One year ago, a young Buccaneers team, led by a young Head Coach was coming off a promising 10-6 season with a ton of optimism going into 2011. One year later, another young team will take the field in Tampa, but in a much different scenario. After a 4-12 season, Morris lost his job and was replaced by Greg Schiano. Schiano was sort of a puzzling choice considering his lack of NFL experience and the fact that he compiled just a 68-67 record for Rutgers in his previous gig. It is a quite a jump to go from the Big East to the NFL, but the Bucs brass saw something in him to lead this young squad. Schiano does have some NFL experience, last coaching the Bears DB’s back in 2000.
Tampa Bay did make a splash this offseason. The biggest came in the signing of Vincent Jackson. After a great rookie campaign from Mike Williams in 2010, he struggled mightily last year, both with injuries and productivity. Adding Jackson will give Freeman a serious number one target that will push Williams to a second option which will hopefully force him to improve the quirks in his game. Blount also struggled last year after a strong rookie year. Doug Martin was brought in the draft and after a strong camp, looks to be the favorite to lead the team in carries this year. Either way, the Bucs looks to have a serious two headed monster at the running back position. Blount may be weeded out eventually, but I for one am not ready to give up so early on the guy who rushed for 1000 yards his rookie season.
Continuing their splash in the free agent market, Tampa made Carl Nicks the highest paid guard in the NFL. Two time pro bowler Davin Joseph was originally slotted at the opposite guard position but was recently announced out for the season from a serious knee injury. The two would have anchored one of the most impressive interiors lines in the league so this is a major blow to the Buc’s offense. The defense improved as well, as the sixth overall pick was used to take Alabama safety Mark Barron. Barron has superior playmaking ability and was one of the leaders of the top collegiate defense. Barron will play next to the ageless Ronde Barber who is finally making the move to free safety this year. Troubled cornerback is penciled in as the starting corner, but the talented player cannot be trusted to stay out of trouble. If he can keep out of the back seat of a cop car, the Buc’s secondary could be strong point this season.
While still a young team, most of the pieces of the 2010 team that won 10 games are still in place. Freeman regressed significantly last year, and will be looked for to make major strides going into this season. Entering his fourth year as a starter, he is still young, but will have a much shorter leash this year. If he can’t pull it together, Tampa Bay could be looking for a new signal caller next season. With a new set of weapons thought, Freeman should be looking to have his best season yet. This likely won’t be a playoff team in Tampa, but little saw them winning as many games as they did two years ago. New Orleans and Atlanta are the top dogs in the NFC South, but there is a lot of young talent on this team that can break out as soon as this season. Greg Schiano has a challenge ahead of him, but not a completely unfavorable situation for a first year coach. I see the Buccaneers finishing right around the .500 mark which would be a major improvement from last year.