tackles Gerald McCoy and Roy Miller have terrorized backfields, and cornerback Aquib Talib and offensive guard Davin Joseph have proven to be pro-bowl worthy. With a few more pieces in place the young Bucs should continue to "grow together" just as Head Coach Raheem Morris wants.

Because the Bucs have such a young, venerable roster already on hand, the possibilities are almost endless as to what may transpire for them in the 2011 draft. No doubt the team will employ the "best available player" approach. The one position you can bet they won't address in the first two rounds is quarterback, as starter Josh Freeman and backup Josh Johnson do not appear to be going anywhere any time soon.

Tampa Bay's top prospects for the 20th pick in the 2011 draft.

First Round:

Round Two:

DE Jabaal Sheard, 6'3" 263 lbs. Pitt - Possesses the type of motor and strength you want in an end but might not have the sand to stack up against big professional blockers. At this point, he is purely a pass-rushing prospect but could end up being a great value here.

Back to the Top

10 January 2011

Tampa Bay Buccaneers Final Roster Report

With the average age of their players being 25 years the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are among the youngest teams in the NFL. Head Coach Raheem Morris and General Manager Mark Dominik cleaned house and cut the payroll two years ago and began concentrating on rebuilding the team through the draft, just as Tony Dungy and Rich McKay did a dozen years ago. In 2010 the Bucs started a second-year quarterback and seven rookies on both sides of the ball and still finished with a 10-6 record.

Needless to say, the future is looking bright in Tampa Bay and they should be a team to watch for the next decade. The excitement extends beyond the stands though as the organization recently exercised a two-year option on Raheem Morris' contract, which shows that he is a coveted commodity.
Before we move on to the 2011 off-season, let's take a look back at the 2010 roster.

Quarterbacks: B Josh Freeman finished with 3,451 yards, 25 TD's, and only six INT's while completing 61.4% of his passes. The most amazing thing about his play though was his ability to go out and win games, completing several fourth quarter come-backs and showing great command of the offense. He appears to be developing into one of the best in the league and as long as he stays healthy the team does not need to look for another starter for a long time. Backup Josh Johnson has some starting experience and looks comfortable in his role behind Freeman. Rudy Carpenter mans the third spot. He looked good in the pre-season but has not compiled any regular season stats yet.

Running Backs: C+ Veteran Carnell Williams found a new role as a receiver, catching 46 passes out of the backfield. He has definitely lost a step over the last few years but he remains competitive and versatile. Rookie free agent LaGarrette Blount joined the team after the pre-season and only started the final seven games of the season but he finished 11th in the entire league with 1,007 rushing yards. He has all the makings of any all-pro back. Fullback Earnest Graham continues to provide solid depth in the backfield. He is a capable runner, receiver, and blocker and possesses the attitude that coaches love. The team could use another young play-maker out of the backfield but they seem to be in good hands with the personnel they have at the moment.

Wide Receiver: C+ Rookie Mike Williams was a steal in the fourth round of last year's draft. He appears to have put any "character issues" aside and quickly became one of Freeman's go-to guys. He finished with 65 catches for 964 yards and 11 TD's. He will be the undisputed number one receiver going into next season. Rookie Arrelious Benn, a second round pick out of Illinois, finished the season on IR but still managed to grab 25 balls and two TD's. Sammie Stroughter and Michael Spurlock both filled in admirably throughout the season and rookie Dezmon Briscoe chipped in four receptions for 65 yards against the Saints in week 17. Those three guys will compete with Benn for the number two job in 2011. Veteran Maurice Stovall can play but he seems to have more value covering kicks. It is a young group that should continue to improve overall.

Tight End: B Kellen Winslow Jr. led the team with 66 receptions and he also scored five TD's. He was the focus of many pass defenses the Bucs faced and he should continue to improve as the team grows and develops as a whole. Backup John Gilmore only had 13 catches but he is more of a blocker than receiver. I expect the team to add another young player here in 2011.

Offensive Line: B The Bucs averaged 4.6 yards per carry rushing and only gave up 30 sacks. As a result, NFL.com has the unit ranked as the 10th best in the league. That is an amazing accomplishment when you consider the fact that the team lost its two best starters in center Jeff Faine and right guard Davin Joseph to injury. In the end, only left tackle Donald Penn was the only remaining regular starter in the lineup. Rookie guards Ted Larsen and Derek Hardman, tackle James Lee, and center Jeremy Zuttah rounded out the starting unit at the end of the season. Right tackle Jeremy Trueblood is a free agent who may not be back after losing his job to Lee. It's possible that the team uses its first round pick on another offensive lineman to protect their rising stars at QB and RB.

Defensive Line: D+ The defense ranked 28th against the rush and only produced 26 sacks. These are numbers that the team will actively work towards changing in 2011. The Bucs invested their top two picks last year (#3 and #35) on tackles Gerald McCoy and Brian Price but both players ended the season on IR. A lot will be expected from them next year. Second year tackle Roy Miller continued to improve and paced the line with 48 tackles. Rookie Al Woods, who was castoff by the Saints, teamed with mammoth veteran Frank Okam (6'5" 350 lbs.) to fill in after injuries along the line took their toll. Right end Stylez G. White led the team in sacks with 4.5 but Michael Bennett and Tim Crowder finished as the starters at the end positions. Unfortunately, they only mustered up a measly four sacks between them. Overall, this group should continue to improve over the course of the next few years as Morris is determined to bring it back up to prominence.

Linebackers: B- The team appears to be looking pretty good here for a while too. Middle man Barrett Ruud ranks among the top twenty tacklers in the entire league with 120. He also added two sacks, two forced fumbles, and another INT to his resume as well. Weak-side 'backer Geno Hayes has blossomed nicely, collecting 82 tackles, four sacks, and one INT for a TD. Quincy Black (IR) and Dekota Watson combined for 90 tackles on the strong side. They both will get consideration as a starter in 2011. Backups Adam Hayward, Niko Koutouvides, and Tyrone McKenzie all are capable of playing but their biggest asset to the team is on kick coverage units.

Defensive Backs: B+ This group was very interesting to watch all season as the Bucs were forced to play several rookies due to a few setbacks, including several injuries and a season-long suspension for starting free safety Tanard Jackson. 14-year veteran Ronde Barber continued to play at a high level. Along with his usual 80 tackles per season, Barber also nabbed three INT's, defended 13 passes, and got one sack. He currently possesses 26 sacks (most ever by a CB), 40 INT's, and over 1,000 tackles in his career. Do not be surprised if you see him inducted into the Hall of Fame within the next 10 years, depending on when he decides to hang up the cleats.

Third year CB Aqib Talib led the team in INT's the last two years and continues to get better. He possesses a bit of a swagger and has the ability to take on an opponent's top receiver. Even though he missed the final five games due to injury, Talib finished with six INT's, 11 passes defended, and one TD. E.J. Biggers, a seventh round pick in 2009, played in nickel and dime packages and started six games. He could be the heir apparent to Ronde Barber. Rookie Myron Lewis also started one game and provides more hope for the future.

Free agent safety Sean Jones came in and started all 16 games while providing a steady presence in the secondary. Rookie Cody Grimm, who started in place of Jackson at the other safety spot, was one of the biggest surprises. He came in for Jackson and started nine games before injuring his knee in Baltimore. Fellow rookie Corey Lynch then came in and also played as the starter down the stretch. Rookie free agent SS Larry Asante also provided some quality depth in the final few games. In the end, despite the lack of sacks and starting so many greenhorns, the Bucs defense ranked 7th in the NFL against the pass. The competition should be high in training camp in 2011 with all the young guys who played a major role coming back.

Special Teams: C- The Bucs ranked 7th in the NFL in kick returns. Michael Spurlock scored his second TD on a kick return and is the only player ever to return a kickoff for a TD in a Buc uniform. He also had two TD's as a receiver so he has proven himself to be extremely valuable to the team. However, the Bucs ranked amongst the worst in the league in kicking, including field goals, kickoffs, and punts. This will also be an area that gets addressed this off-season.

Back to the Top

24 April 2010

Day 2 & 3 Interesting for Bucs

After taking DT Gerald McCoy #3 on Thursday, the Bucs felt the value of finding UCLA’s DT Brian Price available at #35 was too good to pass up.

The interior of the Bucs d-line should be set for years to come in McCoy, Price and Roy Miller, a 2009 4th round pick. Price was thought to be a first rounder so grabbing him with the 3rd pick of the 2nd round is a great selection. Both he and McCoy fit the Cover 2 scheme very well and the rotation of McCoy, Price and Miller gives the Bucs a little bit of everything, some pass rush and some runs topping, some size and a lot of speed. Finally the Bucs can dump Chris Hovan and Ryan Sims.

The Bucs added a target for QB Josh Freeman with the 39th pick. Arrelious Benn has first round talent but inconsistency and poor route running kept him from going in the first 32. He has a chance to start right away with the shape of the Bucs receiving corps, but Benn, Sammi Stroughter and Reggie Brown make for an intriguing trio, though I’m probably the most optimistic person on the plant when it comes to the Bucs receivers. Stroughter and Brown can both get deep while Benn will provide them with a skilled possession receiver.

Adding the enigmatic Mike Williams of Syracuse in the 4th round (#101) could put the Bucs receiving corps over the top, in 2012 maybe. Williams is a long term project with high upside. He comes with major baggage in off-field issues that led him to quit the Syracuse football team last year. If, and this is a big if, the Bucs can get Williams concentrated on football, they could have one of the steals of the draft.

The addition of Vandy CB Myron Lewis in the 3rd round upgrades the secondary. Lewis is a big corner who may not have top end speed but his physicality makes him a tough cookie around the line of scrimmage. Lewis should take over for Ronde Barber sooner rather than later, hopefully anyways. If Barber has one more decent season left in him and keeps Lewis on the bench, the Bucs will benefit.

Things go downhill from there though. Virginia Tech punter Brent Bowden comes on board to help shore up a shoddy punting situation. He’s accurate and hopefully the Bucs are proved right for spending a pick on a punter when they have such gaping holes on their roster. Bowden was the Bucs 6th round pick (#172).

The Bucs made three 7th round picks after having as many as five picks in the final round at one point, and I’m quite disappointed with the selections. Cody Grimm isn’t big enough to play LB and not fast enough to play S, in essence a weaker version of Sabby Piscitelli. Dekoda Watson is a smallish LB from Florida State with great speed, but where does he fit? The Bucs have a young group of LB’s already. And DE Erik Lorig over Lindsey Witten with their last pick? It will be tough for Lorig to make the roster, he’s not very athletic or quick and looks more like camp fodder than potential steal.

Overall, I’d give the Bucs a B- for shoring up their two weakest links in the first four rounds and getting great value with Lewis in round 3, but they could have done better late. They need Bowden to win the punting job because that pick could have been better served with a safety, a runningback or a better LB prospect than Watson. I think they blew their final three picks. The 7th round isn’t generally a gold mine but I don’t think they even found fool’s gold.

Back to the Top

22 April 2010

QB Colt McCoy the Pick For Bucs

The pick is in and the Bucs have drafted Oklahoma DT Gerald McCoy with the third pick in the draft, a selection realized some time ago as a near certainty.

McCoy is believed to be very near the level of potential and talent as Lions #2 pick Ndamukong Suh, McCoy’s counterpart from Nebraska and someone widely regarded as one of the best prospects college football has ever developed. Amazingly, McCoy is part of a Sooner trio that made up three of the drafts first four picks along with QB Sam Bradford to the Rams at #1 and OT Trent Williams to the Redskins at #4. Somehow Williams, who struggled at LT at times and seems far more at home on the right than left side, went before the highly thought of Russell Okung of Oklahoma State, but that’s an argument for another day.

A Bucs d-line that was thoroughly underwhelming last year gets a needed jolt of talent in McCoy, who gives them an active run stopper and a pass rushing presence inside, something desperately needed in Tampa.

Pairing McCoy with second year DT Roy Miller is a perfect combination in the Tampa Two system the Bucs will shift back to in 2010. This is the best set of tackles Tampa has fielded since their Sapp/McFarland days.

Back to the Top

10 March 2009

Tampa Makes a Move

Tampa has finally made its first player acquisition of the young free agency period, and it’s not even a FA signing. The Bucs have acquired little used and disappointing receiver Reggie Brown from the Eagles for a 2011 6th round pick.

Brown was a second round pick of the Eagles in 2005 and made an impact as rookie, catching 43 balls for 571 yards and 4 TD after Terrell Owens imploded on the Eagles that year. He followed that up with 46 catches for 816 yards and 8 TD in 2006 and a career-high 61 catches for 780 yards and 4 TD in 2007.

But in 2008, injury and inconsistency caught up with Brown as he lost his starting job to rookie DeSean Jackson that year, catching an at-the-time career low of 18 passes and only 1 TD. He fell all the way to the bottom of the Eagles depth chart as their fifth receiver in 2009 and turned in his worst season on the books with only 9 passes for 155 yards and 0 TD.

For the price of a single 6th round pick in 2011, the Bucs are getting one of the best under the radar acquisitions of this young season. Brown could turn into an absolute steal for Tampa in 2010. He is quite talented, as evidence by his early career production, and he has the speed the Bucs are currently missing from their receiving corps. Look for Brown to be a starter for this team this year as they are unlikely to be adding much else at the position besides some mid to late round draft picks. The change of scenery is just what the doctor ordered for Brown and the Bucs have made a fantastic acquisition and addressed a glaring need on their roster in the process.

Now we just need some more of that.

Back to the Top

9 March 2009

Free Agent Options

Not surprisingly, we are now 2 days into free agency and the Bucs have yet to do anything. And I suspect they won’t for at least a few more days. When they do do something, it will likely not be headline material.

Let’s face it, this team is rebuilding. They will be no big free agent signing this year, like there wasn’t last year. The Bucs are still in the mindset of acquiring draft picks and getting more young talent around QB Josh Freeman. If the Bucs do decide to pursue any veterans in free agency, it will be bargain shopping for the most part, as some vets may not be interested in going to a rebuilding team. That could eliminate some older players who are looking to win. But some of those guys may not interest many teams, and those guys can be had later in the spring when the price, and interest, comes down. With that in mind, let’s explore some possibilities.

· DE Aaron Kampman: As I’ve said before, Kampman should be on the Bucs radar as a potential bargain. If Kampman is recovered from his knee injury that ended his 2009 season, he would fill one of the Bucs biggest needs in a pass rushing DE. Kampman had 37 sacks in 3 years with the Packers before 2009 and is the type of veteran who would aid the development of the Bucs other young d-linemen.

· WR Bobby Wade: Wade may not be the greatest receiver available but he is still productive enough to be on a team. His stint with the Chiefs could have been better, but he was the Chiefs most productive receivers in spurts, but disappeared in others. He can be a decent third option if nothing else.

· S Gibril Wilson: He had a rough time in Miami but if reasonably priced he would represent a slight upgrade over Sabby Piscitelli. A savvy vet next to Tanard Jackson could help the Bucs cut down on big passing plays.

· CB Rod Hood: Has had some productive seasons in Philly and Arizona and was still marginally effective, if not underutilized, in Tennessee. Will most likely come dirt cheap and out produce his contract.

· CB Lito Sheppard: His ego may not allow him to accept a smaller role on a bad team but if he’s still sitting on the couch in April or May, he could look at somewhere like Tampa and see an opportunity to revive his career. Only 29 and has a few years left to prove his worth.

· DT’s Ma’ake Kemoeatu, Cory Redding or Fred Robbins: The Bucs have a starter in the making in Roy Miller and the possible opportunity to draft either Ndamukong Suh or Gerald McCoy at #3, but they need to upgrade depth and talent inside. Kemoeatu blew out his Achilles in the 2009 training camp with the Panthers and will likely still not be ready to go by the 2010 training camp, so his contract may come much later. A team could get a steal by signing him and stashing him on the PUP. Robbins in decline at age 33 but could prove a good signing as a backup. Asking him to be a starter is not an option but he may be worthwhile at or around the veteran minimum. Redding had a down year in Seattle but is young enough to bounce back. Worth a flyer and could be a real steal for someone. Free Agent Options

Not surprisingly, we are now 2 days into free agency and the Bucs have yet to do anything. And I suspect they won’t for at least a few more days. When they do do something, it will likely not be headline material.

Let’s face it, this team is rebuilding. They will be no big free agent signing this year, like there wasn’t last year. The Bucs are still in the mindset of acquiring draft picks and getting more young talent around QB Josh Freeman. If the Bucs do decide to pursue any veterans in free agency, it will be bargain shopping for the most part, as some vets may not be interested in going to a rebuilding team. That could eliminate some older players who are looking to win. But some of those guys may not interest many teams, and those guys can be had later in the spring when the price, and interest, comes down. With that in mind, let’s explore some possibilities.

· DE Aaron Kampman: As I’ve said before, Kampman should be on the Bucs radar as a potential bargain. If Kampman is recovered from his knee injury that ended his 2009 season, he would fill one of the Bucs biggest needs in a pass rushing DE. Kampman had 37 sacks in 3 years with the Packers before 2009 and is the type of veteran who would aid the development of the Bucs other young d-linemen.

· WR Bobby Wade: Wade may not be the greatest receiver available but he is still productive enough to be on a team. His stint with the Chiefs could have been better, but he was the Chiefs most productive receivers in spurts, but disappeared in others. He can be a decent third option if nothing else.

· S Gibril Wilson: He had a rough time in Miami but if reasonably priced he would represent a slight upgrade over Sabby Piscitelli. A savvy vet next to Tanard Jackson could help the Bucs cut down on big passing plays.

· CB Rod Hood: Has had some productive seasons in Philly and Arizona and was still marginally effective, if not underutilized, in Tennessee. Will most likely come dirt cheap and out produce his contract.

· CB Lito Sheppard: His ego may not allow him to accept a smaller role on a bad team but if he’s still sitting on the couch in April or May, he could look at somewhere like Tampa and see an opportunity to revive his career. Only 29 and has a few years left to prove his worth.

· DT’s Ma’ake Kemoeatu, Cory Redding or Fred Robbins: The Bucs have a starter in the making in Roy Miller and the possible opportunity to draft either Ndamukong Suh or Gerald McCoy at #3, but they need to upgrade depth and talent inside. Kemoeatu blew out his Achilles in the 2009 training camp with the Panthers and will likely still not be ready to go by the 2010 training camp, so his contract may come much later. A team could get a steal by signing him and stashing him on the PUP. Robbins in decline at age 33 but could prove a good signing as a backup. Asking him to be a starter is not an option but he may be worthwhile at or around the veteran minimum. Redding had a down year in Seattle but is young enough to bounce back. Worth a flyer and could be a real steal for someone.

Back to the Top

27 February 2009

Roster at a Glance

The Bucs capped off their best decade in team history with a disappointing, and not altogether unexpected, 3-13 season. The 2010 season marks the beginning of a new era in team history, the start of a rebuilding process from a mediocre 7- to 9-win team into what hopefully will be a perennial winner capable of competing with the Saints and Falcons during the next decade.

Much of the team underachieved last year, including the coaching staff. Raheem Morris made many rookie mistakes in his first year as anything more than a position coach. Progress was negligible though the defence did appear much approved over the final three weeks of the year when Morris fired D-Coordinator Jim Bates and took over the defence himself.

The Bucs managed 2 wins in those final three weeks, beating the Seattle Seahawks and the Saints before falling to the Falcons in Week 17. Those wins effectively took the Bucs out of the top pick in the 2010 draft and a chance at Nebraska DT Ndamukong Suh. The Bucs are rumoured to be interested in trading up to the top pick in the draft to get him.

Holes are abound on this roster and needs are abundant. Josh Freeman got 9 starts at QB under his belt last year and the 2009 1st round pick will be the guy all year long going into 2010. The rest of the offense lacks much in terms of firepower or playmaking ability.

The trio of Cadillac Williams, Derrick Ward and Ernest Graham was mostly ineffective as the Bucs found themselves constantly playing from behind. A group that was expected to carry the offense this year managed all of 1 100-yard game.

Receiver is the position most in need of new talent and it would not be surprising to see the Bucs spend at least 3 middle round picks on receivers. Antonio Bryant led Bucs receivers in catches and yards but his 39 catches and 600 yards was underwhelming. The Bucs 2009 franchise player caught only 4 TDs. Bryant is a UFA and will not be returning to the team, leaving them with a top three of Michael Clayton, Maurice Stovall and rookie revelation Sammie Stroughter. Clayton and Stovall are career backups who should not be starting but the Bucs have lots of potential with Stroughter, a smallish slot receiver type who was drafted in the 7th round last year. His rookie year concluded with 31 catches for 334 yards and a TD.

Stroughter can handle one of the top three receiving spots while a combination of Clayton and Stovall could hold down another, but that still leaves the Bucs #1 wideout up for grabs, and none of the current group should be filling that spot. The Bucs are right in not giving Bryant big bucks even if he was their best receiver. He’s not consistent enough to earn the type of money he wants and Tampa may be better off without him in the long run.

TE Kellen Winslow turned out to be the Bucs acquisition last year, putting up 77 catches, 884 yards and 5 TD. He should continue to be a strong presence for the Bucs on the field if he can stay away from being a strong presence in the locker room.

The o-line was very disappointing. Across the board this group underachieved. No major replacements should occur and the Bucs should tender RFA LT Donald Penn. He’s not great but he gets the job done. The Bucs will be hard pressed to find a better player this off-season unless they spend their #3 pick on Oklahoma State standout Russell Okung.
Getting Aaron Sears back, if healthy and over the mysterious circumstances that kept him from playing last year, will help but they must do something at RT. Jeremy Trueblood was the league’s most penalized player last year. Even though they have spent a considerable investment in this group (draft picks on Trueblood, G Davin Joseph and Sears; free agent acquisition of C Jeff Faine) they still need to add some more depth here.

The defence was the most disappointing unit of all. Long known for its prowess stopping the run, this unit crashed badly, all the way to the league’s worst at shutting down teams on the ground. The Bucs #10 finish against the pass is slightly misleading as opponents threw the ball only 482 times last year, the 2nd least amount in the top ten. Only Oakland’s opponents threw the ball less and Oakland was 29th in the league against the run.

The best thing to happen to this franchise would have been not beating the Seahawks and Saints, thus earning the top pick and being able to draft Suh. The defensive line is atrocious. Ryan Sims and Chris Hovan represent the worst pair of starting DT in the league while Jimmy Wilkerson and Stylez White are arguably the worst pair of starting DEs in the league as well. Tim Crowder and Kyle Moore have starting potential but are both strongside ends and neither projects as a double digit sack guy. Gaines Adams was supposed to be that guy but he never panned out and was traded to Chicago for a 2nd round pick at the deadline. Ryan Miller, another 2009 draft pick, should be a starter inside next year and Dre Moore has shown flashes of potential.

Major investment is needed here and the Bucs should seriously think about pursuing Green Bay free agent Aaron Kampman. Kampman just doesn’t fit into Green Bay’s 3-4 defence and coming off a serious knee injury, should come cheap on a short term deal. He’s been one of the league’s most productive pass rushers and should fit perfectly into a starting spot in this defence.
Linebacker has a lot of young talent to work with. MLB Barrett Ruud ocne again capably held down the middle of the defence but he did not make as many big plays last year as he had in years past. Much of that is due to the terrible pair of tackles in front of him. Ruud led the team with 142 tackles.

He is flanked by Quincy Black and Geno Hayes. Both have shown potential as starters but both have also shown immaturity. They are not complete players but deserve at least one more shot at developing into long term solutions here. Depth is underwhelming.
The Bucs have some star potential in their secondary. FS Tanard Jackson is this defences best player, even better than Ruud who is pretty damn good in his own right. Despite missing the first 4 games due to suspension, Jackson made an immediate impact upon his return and wound up with 71 tackles, 5 INT and 3 FF. He is a building block for that secondary and makes Eric Berry a distinct possibility at the top of the draft. A pairing of Jackson and Berry could be unstoppable.

The Bucs also boast another starter and potential star in CB Aqib Talib, who is still a bit overrated. He gives up too many big plays and does not always play the run as physically as he could. He picked off 5 passes but I’ve felt that his picks come as a result of just getting lucky. He has great hands and is a playmaker; hopefully he improves into a Pro Bowl calibre player. He too has been involved in some off field problems, along with Jermaine Phillips, though Phillips is a free agent and not likely to return.

Sabby Piscitelli started at SS and was awful. He needs to be replaced. His tackling is far too inconsistent. Long time Bucs starter and franchise icon Ronde Barber is another year older and may not be a starter any longer. He was not as bad he was made out to be last year but he was beaten a few times. Elbert Mack is serviceable as the Bucs third corner. Draft picks should be spent here as well.

The Bucs kicking game is in shambles. The release of Matt Bryant proved to be a mistake as Mike Nugent made only 2 of 6 FG, Shane Andrus missed his only attempt and Connor Barth was only 14 of 19. Barth has a big leg but his accuracy is questionable. Punter can be held down by Dirk Johnson or Sam Paulescu, hopefully Johnson.

The Bucs are not expected to be big players in free agency, especially with this uncapped environment. The Bucs are committed to building through the draft and it will take more than one draft to fill holes. GM Mark Dominik must find at least two starters from this draft and at least two or three productive backups. Success will be a long ways away if this regime can’t find players through the draft.

Back to the Top

16 December 2009

Can Bucs Turn Freeman into Franchise QB?

Let’s hope rookie QB Josh Freeman has now taken his lumps and will start improving instead of regressing and eventually continue onto his way to a great career, because frankly he can’t get much worse than he’s played the last two weeks.

Coming off a close loss to Atlanta in which Freeman threw for 250 yards, 2 TD and no INT, he has thrown for 8 INT and 0 TD, crashing to a career low mark (that is only 4 games though) of 93 yards in the 26-3 loss to the NY Jets. This follows the 16-6 loss to Carolina in which he threw for 351 yards but tossed 5 INT.

The Jets 2nd ranked defence held the Bucs to a grand total of 124 yards. Freeman managed to lead the Bucs with 21 rushing yards. Tampa had the ball for only 26 minutes and ran 56 plays, gaining an average of 2.2 yards per play. They did not convert a single 3rd down in 13 tries. Their only offensive production has come from K Connor Barth, who his only try but missed two of four against Carolina last week. The defence held Jets QB Kellen Clemens to 135 yards, which isn’t saying much, but gave up 175 yards on the ground to Thomas Jones (2 TD) and co. I think it’s safe to say that we have hit a new low for this season.

They can’t bench Freeman now. Can you really go through 3 QB’s in one season, none due to injury, and then start all over again at the beginning anyway? How bad would that look? You pretty much have to hope that this is his low point and he’s mentally strong enough to pull himself out of this funk. But the question is, do they have the people in place to nurture him into an elite QB?

Sure Greg Olsen, offensive coordinator and QB coach, has a long history of working with quarterbacks, including coaching Drew Brees in college at Purdue, Jon Kitna at Central Washington and Jeff Garcia in San Fran. He was also the coordinator for the Rams in 2006, when the Rams were last relevant. Marc Bulgar is still eating off that season. Steven Jackson was still bursting onto the scene. Torry Holt was still the best receiver in the game. Isaac Bruce was still alive.

None have come close to replicating that since. Bulgar is hurt again, Jackson is bogged down by a terrible surrounding cast and neither receiver is still there, and the Rams are fighting the team that is the reason why we are all here for the first overall pick and will likely not even win that, for the third straight year no less, because the Bucs are even worse than the freaking ST LOUIS RAMS!
Olsen’s resume is certainly long, but noteworthy is another thing. Brees is the best QB in the NFL right now, but Kitna was only an average starter and had way too many turnovers while Garcia has bounced around, including Tampa. He got the best season of his career out of Joey Harrington in 2004 but he didn’t turn into much either.

It’s not exactly an inspiring cast of characters to be working with, but that’s not exactly an inspiring body of work either.
Olsen had a very good college career. The aforementioned Purdue stop for one. He had success at Idaho of all places, overseeing a pretty prolific passing game. He had all sorts of success at Central Washington. So he can work with young quarterbacks. But at the NFL level he has never created a “franchise QB”. He has a lot of backups under his quarterback tree, but no real winners. Flashes of success but nothing lasting.

Head coach Raheem Morris is a defensive guy, and while he has ties to Freeman from Kansas State, he is hopefully not intimately involved with his development, and will likely get no credit for it anyways. His main focus is defence. The man has hired two coordinators in his time on the job and he has fired one and demoted the other. There is little that makes me think that his next two hires will be any more confidence boosting than the last two, which means we could be looking at an instable coaching situation for the near future, something that will only serve to stunt Freeman’s growth.

A QB needs stability in his first few seasons, coordinators and coaches cannot come and go like poker chips, ping pong balls and women. Look at Alex Smith in San Fran, Jamarcus Russell in Oakland, Jason Campbell in Washington and even Brady Quinn in Cleveland. Nothing kills a quarterback’s career like coaching instability. And nothing kills a coaches career like quarterback instability. Just ask Jon Gruden about that.

Back to the Top

3 December 2009

Don’t Blame Morris!

While it’s far too soon to anoint the Bucs current defence as the next version of its former self, the decision to dump Jim Bates as the Bucs D-coordinator looks like an excellent idea after the 20-17 loss to the Atlanta Falcons, despite the loss. Reverting back to its Tampa-2 roots under the play calling of Head Coach Raheem Morris, the Bucs held the Falcons to 297 total yards and only 75 yards rushing. Turner had run for only 33 yards on 12 carries before he was hurt and backup Jerious Norwood picked up only 22 yards on 6 carries in his return from injury but did score a TD. Unfortunately for Tampa, Turner’s 33 yards was the high of the game.

The Bucs knocked QB Matt Ryan out of the game fairly early and then knocked RB Michael Turner from the contest after halftime but, with injuries of their own at CB, were unable to keep Ryan’s replacement Chris Redman from completing a 5-yard pass to Roddy White for the game winning TD with 23 seconds remaining. The Bucs are now 1-10 along with the Cleveland Browns and St. Louis Rams, very much in the running to draft 1st overall.

Rookie QB Josh Freeman had Tampa in position to win the game but in the end once again the defence failed to get the stop he needed for the win. The talk has been about the decision to fake a punt with nearly 14 minutes to go and the Bucs winning 17-13. Sure it looks bad now because it failed and the Bucs lost, the gutsy call was a good one by Morris. It was ballsy but the only reason people have been killing him is because it didn’t work. If it had, everyone would be kissing his ass and calling it genius.

It was so early in the quarter that it had no bearing on the final score, especially since Atlanta didn’t even score on the ensuing possession! After a 15 yard pass to Roddy White, the defence forced the Falcons to punt for crying out loud. That did not make the loss. The Bucs needed to score and the didn’t.

In fact, if Connor Barth had hit his 51 yard FG after Falcons K Jason Elam missed his 46 yarder, the Bucs would have put the game out of reach. That miss gave the Falcons the ball at their own 41 and allowed them to crawl to the Tamp 5 yard line, eating up just over 2 minutes of clock in the process. 5th corner Derrick Roberson was in the play covering Pro Bowl WR Roddy White when he scored because CB Aqib Talib and CB Torrie Cox had both been hurt previously.

Redman found him for the score, game over. Another back-breaking throw on the defence. The offense not scoring and the defence allowing the final score with seconds remaining is what led to this loss, not Morris’ play calling.

Talib did not practice Wednesday and will likely be at least a game time decision and P Dirk Johnson is out after being injured on the fake punt. The Bucs signed Sam Paulescu to fill his spot. Paulescu has 15 career punts and kicked 3 times for 150 yards with the Redskins in Week 9 against the Falcons. A little irony there I guess. Said it before, I’ll say it again: that kind of season.

Some experts and reporters are maintaining that the switch to the Tampa-2 will do nothing for the Bucs because they lack a pass rush from the front four. That’s true to some degree because all season long it’s been glaringly obvious that this d-line is underwhelming at best and one of the league’s least talented at worse. They did a great job against a mediocre Falcons o-line but this will be a problem for them going forward. If White continues his great play getting after quarterbacks and fellow End Jimmy Wilkerson gets going again after a 4-game sack-less streak, they might be able to pull it off and show some improvement.

The real positive of the game is the aggression, passion and motivation the defence finally played after being a lifeless group for the better part of the year. This also adds fuel to the fire that Morris is in over his cranium as the head coach. There’s talent in him and one day he may be a great coach, but his youth and on the job growth will likely run him out of Tampa before he finds any success in the NFL. It’s entirely possible that he takes his lumps here and finds success in another city.

Back to the Top

24 November 2009

Bucs Fall to Saints, Can DC Bates

Forget the Bucs loss to the unbeaten Saints, 38-7. The real news is how Coach Raheem Morris has now axed both of his original coordinator hires for his first year as a head coach of an NFL team. That’s right folks, 10 games into the first season of his first NFL head coaching job, and he’s gone through both his offensive and defensive coordinators, and the OC (Jeff Jagodzinski) didn’t even make it through the pre-season!

Jim Bates is actually not a bad coordinator, he’s just gotten stuck with some crappy, crappy defenses (see Broncos, Denver; Packers, Green Bay;) that have led to his demise. This is likely Bates’ last shot at a DC position unless someone gets real desperate, like the Raiders this coming firing and hiring season. His system works, you just have to actually give him the guys who can run it. It was always a very curious decision for Morris to hire Bates and scrap the tried and true, battle tested Tampa-Two scheme based on last year’s defensive collapse (solely attributed to Monte Kiffin). They didn’t spend the money to beef up the interior d-line, add more flash to a suspect pass rush or improve CB depth and Bates pays the price for that. Bates will apparently stay on in a consulting role with the team.

Reports say that Morris will take over running the defense, which is where he should have been this whole time, and will re-install the Tampa-Two scheme. He has 6 more weeks to make it work and quite a few guys that are well versed in this scheme so I’m thinking that just maybe this will turn out to be a good thing. Maybe not right away but it’s not like the D can play worse than it has been. Well…

So far, Morris’ coaching career has been rocky at best. I’m wondering what the historical perspective is here. How many first time head coaches have fired both coordinators before the end of their first year? I’m thinking not many. Firing both coordinators so early in his tenure does not bode well for future job security. And if he doesn’t get the next pair right, he might just find himself back on a Kansas State sideline.

Okay, a little about the game

It was ugly. It was brutal. It was an ass-whuppin. I’m sure it’s the first of many on the career path of QB Josh Freeman. The spark that Freeman brought to the Bucs lasted all of two games and the Saints pressured the rookie into 4 turnovers (3 INT, 1 fumble), getting sacked three times and missing receivers. He finished with 126 yards and a TD, completing 17 of 33 passes.

With the defensive front once again providing little in the way of pressure, Drew Brees torched the Bucs for 187 yards and 3 TD. Basically, just another ho-hum day for the league’s best QB. The real killer came on the ground though, as the Saints rang up 183 yards and 2 TD. Veteran DTs Chris Hovan and Ryan Sims combined for exactly 4 tackles and are giving way to rookie Roy Miller, who had 2 tackles, both solo. LB Barrett Ruud posted 10 total tackles but too often his tackles are 3-4 yards past the line of scrimmage. DE Stylez White has been playing very well since the trade of Gaines Adams, picking up 3 sacks in his last 4 games (he didn’t play against Miami). White did not get a sack against New Orleans but was credited with 4 QB hits.

I think it’s time the Bucs went back to RB Ernest Graham as the feature performer. Cadillac Williams has been a pleasant surprise coming back from his knee problems but he hasn’t averaged more than 3.7 yards/carry since Week 6 while free agent pick up Derrick Ward has been a major disappointment to date, averaging only 3.7 yards/carry on only 66 attempts. Graham has been relegated to special teams, playing fullback and picking up the scraps but it might be time to let him tote the rock like he did in 2007 and the early portion of 2008.

Back to the Top

16 November 2009

Young Bucs Show Stripes

Tampa got some late game heroics from rookie QB Josh Freeman in his second career start but this week it wasn’t enough as the Miami Dolphins ended a nearly two decade long losing to the Bucs, 25-23. The loss was the Bucs first to their cross-state rival since 1991 and drops Tampa to 1-8 on the year.

Early mistakes dogged Freeman, maybe leading some credence to the thought that mechanics are not a big part of Freeman’s makeup as a QB. He bobbled a snap from center which the Dolphins recovered and then mishandled a shotgun snap after that. He fumbled twice on sacks but luckily the ball was recovered both times. In all Freeman was credited with 4 fumbles, losing 1, and threw a pick. Freeman also picked up a delay of game penalty on the Bucs opening drive but the Bucs were still in range for Connor Barth to kick his first career 50-yard FG. The lost fumble killed a drive that started at the Miami 48-yard line.

In addition to having to live with the rookie mistakes of their QB, Tampa also had to deal with the rookie mistakes of their head coach. A pass to WR Michael Clayton was bobbled and nabbed by LB Jason Taylor but the ruling on the field was that it was an incomplete pass. Officials reviewed the play and determined that Taylor had indeed intercepted the pass and the play was overturned giving Miami the ball.

Our esteemed rookie head coach then showed that he may in fact be in over his head as he went bonkers on officials and was given an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that gave Miami the ball on the Bucs 8-yard line. Miami would score as QB Chad Henne tossed a pass to Kory Sperry, fresh of the Fins practice squad. I’m sure Miami would have scored regardless, or at least settled for a FG in the situation, but the penalty sure made things easier for the Dolphins and handed them a 16-6 lead.

The first half would end with Miami up 19-6 and would cut the lead back down to 10 with a late 3rd quarter FG, Barth’s 3rd of the game and all of which were over 50-yards. S Sabby Piscitelli laid a lick on RB Ronnie Brown, knocking the ball free and Brown from the game, and S Tanard Jackson recovered at the Bucs 32, returning it 5 yards. Freeman marched the Bucs down the field, connecting with TE Kellen Winslow for 19 yards on 2nd and 10 at the Bucs 48 setting up a fantastic catch by WR Maurice Stovall for a 33-yard TD catch. The score pulled Tampa to within 3 points of Miami, 19-16.
After Freeman couldn’t connect with Winslow on 3rd down, the Dolphins drove back down the field for a FG to go up 22-16. A TD would put the Bucs ahead by 1.

Freeman and Winslow drove the Bucs down the field, connecting on passes of 11 and 17 yards but the duo could not connect on 4th down at the Miami 22 and the Dolphins got the ball back. The game seemed all but over as a couple first downs would have taken enough time off the clock to hold off the Bucs. On 3rd and 7, Henne floated a bad pass to rookie WR Brian Hartline that was picked off by LB Quincy Black, just the opportunity the Bucs needed but a cursed bit of luck all the same.

With such a short field from the Dolphins 26-yard line, just under 2 minutes to go and Miami sitting on 3 timeouts, the Bucs were destined to score too quickly. Only 20 seconds elapsed as the Dolphins called two time outs on the drive so despite the Bucs getting down to the one and punching it in for the go-ahead TD, there was still 1:14 left for Henne to march the Dolphins into FG range.

Starting at their own 16 even though an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Winslow moving the kick-off spot back 15 yards, Henne connected with Davone Bess for 25 yards, the Fins picked up 9 yards on a pass interference call on LB Geno Hayes and Henne connected again with Bess for another 16 yards. The Bucs had a chance to shut the Dolphins down with a couple stops by Ricky Williams broke a 27-yard run on 2nd down that broke the Bucs. Miami called their final TO with 14 seconds left and Dan Carpenter came on to kick his fourth FG of the day, giving Miami a 2-point lead. A couple of lateral attempts by the Bucs went back 3 yards and time finally ran out on the Bucs hopes to put a winning streak together.

You gotta give the Bucs this: they played competitive football the last two weeks. Freeman has been a spark for them. He led the Bucs to their first 30-point game of the year last week during the win over Green Bay and kept them competitive and in position to win the game this week. He just needed a stop from the defence and, maybe expectedly, didn’t get it.

Not a single sack on Henne and gave 199 yards on the ground with Williams hitting 102 and Brown picking up 82 yards at a 6.8 clip before he went down. Williams gained 53 yards in the 4th quarter, including the 27-yarder that set up the final FG and the win.
The offense has some problems to fix but is starting to show signs of life. The defence should just hang it’s head in shame on this one.

Back to the Top

8 November 2009

Brighter Days Ahead

The first start of quarterback Josh Freeman’s career produced the Bucs first win of the year and the first win of Raheem Morris’ coaching career, 38-28 over the Green Bay Packers. It seems quite ironic that the Bucs end their losing streak on the same day they wear their throwback creamsicle jerseys and induct the lone Bucs Hall of Fame member, Lee Roy Selmon, into the teams Ring of Honor. The win puts the Bucs at 1-7 on the year.

In going 14-31 for 205 yards with 3 TD and 1 INT, Freeman’s day represents hope for the future, a future that seemed bleak only two weeks ago. The youngest QB to start in Bucs history, Freeman seemed to get more and more comfortable as the game went on, throwing 2 4th-quarter TDs and engineering a late comeback from a 28-17 deficit.

Packers' QB Aaron Rogers got things going quickly, completing a 74-yard strike to James Jones for the game’s opening score. An Elbert Mack INT which was returned to the Pack 8 would get the Bucs in prime position to add some points and they did just that as Freeman hit RB Derrick Ward on a screen pass for Freeman’s first career TD pass. Green Bay regained the lead, driving 69 yards for a Ryan Grant 2-yard TD run.

It seemed like more of the same for the Bucs offense as they struggled to complete passes and pick up first downs but the defense provided some answers as they forced a 3-and-out and LB Geno Hayes blocked a Jeremy Kopinos punt that CB Ronde Barber returned for his 14th career TD and a 14-14 tie.

On the ensuing drive, the Bucs secondary got exposed again as Rogers hit Donald Driver for a 32 yard TD, reclaiming the lead once again. Connor Barth would kick his first FG in a Bucs uniform to end the half with Tampa down 21-17.

A scoreless 3rd quarter saw both defenses slug it out and CB Aqib Talib would find himself in the right spot at the right time as a Rogers’ pass to WR Greg Jennings just outside the end zone was tipped in the air and Talib came down with it.

Rogers would kick off the 4th quarter with a 12-yard run for a TD as the Bucs struggled to tackle once again. The TD run seemed to wake up the Bucs. Going sackless through the first three quarters, the Bucs defensive line would take advantage of a terrible Pack o-line and record 4 sacks in the final quarter.

WR Clifton Smith returned the ensuing kickoff 83 yards and three plays later Freeman would find TE Kellen Winslow at the back of the end zone for a score. The Bucs couldn’t complete the 2-point conversion as Winslow dropped the ball, leaving the score at 28-23. The Bucs would force a punt and Freeman would take the field with a chance at glory.

QB Josh Freeman would get the ball at the Bucs own 28-yard line and promptly hit Winslow for 22 yards. WR Michael Clayton would make a fantastic 28-yard catch on 3rd-and-7 to extend the drive and get to the Packers’ 13. After RB Cadillac Williams ran for 6-yards to the Pack 7, Freeman couldn’t connect on two straight setting up 4th-and-4.

He (Freeman) would find fellow rookie WR Sammi Stroughter, who made an incredible catch, dragging his feet just in bounds for the game winning throw. A 2-point conversion to Clayton would put the Bucs ahead by 3, 31-28. Safety Tanard Jackson would later intercept Rogers’, his 3rd of the game, returning it for a score that would put the game out of reach.

Despite going 8-17 in the first half, Freeman found his groove at the right time, flashing his arm strength on numerous passes, particularly the TD to Winslow to make it 28-23. Freeman didn’t complete a pass in the 3rd quarter but went 6-10 with 2 TD in the 4th quarter to pull out the victory. He’s set the expectations high for himself for the rest of the year but the big comeback provides hope for all Bucs fans, and more importantly, the organization. The talent is evident; he has to put it all together.

Despite his 3 catches for 54 yards and the TD catch, WR Derrick Ward has been a major disappointment, getting only 4 carries and producing 5 yards. RB Cadillac Williams led the way with 56 yards on 16 carries but had a long of 8. The run will need to get going for the Bucs to protect Freeman put him in position to succeed.

TE Kellen Winslow finished with a team leading 57 yards on 4 catches but the leading WR was Maurice Stovall with 3 catches for 46 yards, all in the first half. Antonio Bryant’s name does not appear on the stats sheet. For this O to improve, a WR needs to step up and get consistent separation, something they did not get this week.

Despite the 3 picks and the 4 sacks, the defense did not have a good game. They exhibited poor tackling and had a ton of trouble with Pack RB Grant, who would rush for 96 yards and a TD on 21 carries.

The secondary made some big plays but also got burned a couple times for scores. The D-line needs to get consistent pressure from the opening snap to the clock hitting 0:00. It was a good win for the Bucs, a win they desperately needed, but they got lucky and it won’t happen on a regular basis with play like that. Something, anything, needs to happen for this d-line to start getting the pressure it needs for the rest of the D to be effective.

For a skeptic like me Freeman’s performance does not change the opinion that the Bucs reached for him and he’s not an NFL QB, but I’m starting to second guess that opinion now. A couple more wins and maybe he’ll sell me on his future but I’ll keep my head on my shoulders and not go gaga and you should too. The Bucs got lucky and won ugly, don’t count on too many weekends like this for a while though.

Back to the Top

25 October 2009

Bucs Sunk on London Voyage

With mayhem in mind, the Buccaneers set sail for England to pillage and plunder London’s Wembley Stadium. Patriot defenders stood in their way, looking to sink the Bucs hopes. The Bucs should have called in marooned.

Tom Brady rained down 3 touchdowns and completed 72% of his passes as the Patriots scuttled the Bucs 35-7. QB Josh Johnson became the second captain to lose command of his ship this season as he threw 3 INT and went 9-26 for 156 yards. He connected with WR Antonio Bryant for the Bucs’ only stab but ended up acquiescing stewardship to Josh Freeman late in the 4th quarter.

The Pats geared up to make Johnson’s life miserable and that’s exactly what they did, constantly pressuring the young QB and rarely giving him a chance to get set and find the open receiver. Coupled with the stone hands of his receiving corps, the Pats successfully harassed Johnson into a 9-26, 156 yards, 1 TD and 3 INT day that necessitated the insertion of prized rookie QB freeman. Johnson was sacked 3 times and knocked around numerous times. Kellen Winslow and Michael Clayton were practically invisible and couldn’t hold onto the football.

WR Antonio Bryant also struggled reeling it in at times but he made a great play to pull in a beautifully thrown ball for the Bucs lone score, a 33-yard catch in the end zone. Bryant fought off the CB to reel it in.

QB Josh Freeman threw 4 passes, completing 2 for 16 yards and was sacked twice after he came in with about 7:00 minutes to go. He too was under constant pressure and didn’t seem completely ready to handle it. He held on too long at times and took a hard hit from Derrick Burgess after getting flushed that jarred the ball loose. He flashed his arm strength on a pass to Brian Clark for 13 yards but didn’t get much of a chance to take any shots downfield.

Pats safety Brandon Meriweather stepped in front of a Johnson pass to Sammie Stroughter on the Bucs opening drive that was a bit low and behind the receiver. Meriweather scampered 39 yards for the pick-six and 7-0 lead. On the ensuing Bucs drive Johnson had the team moving downfield, picking up 3 first downs (1 rush, 2 pass) before forcing a deep ball to Clayton that Meriweather picked off at the 15 and returned 36 yards for his 2nd INT of the game. Two drives, two turnovers.

Those turnovers were compounded by the defense’s poor tackling that led to big plays, a recurring theme this year. First Wes Welker got a couple blocks on a screen pass and took it 13 yards for a TD. MLB Barrett Ruud couldn’t keep up with WR Sam Aiken, falling off the tackle as Aiken outraced the Bucs secondary to the end zone and a quick 21-0 lead.

CB Tanard Jackson has made his presence known the last three games in his return from a 4-game suspension. He picked off a pass last week against the Panthers, returning it for a TD, and forced a fumble. This week he made a great play in the end zone to pick off Tom Brady. The Bucs got enough pressure to screw up the timing and Jackson reacted quickly to the pass going to Moss at the back of the end zone. On the Pats next possession following the Aiken TD, Brady tried to connect with Brandon Tate on a deep pass down the middle. CB Aqib Talib raced over to get in front of Tate and leap for the ball, giving the Bucs 2 INT on the day and doubling Brady’s season total of 2.

A lack of a pass rush gave QB Tom Brady all day in the pocket and when that happens, the Pats win. The corners are finding themselves forced to cover for far too long and the results have been horrendous. Teams are testing the Bucs early in the game and connecting on big passing plays. Talib and Ronde Barber are ill-suited for this style of coverage, Sabby Piscitelli is a near liability in coverage and for all of LBs Quincy Black and Geno Hayes’ speed they struggle too much in coverage and miss too many tackles. Pats TE Ben Watson just ran away from Hayes, who looked confused any way, and hauled in an easy TD that effectively squashed the Bucs slim hopes. RB Laurence Maroney would punch in a 4th quarter, 1-yard run for the game’s final score.

Not that he was much of a presence anyway, but with the trade of DE Gaines Adams to the Bears for a 2nd round pick, the Bucs are really hurting for that dominating pass rusher that can start taking over games. Adams never lived up to his expectations but if he had, there could be something here. Rookie DT Roy Miller is beginning to play better (4 tackles against Pats) while Jimmy Wilkerson is proving he’s a versatile, starting DE in the NFL. But he’s not a top pass rusher. They just need someone capable of putting up Simeon Rice-like numbers.

The Bucs enter their bye week with a brief glimpse of the future. QB Josh Freeman has that brief taste of what he’s in for. Both need to utilize the next two weeks to capitalize on their brief experience.

Back to the Top

19 October 2009

Just That Kind of Day

The duo of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathon Stewart is proving to be a real thorn in the Bucs sides as the Panthers tag team gashed a porous run defense for 267 yards, balancing out the Panthers grand total of 55 yards passing. It could be worse (see Titans, Tennessee) but this is particularly stunning. It was just that kind of day.

It’s difficult to tell whether the Josh Johnson era has swung upwards on the back of the Bucs first 20-point game with the second year man under center, or if it’s spiraling downwards to the tune of 5 fumbles, 1 INT and another loss. He can make all the confident throws he wants, but five fumbles and the INT would be almost ‘Delhomme-like’ if the real Delhomme wasn’t on the other side of the field wondering if he could sail the Bucs pirate ship off into the sunset. Johnson was bad; Delhomme was just downright awful and the Bucs still lost. It was just that kind of day.

This game could have and should have been a heck of a lot worse than the 28-21 final score. Delhomme threw for a lousy 65 yards on 9-17 passing with 2 INT and ballyhooed WR Steve Smith caught only one pass for 4 yards. Instead, the Panthers turned to the run, 48 times, and controlled the game by taking it away from their QB.

The Bucs D didn’t do anything spectacular in shutting down Delhomme, he was just terrible and needs far more help from guys not named Smith. With or without the traded Gaines Adams, the Bucs have assembled the worst collection of defensive line talent in the league. It’s beyond non-descript, it’s practically invisible. They had no answers and no chance. Stylez White took advantage of the starting opportunity to collect 8 tackles, all solo, 1 sack and 2 QB hits. Jimmy Wilkerson was once again Jimmy Wilkerson and contributed no sacks after a 3 sack performance last week. The middle of the line is frighteningly bad right now. Panthers linemen steam rolled their way into the next level and, even with 9 in the box, the Bucs had no chance of stopping the Panthers ground attack.

Safety Tanard Jackson announced his return in a big way, snaring an errant Delhomme pass and returning it 26 yards for a TD that tied the game at 21 early in the 4th quarter. The Panthers ensuing drive lasted 8 minutes as Delhomme handed off 16 times and the Panthers marched 81 yards for a 1-yard TD by Williams. Delhomme did not attempt a pass the entire drive. It was just that kind of day.

The O-line allowed Julius Peppers to awake from his slumber, allowing the highly paid DE to notch two sacks and 7 tackles. Charles Johnson also had 2 sacks. Both Johnson and Peppers caused fumbles from the Bucs QB with their hits and luckily, only one of Johnson’s fumbles ended up in enemy hands. Drops did not seem to be as much of a problem this week, but penalties sure were.

The Bucs had the ball to start the fourth quarter but a holding call against LT Donald Penn on 2nd and 8 pushed the Bucs back 10-yards. They crawled back, completing an 11-yard pass to Sammie Stroughter and nearly getting a first down the next play but a reversal put the ball down a yard shy. On 4th and 1, backup TE John Gilmore was flagged for off-side, making it 4th and 6. Rather than go for it, the Bucs punted and wouldn’t get the ball back until the 0:29 mark, sealing an ugly Panthers win. It was just that kind of day.

Cadillac Williams had a pretty good day, scoring a first quarter TD to give the Bucs a 7-point and finishing with 77 yards on 16 carries. After running for 62 yards on 12 carries in the opener against Dallas, free agent pickup Derrick Ward has rushed for 73 yards and has yet to carry the ball more than 9 times since then. Ward had 2 yards on 1 carry against Carolina.

Sammie Stroughter is pushing for more playing time, leading the Bucs with 3 catches for 65 yards and returning a kick-off 97 yards for a TD. With Antonio Bryant looking nowhere close to the guy from last year and Michael Clayton looking a lot like the Clayton we’ve grown accustomed too, Stroughter will start getting even more balls come his way very shortly. TE Kellen Winslow is playing pretty well actually, with 3 catches for 29 yards. Not huge numbers this week but Winslow is on his way to a 70-catch 700-yard season and easily leads the team in all receiving categories.

The loss puts Tampa at 0-6 on the season and 10 straight losses dating back to the Week 13 loss to these same Panthers. Carolina racked up 299 yards rushing that week so they have now walked over the Bucs to the tune of more than 550 yards rushing in two meetings.

I’m looking at the Bucs schedule and wondering when they might actually get a win. Next week they travel to London, England for the big Euro Bowl against the Patriots, a team coming off a 59-0 win over the Titans. I awoke Sunday thinking that it could be a trap game for the Pats but now I’m not so sure. A bye week follows before the Bucs host the Packers. A trip down the road to Miami follows that then the going gets real tough. In a seven week stretch the Bucs face the Saints and Falcons twice, the Panthers again and host the Jets. All of which makes Green Bay an attractive option after the bye and a date with Seattle in Week 15 as an obvious choice to pencil the Bucs in for a win.

The Jets are the leagues top ranked rushing team, the Dolphins are 3rd, the Pats 11th, New Orleans 6th, Carolina 14th and Atlanta, while ranked 24th, can explode at any moment and pick up huge chunks of yardage on the back of Michael Turner. That leaves the 22nd ranked Seahawks. For the league’s 31st ranked run defence, it’s going to be a very long 10 weeks.

Back to the Top

12 October 2009

Big Plays Killing Bucs

Once again the league’s worst defence was done in by big plays in the passing game and an inability to generate a consistent, sustained pass rush and, once again, the Bucs paid the price with a 33-14 loss in the second start of Josh Johnson’s career. The loss puts Tampa at 0-5 on the year and looking like they might never get a victory.

The Birds rookie WR Jeremy Maclin caught 6 passes for 142 yards and 2 TD, scoring on a 51-yard catch on the Eagles second play of the day and another 40-yard TD catch with under 2 minutes to go in the first half. The big passing plays continue to kill this team and it can be directly related to two things: no pass rush and playing man coverage with zone corners. The run of first quarter ineptitude has continued as Tampa has been outscored 37-7 in the opening frame so far. Their lone first quarter score of any kind came last week against Washington. Other than that, the defence is giving up some big plays in the first quarter and is leading to coach Raheem Morris to start his weekly panic session on the sideline.

That was never more evident than this week when Morris eschewed a FG on a 4th and 2 at the Philly 26 yard line to let Johnson go for it. He couldn’t hit Michael Clayton and the Eagles were off and running from there. It’s 7-0 in the 1st freakin’ quarter and you go for it on 4th down at the opponent’s 26 yard line with a QB in the second start of his career? What the hell is that? In his post game comments, Morris said he wanted to be more aggressive because they were playing what he deemed a “better team”. In all, Morris had the O go for it on 4th down 3 times in FG range and converted once.

"Obviously we were outplayed today by a better football team," Morris said. "They outplayed us across the board, they made bigger plays than us. I tried to be more aggressive because we were playing a better team today. We've got strides to make. We have to go back and evaluate what we've done."

Maybe it’s just me but that whole “they outplayed us” thing is becoming a little to regular for my liking. It’s the truth, but that doesn’t mean I want to hear that from the head coach every week you know.

Josh-JohnsonI’m still waiting for the spark that QB Josh Johnson was supposed to bring. If you compare stats between Johnson and Byron Leftwich, you’ll see that Leftwich wasn’t playing half bad all things considered and well, if you forget the Giants game. Leftwich has better numbers in every category: yards, completion %, average per pass, TD, INT, sacks, QB rating, you name it. The Bucs have gone from 20 points a game to 14 (again minus the Giants game, I’d really like to just forget that ever happened) with Johnson under center but there are some signs that better things are on the horizon.

He’s (Johnson) bold and confident in his throws but, as expected, is not consistent and makes some poor decisions. He passed for 240 yards and 2 TD but had 3 INT and completed only 26 of 50 passes. Johnson should throw half that number and they should start kicking FG on those 4th down tries instead of going for it. Putting points on the board builds confidence; failing on 4th down does not.

I still don’t like the change but Johnson hasn’t been as bad as I thought he would be either.

A quick glance around the league shows that the Bucs are one of three teams without a 200-yard rusher this season, the others being the Arizona Cardinals and the Oakland Raiders. For an offense that looked like it would be a very good running team this year, that’s pretty sad. The Bucs have abandoned the run early in games thanks to the defence, putting the ball in the hands of a QB that should not be put in that kind of position.

The run was not effective early as the Bucs accumulated -4 yards in the first quarter against Philly and despite having the ball for 35 minutes and 75 plays, managed only 85 yards rushing as a team. Minus Johnson’s 40 yards on 5 carries and a big 28-yard run by Derrick Ward, Ward and Cadillac Williams combined for 15 rushes and a lousy 17 yards.

TE Kellen Winslow had a big day, catching 9 balls for 102 yards and 2 TD. Winslow should continue to be the Bucs top option in the passing game as WR Antonio Bryant doesn’t seem completely healthy and Michael Clayton would be far better suited as a 3rd of 4th receiver rather than the number two option. As expected, rookie Sammie Stroughter has been a bit inconsistent so far and with a long of 15, this speedster hasn’t provided the punch needed. In fact, his long is the same as LT Donald Penn, who caught a deflected pass against Philly for 15 yards. I think after the Bye week, we just might see Stroughter more involved, moving Clayton to the bench.

The lone bright spot for a defence ranked 28th in the league was the play of Jimmy Wilkerson. With Gaines Adams MIA after notching his first sack last week, Wilkerson stepped up in a big way with 3 sacks, giving him 5 on the season, four more than any other Bucs defender has notched. A career day for a guy who just might be coming into his own. Save for Maclin’s two big TD catches and the defence didn’t have that bad of a day. Philly had only 16 first downs, completed 4-10 on 3rd down and rushed for 76 yards, 30 from Donovan McNabb. They limited DeSean Jackson to 1 catch for 1 yard. Boy, did Maclin ever just kill them this week.

The most brutal part of the schedule is nearly over for the Bucs. After playing all four NFC East teams in a five week stretch, the last two on the road, the Bucs get a home date with a mediocre Panthers team coming off their first win. Following that is the trip to jolly ol’ London, England to take on the Patriots before a much needed bye week.

Back to the Top

30 September 2009

Leftwich benched, Johnson Named Starter

As I seem to do quite often, I spoke prematurely about the QB situation in Tampa. When I wrote the article about the Bucs loss to New York, the word was still that Byron Leftwich was the starter. After the article got sent away to be posted, it was announced that Leftwich had been benched. I’d say you live and learn, but I don’t seem to.

Wrong move! They need a veteran QB to keep things from completely falling apart and Leftwich is the only vet they have. This mess is not Leftwich’s fault. This mess falls on the shoulders of Raheem Morris and the defence. A move like this only further erodes the confidence of this team and does it very decisively. While he’s at it, maybe he should bench DE Gaines Adams, RG Davin Joseph and the entire secondary. All of those guys and more are just as responsible, if not more so, for the way this team is playing.

Was Leftwich great? No hell no. Did he deserve to get benched? No. Unfortunately, with Leftwich under center you have to expect games like this to creep up. Maybe not quite that bad, considering that was his worst start in his career, but he will have a stinker or two every season. When you ask him to throw 91 passes in two weeks, he throws interceptions and takes sacks. When the o-line gets outmatched, you’re in for a very long day, like we saw. The defence gives up a quick lead and Morris panics and asks Leftwich to lead the team back, which he’s not built to do. He needs a running game to work play-action and take the emphasis off of him. That didn’t show up on Sunday and Leftwich paid the price for it with maybe his career.

I can’t see things getting better to the point of justifying this move with Johnson under center. Johnson would have had to come a long way in the last year and a half to be successful enough to even come close to winning 6 games. Let Leftwich scrape for 6 wins and start over with either Johnson or rookie Josh Freeman going through the off-season and training camp as the starting QB, get all the first team snaps and enter the season with a bit of confidence behind whatever talent they can hopefully acquire for next year.

This team is in rebuilding mode, there’s no sugar coating it. A situation like this reeks of a coach covering their own ass when their team is falling apart and they have no way of fixing it. Morris is coping out with this move. This offense actually looked pretty damn good through the first two games. Heck, they ranked fourth in the league. The game against New York was terrible but it’s only going to get worse with second year QB Josh Johnson coming in.
Making this switch right now is asking for that historically bad season I alluded to in my last post. Sad to say, but 0-16 here we come.

Back to the Top

28 September 2009

So Much for the Offense, Bucs Destroyed by Giants

Lets run through the stats from this one first: 5 first downs, 0-9 on 3rd down, 36 plays, 86 total yards of offense, 2.2 yards per pass, 2.8 yards per rush, 226 rushing yards allowed, 24-0 final score. The Bucs weren’t even on the same field as the Giants. And this was a home game!

One highlight is that they allowed no sacks. But the Giants did pressure Byron Leftwich at every turn and shut down the Bucs running game to the point where Tampa couldn’t stay on the field. The Giants d-line dominated, flat out. It may not show statistically, but the G-Men’s d-line was too much for the Bucs o-line to handle. The activity up front led to the linebackers making plays on the ball carrier quickly and easily.

Once again Tampa put themselves in a hole, as New York drove 80 yards down the field behind 46 yards from Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw. Tampa has now been outscored 30-0 in the first quarter through the first three games, taking the Bucs out of their game from the opening bat. In fact, the Bucs have allowed their opponents to score on their opening drive in all three games. With no real gamebreaking talent, the Bucs just can’t overcome these early deficits.

After rushing for 174 yards in Week 1 against Dallas, Tampa has rushed for a lousy 85 yards in the last two games. I think they’ve abandoned the run too quickly the last two weeks, especially this week. Against Buffalo, the Bills were up 17-0 after 1, so that’s a little more understandable, but the Giants were only leading 7-0 after the 1st and scored about a minute or so into the 2nd. Yeah you need to score but you can’t panic and stop doing what you do, the things we saw that we’re successful. That’s a rookie coaching mistake.

To me, and I may be wrong, that’s panicking on the coaches part. Run the damn ball! Your defenses can’t stop anyone right now, do ANYTHING to keep them off the field. New York controlled the ball for almost 44 minutes to the Bucs 16; the Giants ran the ball 49 times. Hmmmm, think there’s a connection there? I’m not saying that’s the magical cure or anything, but at least by sticking with the run, even if it’s not working, will give you some semblance of play-action opportunity, slow the opponent down a bit and give your defense time to rest. The whole world knows by now not to put the ball in Leftwich’s hands and ask him to carry things. He’s a game manager. He needs a running game to be most effective. I don’t care if New York shut everything down, stick with your game plan Raheem.

By the fourth quarter, the Bucs had turned to Josh Johnson. Johnson was decent but only completed 4 passes in 10 attempts. He did manage to out gain Leftwich, 36 to 22, and got them into the red zone. From the Giants 5 yard line, Johnson threw 4 passes and completed none. The Giants got the ball back and ran out the clock. Leftwich will continue to be the starter but at least we finally got a look at Johnson.

All around this week, the Bucs just plain sucked. The Bucs have successfully managed to take two zone corners in Aqib Talib and Ronde Barber and completely eliminate them from the game. They’ve both been burned for TDs this year and Talib was burned again this week by Steve Smith. This side of the ball needs to start getting creative because they cannot generate a pass rush right now.

DE Gaines Adams is actually on the box score this week with 2 QB hits, but no one else did much. Until this team rushes the passer consistently and effectively, Talib and Barber are lunch meat and we’re going to see more games like this: 14-24, 161 yards, 2 TD, 106.4 rating from That Other Manning. Barrett Ruud led the team in tackles with 14 but he can’t do it alone. Ruud is not playing nearly as well this year as he did with Derrick Brooks and Cato June beside him. Ruud has yet to record a sack, INT, FF or a recovery this year.

I will not hear any 0-16 talk about this team. You have to be historically bad to reach that mark and I don’t think the Bucs are that bad. They’re bad, very bad, but not historically bad. With a game against the Redskins next week, the Bucs just might be looking at a bounce back game. The Redskins let the Lions snap that 19-game losing streak this week. Hey, it’s something!

Back to the Top

22 September 2009

First trip to Buffalo Forgettable

The whole dang world has flipped upside this year. A 33-20 lose to the Buffalo Bills in Tampa’s first ever trip to Western New York is evidence that the Bucs defense is not going to rescue this team, it’s the offense that will need to carry the Bucs this year.
The offense played pretty well all things considered and save for some poor throws by Byron Leftwich, some drops and some dumb penalties, the Bucs might have been in position to win at the end instead of trying a desperation comeback.

Leftwich racked up 296 yards and 3 TD but tossed some absolutely ugly balls (how the hell do you overthrow a 6’7” TE?) and never looked particularly comfortable. He threw two INT this week, but only one can really be entirely his fault. In the first quarter, already down 7-0, instead of taking the sack Leftwich tossed the ball up for Cadillac Williams in the flat as he was being dragged down. The ball went well over William’s head and into the arms of S Donte Whitner, who raced 72-yards for a TD. His second INT came on the ensuing drive. Leftwich’s pass for Sammie Stroughter was low and Stroughter had to go down and dig it out. The ball hit Stroughter right in the hands but the rookie couldn’t bring it in, allowing it to pop up in the air and S Bryan Scott managed to pluck it in. The pass was low, a better throw would have hit Stroughter in stride and set up some yards after the catch, but Stroughter should have pulled that in.

The Bills smacked the Bucs right in the move on the opening drive as Lee Evans blew past Ronde Barber and hauled in a rainbow from Trent Edwards for a TD. The Whitner pick-six and a later FG had the Bucs in a deep hole with the 1st quarter winding down. The early deficit took the Bucs out of their game plan and without Antonio Bryant in the game (knee injury), the Bucs really struggled to pull back into it.

TE Kellen Winslow led the Bucs with 7 catches for 90 yards and caught the Bucs first score, a bullet over the middle that Winslow took 42 yards. Winslow and fellow TE Jerramy Stevens were targeted a combined 19 times but with two inexperienced receivers in Maurice Stovall and Stroughter in the lineup and Michael Clayton unable to get open, Winslow and Stevens probably should have been utilized more often. Stovall came up with one of the game’s top highlights, a terrific 38-yard catch in traffic in the 4th that set up the Stevens TD catch.

After running wild last week, the Bucs backfield had only 19 chances and didn’t make the most of them, picking up only 57 yards. Cadillac Williams caught a 2nd quarter TD pass to pull the Bucs within 6 at the half. The o-line is not playing up to snuff yet. Leftwich was harassed constantly and they failed to open the holes Williams, Derrick Ward and Ernest Graham needed to be effective.

The defense is the sore spot right now. The Bucs have given up exactly 900 yards of offense, which puts them at 31st, just ahead of Houston. The big guys up front have not played big so far, as the Bucs have only three sacks so far and only 1 INT and allowed Fred Jackson to gouge them for a career high 163 yards. The corners, Barber and Aqib Talib, have given up big play after big play so far. Evans burned Barber for the first TD, then T.O. burned Talib but luckily dropped the pass and then Owens burned Talib again for the game clinching TD. Jimmy Wilkerson and rookie Roy Miller each had sacks against Buffalo but the consistency is not there.

DE Gaines Adams is quickly on his way to being becoming a colossal bust and has been invisible through the first two games. He had three solo tackles but they were the quietest three tackles ever and he’s not even getting close to the opposing QB. Edwards could have had tea in the Bills pocket and picked apart a defense that appears to have no chance right now.

Back to the Top

14 September 2009

The Beating Begins

The Raheem Morris era has started on a low note as a once proud defence allowed Tony Romo and the ‘Boys to march all over them en route to a 34-21 victory. To state the obvious, this is not the same Bucs we’ve become accustomed to, and this proves that it may very well be a long season unless the D steps up. Whoda thunk that one huh?

Romo completed throws all over the field and a secondary missing FS Tanard Jackson just couldn’t keep up. Romo set new career game-highs in yards (353) and longest completion (80 yards to Patrick Crayton). Romo also tossed 3 TD, no INT on only 16 completions. The pass rush from the front 7 was non-existent as the Bucs only sack came from CB Ronde Barber. The duo of Marion Barber and Felix Jones (101 yards, 1 TD) in the ‘Boys backfield put the Bucs on their heals and Romo had a field day.

The lone bright spot is, for once, the offense. Byron Leftwich is exactly what everyone expected him to be: good but not great. He completed 25 passes in 41 attempts for 276 yards and 1 TD. He was not sacked but was under pressure. Morris has at least done one thing right in making Leftwich the starter over Luke McCown and rookie Josh Freeman.

Another bright spot was the return of Cadillac Williams, someone I have now written off twice and has twice proven me wrong. Returning from a second knee injury, something that should have ended this guy’s career, Caddy ran for 97 yards and a TD on 13 carries, teaming with free agent signee Derrick Ward (12-62-1) to give the Bucs an excellent pair in the backfield. Williams has all but made Ernest Graham an afterthought. The burst is back and he still runs without fear, surprising for a guy with his injury history.

WR Antonio Bryant was knocked from the game with a knee injury but Michael Clyaton is starting to resemble the 2004 version and may prove to be a wise resigning. Tight ends Kellen Winslow and Jerramy Stevens may very well be keys to this offenses success this year. The duo combined for 9 catches and 71 yards, with Winslow catching a late TD. They could make a two-TE set a dangerous weapon for this team, especially if Bryant is forced to miss time. The o-line managed to keep Leftwich fairly clean, giving him time to get rid of the ball and getting decent push against a physical Cowboys front-7. K Mike Nugent had one FG blocked and missed a 47-yarder. He’s supposed to have more leg than the guy he is replacing in Matt Bryant, and while true, he has to make those long ones.

Jermaine Phillips and Sabby Piscitelli are just not fast enough to cover the backend and prevent big plays at safety. Both are more of a strong safety type and the return of Jackson from suspension could have a big effect on this defense. CB Aqib Talib had to PD and could be on his way to a big year but he needs help. Barber is no where close to the same player and Elbert Mack and Torrie Cox are not the answer either. The linebackers were nothing special. Apparently Geno Hayes couldn’t get to the game on time and was replaced by Matt McCoy as a starter. I’m sure it won’t last two long because Hayes seemed to be the only person who get into the Dallas backfield. Returner Clifton Smith is just as dangerous as he was last year, both to opponents and the Bucs. Smith was credited with a fumble.

I know the Bucs secondary is going to be under a microscope this year after their former position coach jumped up to Head Coach and they did little to revamp the secondary, but unless a pass rush emerges, this secondary has no chance. They have got to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks, otherwise this game is a precursor to the bad things that are going to happen to this team. Mr. Bates, dial up the blitz because this team is going to need all the help it can get.

Back to the Top

5 September 2009

Imploding Situation in Tampa

I scribbled a quick note yesterday about the firing of Bucs offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski right after word got out. It seems I jumped the gun on the reasoning behind it, but if the perceived truth that has been given for the firing is in fact true, I think as a Bucs fan I’d much prefer my own answer.

I chalked the firing up to a disagreement about the choice of Byron Leftwich as the starting QB, and while that may still be a factor, the answers given have been that Jags basically had no business being an offensive coordinator.

Any credibility head coach Raheem Morris and GM Mark Dominik had before this firing has severely diminished, and they had very little of it to begin with after basically cleaning house on a defense that has been this teams hallmark for a decade and making some frustrating if not strange moves so far in their short tenure.

If Jags couldn’t call plays, design an offense or even run a credible practice, how the hell did this guy get the job in first place? A guy that this team was tripping over themselves to laud when he was hired and 6 months later is fired because they didn’t get what they thought they were getting, just sounds like someone didn’t do their homework.

It’s a black eye for this coaching staff and combined with their head scratching decisions at QB, the trade for Kellen Winslow and subsequent huge contract, and the move of SS Jermaine Phillips to WLB (the spot vacated by all-time Bucs great Derrick Brooks, whose release is another head scratcher), this coaching staff has little leeway left with fans.

Back to the Top

4 September 2009

Bucs Can Jagodzinski

Less than two weeks before the regular season, Buccaneers offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski has stepped away from the team. What seemed like a good fit at the time quickly soured and the Bucs felt they could not take the failing relationship into the regular season.

This is a huge blow for a team that has undergone a makeover to the coaching staff. Details are not clear right now as to what his leaving had to do with exactly but it likely had something to do with the decision to name Byron Leftwich the starter. QB coach Greg Olson will take over Jags spot as coordinator after RB coach Steve Logan apparently spent all pre-season calling the plays. Olson has previous coordinator experience so he’s not likely to happy that he’s only getting the call because of this.

It seems like there is already dysfunction among the Bucs brass, further pushing storm clouds over the team, widely thought to be finishing last in the NFC South this year.

Back to the Top

29 August 2009

Leftwich Winner by Default?

I’ve said all summer that Byron Leftwich should win the job based on his experience and after (finally) watching the Bucs-Dolphins game last night I’m more convinced than ever. And not because Leftwich played well either.

Not one of the QB’s on this roster has done much of anything except be mediocre, which has made them look very good since we’ve been comparing Luke McCown, Leftwich and rookie Josh Freeman against one another all summer. They’ve alternately gone from horrible to mediocre, sometimes series-to-series, or play-to-play. So when one is mediocre and the rest are awful, that makes the one that’s mediocre look that much better. Unfortunately, all they’ve done is prove that none should be the Week 1 starter. And unfortunately, one of them has to start.

The game itself was pretty bad. The 10-6 score perfectly sums up the sloppy play of both teams. Neither squad completed half of their passes, had 17 total penalties (13 from the Bucs of course), 4 fumbles, went 1-4 in the red zone and punted 16 times. Oh and Mike Nugent couldn’t put the ball in the Gulf kicking like that let alone through the uprights. Bad snap or not, his third period kick to make it 10-9 was so off I have no words to describe it.

Leftwich racked up 100 yards in under a half of play but barely completed half his passes and sailed a bunch of throws. McCown got no favors from the o-line (more on that in a minute) or his receivers but hammered home his career back-up status. With only one TV in the house right now, my poor wifey was forced to watch the game with me and even she remarked that Freeman looked scared shitless. Maybe his eyes are just naturally like that but man were they ever huge.

Plain and simple the o-line did not play like the strength we all believed it to be. Maybe they turn it around come September but last night they were overwhelmed by a Dolphins pass rush that just seems to roll out guys one after the other that can make life miserable for a QB. Davin Joseph in particular, a Pro Bowl player, had an awful game, taking bad penalties and creating little push. None of the three Bucs passers helped themselves with their poor rush pick up and slow reads. He can’t seem to hit the broad side of a barn right now, but Leftwich was the best at picking up the rush and getting rid of the ball.

If I hadn’t known any better, I could have sworn Jeff Garcia came in to replace Leftwich because every time a Dolphin rusher got within 10 feet of McCown he was off and running, a la Garcia. Sadly, McCown is nothing close to the playmaker Garcia is so McCown just looked like Rachel in the Thanksgiving episode of Friends when they play touch football and Rachel finally gets to be QB and runs around like a chicken with no head. McCown made a great throw to Kelly Campbell, who had a step on the Phins CB, in the end zone but the CFL import dropped it.

Freeman made a couple nice throws, but he had no idea where the rush was coming from at times and was far too quick to pull it down and run. He’s proving he’s not ready and will need a lot of time on the bench. With just under three minutes to go in the fourth he seemed to get into a rhythm but just as quickly that went out the window. He finished a measly 6-16 for 50 yards. He made some rookie mistakes but he shows the promise that neither Leftwich nor McCown have.

Maybe the Bucs should jump on Chiefs QB Tyler Thigpen, offer a fourth round pick and make Thigpen the starter. He can’t play any worse than we’ve seen so far.

Back to the Top

27 August 2009

No Right Answers in Buc-Land

Is it just me or does everyone with an opinion on Tampa’s quarterback derby have a different opinion on the subject? It seems every article that I read has the job going to someone else. First it was McCown, then Leftwich seemed to be getting ahead, then it was rookie Josh Freeman making a run for it because of some great practice throws, and then we were back to Leftwic. It then wavered between McCown and Leftwich and now we seem to be coming back to Leftwich again, but it’s still up in the air as of yet.

I’ve said all summer that Leftwich should win the job because of experience. He may not be a franchise QB but he’s not completely horrible either. For an offense looking for stability and minimizing turnovers, Leftwich is the way to go.

It seems a trade could clear the waters in this situation. At least that’s the rumor flying around right now. I think it has more to do with Tampa realizing that no matter who they trot out there, they won’t have the second coming of Joe Montana and new Head Coach Raheem Morris is paralyzed in making a decision. He has no idea who to pick and to save himself from having to make that decision he’d rather see who has value on the trade market and let some other team make the decision for him. That’s my opinion anyways.

Boy, that says a lot about the state of the Bucs now doesn’t it? He won’t name a starter because then it decreases the value of the other guy(s) and as long as everyone appears to have a shot at winning the job, the Bucs can maximize their trade value. So instead of a 6th round pick, they might be able to get a 5th.Main

Back to the Top

1 August 2009

Questions Facing Bucs

Who starts? The biggest question heading into Bucs training camp is ‘Whose the starting QB?’. It’s a valid question since there are three guys competing for the job: 1st round pick Josh Freeman, Luke McCown and Byron Leftwich. Despite everything that’s been said, it seems like Freeman will get the call. The writing is on the wall and this coaching staff seems eager to test out its new toy. I must admit that Tampa is a pretty good opportunity for a rookie QB: a potentially good ground game, a maturing o-line and little in expectations of success this season.

Then who backs him up? If Freeman does get the starting job, it’s possible either McCown or Leftwich gets cut. Even after cutting Brian Griese, the Bucs are still carrying four quarterbacks to fill three spots. They may keep all four but it more likely someone gets cut loose. It might be an all or nothing situation for Leftwich. Either he’s the starter or he’s not on the team, period.

Is Freeman ready for Prime Time? This is very debatable because coming out of college Freeman was regarded as someone who would need time to develop, potentially a lot of time. He has a big arm and some mobility, but OTAs prove very little about a prospects readiness. TC will answer some of those questions but we won’t know how ready he is until he gets in an actual NFL game. Expect growing pains.

Will the rookie d-linemen step up? After collapsing down the stretch last year, the Bucs are looking for big gains from the d-line this year. The faces are still basically the same in this unit but all have added weight. DT Roy Miller and DE Kyle Moore need to find some sort of role, at least as backups. Both are excellent against the run and will help keep other guys fresh. If one can grab a starters job, then the Bucs will have had a good draft.

Speaking of the d-line, what’s up with Gaines Adams? 6.5 sacks in two seasons is just not going to cut it anymore. Adams has yet to make any discernable leaps forward in his progress, due mainly to the continual building of his strength and the fact that he has shown ZERO pass rush moves to date. This summer was spent focusing on the latter aspect, teaching a young dog the tricks he needs to become an old dog. If Adams doesn’t break out this year, this could be a defence in serious trouble.

Aaron Sears, where did you go? Sears showed a lot of promise during his first two seasons in the league but has been MIA all off-season due to what the team has classified as personal problems. No more information has been brought forth. In his place has been second-year pro Jeremy Zuttah. An extended absence during the season will not make or break this line, especially if Zuttah proves up to the task, but Sears presence would mean a great deal to an offence expected to revolve around what they can accomplish running the football.

Will any WR’s please stand up? The rumours have been circulating all summer long that the Bucs are hot for a veteran free agent WR. They’ve been linked to almost every available receiver, or so it seems. A quick glance at the list of names reveals a list of just that, names. Many of whom are over the hill or have chronically underachieved. Is it worth it to bring in one of these guys? I seem to be one of the few who has faith in Dexter Jackson. I also think nabbing Sammie Stroughter in the 7th round this year was an absolute steal.

I also love (as written here before) the stealthy pickup of CFL import Kelly Campbell. Not to mention they have Antonio Bryant still playing for big money, a hopefully re-energized Michael Clayton and added one of the league’s most dangerous TE in Kellen Winslow (they also brought back TE Jerramy Stevens, say what you want, he’s still a ‘matchup nightmare’). Add it all up and I think the Bucs have enough at WR without resorting to throwing money at a useless WR.

The Bucs, like it or not, are rebuilding. This year the expectations are few but the promise is great. I don’t like all of the moves they made, actually I don’t like quite a few of the moves they made, but they did make some real intelligent moves as well. I don’t like Josh Freeman, but it does warm the heart to see this team finally make an attempt at finding a franchise QB after living in the shadow of Trent Dilfer since 1994. With what is shaping up to be a very good, diverse run game (The Caddy could be coming back!), a developing o-line and a decent stable of receivers, Freeman could surprise yours truly and actually make something of himself.

The defense will need to prove quite a bit and for the first time, the D is the unit generating the most question marks. Is Adams ready to break out? Will the rookies make an impact? Does all the extra weight along the line mean extra weight in the run defense or just on the scale? Is converted SS Jermaine Phillips really a WLB? Has Angelo Crowell fully recovered from his knee injury? What does Ronde Barber have left? Is Aqib Talib on the cusp of stardom or still living on potential? And who is the damn kicker for crying out loud?!
Don’t count this team out, they may have finally hit on recipe for success, as in Super Bowl success.

Back to the Top

11 June 2009

McCown vs Leftwich vs Freeman vs…

The more things change, the more they stay the same in Tampa. Let’s assume for the sake of simplicity that the Bucs elect to keep three quarterbacks on the roster this year. Five guys are now battling for 3 roster spots (too many… Gruden… jokes… brain… hurting…).

The race to be The Man, the starter, is a close race between Luke McCown and Byron Leftwich with Josh Freeman as the dark horse. McCown came out and said “the job is mine” and there is some truth to that statement.

McCown is younger the Leftwich and has some potential; with Leftwich, what you see is what you get and it hasn’t always been pretty. McCown played fairly well during his late season run as the starter in 2007 when Jeff Garcia was hurt, but I look at those figures with some skepticism. I watched those games and while McCown did some good things, he did many of the same things that Garcia did that drove me nuts and McCown was playing against teams that were resting quite a few starters at the end of the year.

Making plays with his feet is one of McCown’s strongest points but it also gets him in trouble. He scrambled to quickly in many cases and, like Garcia, opened himself up to some big hits. My other cause for concern with him is his lack of arm strength. He really didn’t let fly during his 2007 stretch, be it whether he was not allowed or he can’t, I can’t say for certain but a strong arm is not one of McCown’s pluses. He’s smart and crafty, picks up a playbook fairly quickly and has loads of confidence, for the moment, McCown has the edge.

Leftwich is the more experienced of the three leading candidates. I’m not including Brian Griese or Josh Johnson because they have no chance to start and are fighting an uphill battle just to make the roster. With 40+ starts and 54 TD to 38 INT, Leftwich deserves one more chance to prove he can be a starting QB in the NFL. The problem with Leftwich is inconsistency and injuries. He’s never played in 16 games in a season and has never thrown 20 TD. In fact, his high is 15, which he reached twice. Leftwich clearly will never be a superstar QB, but his veteran presence in the huddle and his big arm could lead him to win out over McCown. I think he’s gaining on McCown and will not give up without a fight.

Regular readers know I hate Josh Freeman. Yes, HATE Josh Freeman. Freeman was the most overrated QB in the draft and should have been a third round pick at best. He’s a case of looking at the physical talent and believing you can coach the rest of his game. That said, he is the Bucs QB of the future and the new staff and front office have a lot resting on Freeman’s very large shoulders. He might be walking into a pretty good situation with Tampa.

The o-line is emerging as one of the best in the league (a thought not entirely dependant on what is happening with Aaron Sears but that is a factor) and the run should be more dynamic this year with the addition of Derrick Ward and the return of Ernest Graham.

Tampa also added a playmaker in TE Kellen Winslow and kept WR Antonio Bryant. A good o-line and backfield are key components of successfully breaking in a rookie/young QB and that significantly raises the odds of success if Freeman is thrust into the starting lineup at some point this year. If he appears to be making progress during OTA’s and training camp there is a good possibility that he starts on Day 1.

So, who’s the starter? Your guess is a good as mine.

Back to the Top

30 April 2009

Tampa Bay Bucs Draft Grades

I’ll give Tampa a C for effort because they at least identified their needs and choose players to fill those needs. Whether they got the right guys remains to be seen.

Tampa’s draft started with the trade of a 6th round pick to the Browns for the right to move from 19 to 17 and take QB Josh Freeman, a player they greatly coveted. I like the fact that they got the guy they wanted and I also like that they finally have a potential franchise QB. What I don’t like is Josh Freeman. The Kansas State junior is highly overrated because of a weak QB crop this year and his great size and arm strength. Freeman has not developed much since his freshman days despite 32 starts under his belt in the Big 12. He has very spotty mechanics which lead to poor timing and awful accuracy. His experience running a pro style offence and working under center are steps in the right direction but Freeman will need extensive work before he starts in the NFL.

With no 2nd round pick, shipped to Cleveland for Kellen Winslow, Tampa didn’t pick again until the 81st pick, where they tabbed Texas DT Roy Miller. With his ability to anchor and clog running lanes, Miller could be the Bucs lone rookie to play right away and could find his way into the starting rotation very soon. He fills one of Tampa’s most pressing needs and adds some size and physicality to the Bucs d-line rotation.

In the 4th round the Bucs picked USC DE Kyle Moore. Moore potentially could take over opposite RDE Gaines Adams and could shift inside on passing downs. The reason Moore slipped to the 4th despite excellent athletic ability and potential is because of his inconsistency at USC and technique issues. While he can surprise with a quick burst of the snap and uses his long arms to hold off the OT, Moore’s 6’5” height gives him problems with sustaining leverage. Once he learns to play lower and hold his ground better, Moore can be a very effective compliment to Adams.

OT Xavier Fulton is very much a developmental guy. The Bucs 5th round pick only moved to the offensive line in 2007 after tearing up a knee as a defensive lineman. That lack of experience could put Fulton on the practice squad unless he learns quickly in camp. The tools are certainly there for Fulton and he could be a very promising player in a few years.

CB E.J. Biggers is not a known product coming from Western Michigan but his 4.34 speed and 6’1” height make him interesting as a 7th round pick. He’s aggressive with long arms and the mindset to use them effectively. He presses well and has good instincts in zone coverage as well, making him a versatile back that could also potentially play some safety and will be a demon on special teams. He’s actually a very good selection this late and could develop into the nickel back with slight potential for more.
With fans calling for some additions to the receiving corps and a lack of speed at the position outside of Kelly Campbell and Dexter Jackson.

It’s surprising the Bucs waited until their final pick in the 7th round to address the spot, taking Oregon State’s WR Sammie Stroughter. A depression diagnosis in 2007 forced Stroughter to redshirt that year but he was one of the nation’s best receivers in 2006 and came back very strong in 2008. He’s not blazing fast but he plays much faster than he times and has the ability to make defenders miss. With potential as a return man and slot receiver, Stroughter could find his way onto the Bucs roster in 2009.

Tampa has taken a big gamble on potential with this draft and the career path of Freeman will have serious implications on the careers of the men who drafted him, Raheem Morris and GM Mark Dominik. The best pick has to be DT Roy Miller in the third while the worst is obviously the selection of Freeman. There is the potential for Tampa to get contributions from a couple of these guys, namely Miller, Moore and Stroughter, but also the likelihood of them getting nothing out of this class any time soon

26 April 2009

Bucs pick QB Josh Freeman

The Bucs traded up with Cleveland to get the #17 pick, moving up from #19 to take Kansas State QB Josh Freeman. Why the Bucs felt they needed to trade up to get him is beyond me. Freeman was sure to still be available at #19 when the Bucs picked. This is an awful choice. Don't get me wrong, I'm pleased to see the Bucs finally make an attempt at finding a franchise QB but Freeman is incredibly overrated. Because of the lack of top QB talent, Freeman was rated much higher than he should have been.

The talent is definitely there, but there's too much inconsistency in his game. He just hasn't improved enough over his career to warrant a first round pick. The direction this off-season has taken is mystifying and I'm not happy with he direction this team is taking. Some of the moves they have made have been baffling.

With no 2nd round pick the Bucs needed to hit it big here and I don't think they made a wise decision.

Back to the Top