So starts another year for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and for the NFL. It has been a long 8 months, but I think we can all finally say that this big gaping hole in our heart is about to be filled with a good dose of grid iron violence. For Bucs fans, I’m sure they are looking for the pewter pirates to dish out some violence instead of being the constant victim of it as in last year’s 10 game losing skid. But, the past is the past for a reason and this year the Bucs have plenty of reason for optimism. Coaching changes, new veteran personnel additions, and returning young talent are going to start the Bucs off this season with a big questions mark. Who are they and how are they going to play? Are they going to compete for the south or just go south? I believe their success will based on 5 key points.
1. The Offensive Line
The season ending injury for Davin Joseph is unfortunately as big of a story in the pre-season as signing Carl Nicks was in the off-season. But, like the old saying goes, the show must go on. The Bucs may not be able to boast one of the best guard tandems like they were hoping for this season, but there is still a ton to like about this offensive line. The Bucs have a good, strong and uniform foundation in its offensive line. This is a rarity in the NFL, but the Bucs O-Line have played together for the past 4 seasons and all of the lineman, minus Nicks, have only been Buccaneers. Donald Penn, LT, has been with the Bucs 7 years and was an All-Pro in 2010. He has started 76 games out of his 80 game career. At 6-5, 340 the man is a bulldozer. Carl Nicks, coming off a All-Pro year, is probably one of the best guards in the league and I would dare say the best guard in pass protection. Last year the Saints passed the ball 649 times (consider this, the Chargers only passed 503 times) and in those 649 plays there were only 3.5 times a player was able to get past Nicks and sack Drew Brees. The man’s resume is incredible. He was the key player in protecting Brees to allow him to surpass Dan Marino’s long and hallowed record and was blocking for Brees in the Saint’s Super Bowl campaign. At 6-5, 349 lbs I think it’s fair to say Carl Nicks will plug right in, even though this is his first year in Tampa. The center, Jeremy Zuttah, is going to become an even better player this year. Last year he only allowed 4 sacks on Josh Freeman. He’s spent 4 seasons with the Bucs, all starting. Now, he is reunited with his old Rutgers coach Greg Schiano. At 6-4, 308 pounds he completes an excellent left side of the offensive line. However, going over the right it is like the Bucs are on a size/talent gradient scale shifting downwards. Ted Larsen steps in as Davin Joseph’s replacement. Having spent two years with the Bucs, he did play in all 16 games last year and started 11 games his first year. It’s better than a kick in the pants, even though hardly anything seems good when you have to replace a player like Joseph. His lighter size may be more suitable for more pulling duties over to the left side of the line as I’m sure the Bucs are going to exponentially play to that strength. Finally, at RT is Jeremy Trueblood. Mixed reviews on this guy, but he has been a Buc for 6 years now and warranted a new contact in the off-season. The coaching staff and GM see something in him they like. He’s been there to block for Cadillac Williams, Mike Alstott, and Warrick Dunn. So, experience can speak volumes. Now, getting on to who these guys are blocking for…
2. Doug Martin
I just have to say I love that the Bucs picked up Doug Martin. I feel so confident that he will have a productive year I picked him up in a couple of fantasy drafts. Starting 12 games at Boise State he rushed for 1,299 yards. Which was also his second year in a row of rushing over 1,000. He made first team all-conference in TWO different conferences. (How many players can say that?) Being an all first team Mountain West Conference player last year and the year before an all first team Western Athletic Conference. He rewrote the record books at Boise State in terms of production in a single season and career. He can do it all; run, pass block, and catch out of the backfield. Some people think that he will get the work on 1st and 2nd down and Blount will be the go to guy on 3rd down and goal line touches. I think Schiano has different plans. Consider this, Martin had 263 carries for Boise State last season. That’s the 3rd most single season carries for a RB ever in the program. What does this mean? He’s durable and doesn’t leave the game on passing downs or short yardage situations. He is going to surprise the NFL. He rushes for over 1,000 yards this year easy and Blount will get playing time only when Martin steps out of the game to do a sideline interview with Suzy Kolber. And unlike Joe Namath, she will kiss Martin if he wants her too. And his season will be all the better if the guy taking the snaps in front of him plays up to his ability.
3. Josh Freeman
Being an alumni of K-State, had to throw a retro photo up. My freshmen year at K-State he led the Wildcats to an upset over #4 Texas and took K-State to the Texas Bowl. He also broke about every record at K-State, largely by throwing to a guy named Jordy Nelson. Anyway, that is then, this is now. Which Freeman are we going to get? 2010 he had 3,451 passing yards, 25 TDs and only 6 picks. Last year, different story. 16 TDs and 22 INTs. But, there is always a positive spin to things and a closer examination paints a slightly better picture. Last year the guy was slinging, he had too. The majority of the time the Bucs were playing from behind… FAR behind. His go to receiver, Mike Williams, disappeared on him and when he would rear his head he would drop balls. It’s like Williams had this Love/Hate relationship with TDs. 2010 he loved them. 2011 he hated them. But, I did say positive spin so let me get back on that. Freeman still tossed for 3,592 yards, still just about in the top 1/3 of the league. Also, every year since the beginning of his tenure his completion % has increased including last year. In my eyes, he’s been a quarterback with nobody to throw at… which brings us to the next important chapter in the 2012 Buccaneer season.
4. Wide Receivers
Can you name this guy up here? I’ll give you a second… well, if you blacked out the creamsickle jerseys from your memory than I will give you a refresher. This is Mike Carrier, one of the best Bucs of all time and one of the only great wide receivers the franchise has ever had. In his time in the NFL he had 8,763 rec yards, 48 TDs, and 569 receptions. What are some other great Bucs receiver? Hmmm, interesting question. The only other two I can think of worth mentioning would be Keyshawn Johnson and Antonio Bryant, even though it’s difficult to associate the word great with them. But, facts are facts. Johnson helped the Bucs win a superbowl and had a good year in 2002 and Bryant is the LAST Buc receiver to catch over 1,000 yards back in 2008. Needless to say, wide receiver pickings have always been slim. With the disappearance of Williams last year in the passing game, it became obvious that the Bucs needed a new threat. A WR that would demand attention from defenses and balls from Freeman. Enter Vincent Jackson. The last 3/4 years Jackson has caught over 1,000 yards and is an All-Pro WR. He gives Freeman a new weapon he hasn’t had the likes of since his K-State days with Jordy Nelson. The presence of Jackson should open up new opportunities for Mike Williams, Arrelious Benn, and Sammie Stroughter. Maybe even Jordan Shipley. I think Freeman will have his best year this year. Not only does the addition of Jackson (and don’t forget Dallas Clark!) aid this offense, it helps that all of the teams in NFC South have pass defenses that rank 20th or below in the NFL (20th Atlanta, 24th Carolina, 30th New Orleans). Freeman will have a great year. He will or the pirate ship just might pass him by. But, there is another side to the ball and it is going to be of vital importance to the Bucs this year.
5. Finally, let’s talk about some defense
At the end of Rocky III, after Apollo Creed helps Rocky Balboa train and conquer Clubber Lang, Rocky has to do Apollo a favor. Get into the ring with him with no cameras or media and have a friendly slobberknocker. Right before they get into it Apollo chuckles to himself and says, “It’s too bad we gotta get old, eh Stallion?” No truer words can be spoken for a Bucs fan. Let me bring this Rocky III reference and picture of two grown men slow-motion water fighting to a point. In the old Buc days the defense was terrifying. Just look at these stats: the Bucs had a top 5 defense through 2001-05, 2007, and boasted a top ten D in 2008. Where have the days of John Lynch, Warren Sapp, and Derrick Brooks gone? Too bad we gotta get old, eh Stallion? The defense has been the definition of tragedy the past few years. A wasted 2nd round pick on Brian Price, 2 consecutive years of serious injury for 1st round pick Gerald McCoy, highly touted DE Da’Quan Bowers not even making the season opener this year due to an Achilles injury, Tanard Jackson not being able to go without smoking weed for 4 months out of the year, and Aquib Talib trying to commit murder. All the while having a bottom 3 defense in the league last year and allowing a franchise record amount of points scored on them… it’s been tough to say the least. However, there is hope. Gerald McCoy is back and he is a beast when he’s on the D-Line, if he can stay healthy the whole year he will have a break out season. He commands a double team every play and charges into the backfield. Also, keep your eyes on this year’s draft picks LB Lavonte David and S Mark Barron, both of whom were first team All-Americans in college. Barron rooted an incredible Alabama defense which won him a national championship. In pre-season action he also picked off Tom Brady and ran it in for a TD. How many rookies can say they have done that? Furthermore, Talib’s charges have been dropped. He will be a great CB and will compliment new off-season acquisition Eric Wright quite well if he can keep his legal troubles behind him. I can see a young and hungry defense that will improve if they all just simply stay healthy and don’t attempt pistol whip any sister’s boyfriends.
In closing, Dallas vs New York tonight. It’s been a long off season and I am ready for some football. Biggest game note, in my eyes, for the Bucs on Sunday: Ronde Barber’s 200th consecutive start. He’s the last player remaining from that glorious 2002 Super Bowl team and this will more than likely be his last year. Whichever bar or living room you find yourself watching the Bucs game on Sunday raise your glass at least once for him. He is a Buccaneer Legend.
About the Author
Written by Daniel Stewart
I have worshiped Buccaneer football since the age I was collecting Pokemon cards.