TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
The Buccaneers, led by young GM Mark Dominik and younger head coach Raheem Morris, continue their full-scale youth movement heading into the 2010 season. After bidding adieu to the likes of Derrick Brooks, Jeff Garcia and Warrick Dunn prior to the 2009 campaign, not to mention longtime GM Bruce Allen and head coach Jon Gruden, the team has continued the same pattern, albeit on a less dramatic scale, this year. This past offseason has seen the Bucs let WR Antonio Bryant depart via free agency and the release of former starters such as DT Chris Hovan, FB B.J. Askew and G Aaron Sears. The Bucs have been pretty quiet on the free agency and trade front, as their only major move in the offseason was adding wideout Reggie Brown in a deal with the Eagles.
However, this doesnʼt mean the team has had a quiet offseason overall. The Bucs were able to stockpile picks for the deep 2010 draft, which allowed them to come away with some potential big-time talent to help them improve on their 3-13 record. Headlining the teamʼs draft crop are DT Gerald McCoy, the third overall pick in the draft, second-round picks DT Brian Price and WR Arrelious Benn, third-round CB Myron Lewis and WR Mike Williams, a potential fourth-round steal.
The Bucs organization and players are no doubt looking forward to a more stable entry into the 2010 campaign. Not too many teams fire their offensive coordinator just before the season and fire their defensive coordinator during the season without some upheaval and uneven play, as was the case in 2009. In addition, everyone knows that Josh Freeman is the man at QB from the get-go. Moreover, the team has decided to recommit to the Tampa 2 defense for good, which should play to the strengths of the players held over from 2009, as well as new players coming in.
The 2010 edition of the Buccaneers will be a squad that will try to rely fairly heavily on its running game to control the clock and therefore make life easier for the defense and the developing Freeman. However, they will probably let Freeman loose from time to time if he shows he can handle it consistently, given his big arm and mobility.
Because the Bucs are such a young team, theyʼll probably have their share of struggles again in 2010, but Tampa Bay could realistically get another three or four wins this year, given that Freeman will have a better overall receiving corps to throw to, the defense will play to its personnelʼs strengths, plus the team has a relatively easy schedule.
Round, Overall, Player
1. (3) Gerald McCoy, DT, Oklahoma
Big things are expected from this disruptive and quick defensive lineman.
2. (35) Brian Price, DT, UCLA
Another disruptive and quick defensive lineman to man the interior.
2. (39) Arrelious Benn, WR, Illinois
Up and down in college, but should blossom in the NFL.
4. (101) Mike Williams, WR, Syracuse
Character issues caused drop to fourth round, but he could start right away.
6. (172) Brent Bowdon, P, Virginia Tech
Should be the new punter.
7. (210) Cody Grimm, S, Virginia Tech
High-motor guy who could stick as a special-teamer.
7. (217) Dekoda Watson, LB, Florida St.
Adds depth at linebacker.
7. (233) Erik Lorig, DE, Stanford
More help for the defensive front line.
Reggie Brown, WR (Eagles)
Looks to revive career with Tampa Bay but needs to beat out draftees.
Sean Jones, S (Eagles)
Should compete with Sabby Piscitelli for the starting strong safety job.
Antonio Bryant, WR (Bengals)
Departure opens the door for youngsters at wideout.
Byron Leftwich, QB (Steelers)
Veteran backup shouldn’t be missed much.
WHO WILL CATCH THE BALL IN 2010?
Outside of expecting another solid year from slot receiver Sammie Stroughter, things are uncertain for the Bucsʼ pass-catchers entering 2010. Yes, tight end Kellen Winslow will catch a ton of balls and will most likely be the teamʼs leading pass receiver again in 2010. Cadillac Williams and Derrick Ward will get some catches as well, of course. But the key issue facing the team this offseason is whether or not rookies Arrelious Benn and Mike Williams can step up into starting roles. If they can, the Bucs should easily absorb the loss of Antonio Bryant. If they canʼt, then things could be ugly at wide receiver, given that the alternatives include the likes of Reggie Brown, Maurice Stovall, Michael Clayton and Mark Bradley ‒ not the most inspiring bunch.
IS FREEMAN READY FOR PRIME TIME?
The development of strong-armed second-year QB Josh Freeman will go a long way towards how well the Buccaneers fare in 2010. Once Freeman became the Buccaneers starter in 2009, he showed some flashes of brilliance and the team definitely responded to his insertion into the lineup, going 3-6 down the stretch, after starting the season 0-7. On the negative side, he only completed 54.6 percent of his passes and threw 18 interceptions vs. 10 TDs. Freeman should be better overall in 2010 as heʼll be a year older and wiser, has been working hard in the offseason, and could have superior talent to throw to.
Cadillac Williams had an amazing comeback season in 2009, as he rushed 210 times for 821 yards and four touchdowns and caught 29 passes for 219 yards and three touchdowns. Though Williams played well enough, part of the reason he re-emerged as the teamʼs No. 1 back was the relatively ineffective play of free agent signee Derrick Ward (409 yards, 3.6 yards per carry, one rushing TD) and Earnest Grahamʼs move to fullback for most of 2009. If Ward can bounce back to his pre-2009 form, he might get a close to equal split of carries with the fragile Williams. Also,Graham could be moved back to running back in 2010, which could further complicate matters.
WILL NEW/OLD DEFENSE BE GOOD ENOUGH?
Defense is a question mark entering 2010 for the Bucs, although it should turn out better than 2009. After scrapping the staple Tampa 2 scheme for most of the season with poor results, head coach Raheem Morris took over defensive coordinator duties and reinstalled the defense the franchise made famous, with better luck down the stretch. The team will now be back to the Tampa 2 full-time in 2010 and rookies Gerald McCoy and Brian Price should help the defensive line (and consequently the rest of the defense) be more productive and dynamic. In addition, rookie cornerback Myron Lewis should help beef up the secondary.
RISING: Josh Freeman, who has a very strong arm and good mobility, certainly had his share of rookie struggles in 2009, but he also showed some flashes of his big-time potential.
DECLINING: Michael Clayton was a very unproductive disappointment as the team’s No. 2 wideout in 2009. He’s a candidate to be traded or cut.
SLEEPER: Arrelious Benn could have a solid rookie fantasy season if he claims the top wideout gig, as many expect.
SUPERSLEEPER: Mike Williams is the early favorite to start opposite Benn, and he has playmaking upside.
BARRETT RUUD, LB
A supreme tackling machine in the last year of his contract.
GENO HAYES, LB
Had a career-high 98 tackles in 2009 in his first full season as a starter.
TANARD JACKSON, S
Hard-hitting playmaker had two interception returns for touchdowns in 2009.
RotoWire Rank: 22