TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
By Brian Fraze
RotoWire Staff Writer
STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
The Buccaneers are all about change heading into 2009. After losing their last four games in 2008 to fall out of the playoff picture, the Bucs somewhat shockingly fired both GM Bruce Allen and head coach Jon Gruden after a second successive 9-7 campaign. Allen has been replaced by former director of pro personnel, Mark Dominik, while Gruden has been replaced by former defensive assistant Raheem Morris. Ronde Barber is still around, but future Hall of Famer Derrick Brooks is gone, as are Jeff Garcia and Warrick Dunn, to name a few. Headliners coming in include Kellen Winslow (via trade) and free agent acquisitions Derrick Ward, Angelo Crowell and Byron Leftwich.
So what exactly is going on here? Tampa Bay had managed for the most part to be a competitive team during the Allen/Gruden years, winning one Super Bowl and making the playoffs several times.Yes, the Bucs started the 2008 campaign 9-3, but if you peel back the layers a bit, you can see why they dropped four straight down the stretch. In short, they had too many aging players on both sides of the ball. With Allen and Gruden being the types who constantly favored veterans over youth, the team was stuck in a pattern of being good but not great. The Bucs owners decided enough is enough and that it's time to go young in 2009.
Because both Dominik and Morris were with the team in 2008, the Bucs will retain their defensive slant. But look for a vastly different defense in 2009, not just because of some personnel turnover, but also because of the scrapping of the scheme synonymous with the team during its rise to glory in the late 1990s/early 2000s; the Tampa Two. Jim Bates is the new Bucs defensive coordinator and he will bring a more aggressive man-to-man defense to the table. On the other side of the ball, the West Coast offense is now scrapped in favor of a run-heavy, zone-blocking, play-action pass scheme under the leadership of new offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski.
The 2009 outlook for the Bucs is that they will be a team that should rely heavily on the running game to control the clock, therefore making life easier for the defense and whoever plays QB, especially in the beginning of the year. Because there are so many changes heading into the campaign, it is unclear what the team's ceiling is. Tampa Bay could realistically finish anywhere from 4-12 to 10-6 in 2009 depending on several key factors: The team's ability to stay healthy at key positions, if anyone else besides Antonio Bryant and Michael Clayton can emerge at WR, how effective whomever plays QB is and the performance of the revamped defense.
Round, Overall, Player
1. (17) Josh Freeman, QB, Kansas State
As talented as any quarterback in the 2009 draft, but needs time to develop and is one of the most high-risk picks in this year's draft.
3. (81) Roy Miller, DT, Texas
Team needed to add girth to the interior defensive line, and Miller is a nice fit, as he plays with good technique, power and a nonstop motor.
4. (117) Kyle Moore, DE, USC
A strong-base defensive end who plays the run well and has the suddenness to get the occasional pressure against the pass.
5. (155) Xavier Fulton, OT, Illinois
Adds depth on the offensive line.
7. (217) E.J. Biggers, CB, Western Michigan
Ran a 4.35 40 in his workout, so he has intriguing speed if nothing else.
7. (223) Sammie Stroughter, WR, Oregon
Productive in college. Can play the slot and also return kicks.
Kellen Winslow, TE (Browns)
Impact Pro Bowl caliber offensive player at TE if healthy.
Byron Leftwich, QB (Steelers)
Brought in to compete at QB while Freeman develops.
Warrick Dunn, RB (FA)
Leading rusher and second-leading receiver from 2008 will be replaced by Ward and a healthy Graham.
Jeff Garcia, QB (Raiders)
Played well when healthy, but victim of youth movement.
Derrick Brooks, LB (FA)
Started declining the last couple of seasons, but leadership and toughness are hard to replace.
MCCOWN VS. LEFTWICH VS. ?: THE JOB BATTLE AT QUARTERBACK
One would think that with Gruden and Allen out of the picture the Bucs would have a clearer QB picture this offseason. Think again. Like 2008, the Bucs are entering 2009 with a flood of QBs. The new Tampa Bay regime has claimed that it's an open competition at QB and there are no less than five candidates for the starting job: Luke McCown, Byron Leftwich, Josh Freeman, Josh Johnson, and Brian Griese. It's very possible that QB could be an ugly mess from a fantasy (and performance) perspective in 2009 and that once again even carrying four QBs isn't out of the question. What is most realistic is that McCown and Leftwich battle it out for the starting position, with Freeman as the third-string clipboard holder. Freeman is projected as the team's franchise QB of the future but is considered raw, so don't expect much…yet.
WHO DO THE QBs THROW TO? Antonio Bryant (coming off a career year), Kellen Winslow, Michael Clayton in that order most likely will get the looks from the Bucs QBs. The Bucs are thin at WR at this point, so expect some two-tight end sets featuring last year's first-stringer Jerramy Stevens along with Winslow. The Bucs have a lot of mediocre/unproven receivers to sort through in training camp, so there are no clear-cut No. 3 or No. 4 WR's at this time.
WHAT'S GOING TO HAPPEN AT RUNNING BACK? Earnest Graham, technically the incumbent starter, was shut down on IR after 10 games in 2008. The free agent acquisition of 1,000-yard rusher Derrick Ward from the Giants means that Graham and Ward will most likely split carries in 2009, which is not necessarily a bad thing from a fantasy perspective, as the Bucs are expected to employ a more run-heavy attack in 2009. Both backs could approach or pass 1,000 yards, with Graham most likely getting the goal-line carries. Things could get even more interesting if the oft-injured Cadillac Williams is able to come back strong.
WILL THE NEW DEFENSE BE ANY GOOD?
Defense is a big question mark entering 2009 for the team. Besides scrapping the staple Tampa Two scheme, the Bucs let go two-thirds of the starting linebacker unit from 2008, a starting corner, and lost some depth on the defensive line in free agency. Holdovers such as Barrett Ruud, Ronde Barber, Jermaine Phillips, and Aqib Talib will need to pick up Jim Bates' new defense quickly. The biggest key to the Bucs defense in 2009 though will be the play of Angelo Crowell. If he can display his pre-2008 form again the defense could be a strength - if not, look out.
Rising: Michael Clayton has been a monumental disappointment since his huge rookie year in 2004 but showed the Bucs enough in 2008 to get a new contract this offseason, and is the clear No. 2 wideout, with Ike Hilliard gone.
Declining: Jerramy Stevens will not start at TE with the high profile acquisition of Kellen Winslow, but is worth keeping an eye on given Winslow's injury history.
Sleeper: Luke McCown could have a decent fantasy season if he nails down the starting QB job, as he has a good arm and scrambling ability. Byron Leftwich could also have a decent fantasy season if he were to win the job, as the team has some nice targets in Bryant, Winslow, and Clayton.
Supersleeper: Sammie Stroughter is at this point not even guaranteed to make the team but the seventh rounder is an ideal candidate to play the slot.
Barrett Ruud LB
A tackling machine, with 137 tackles last season, along with three sacks and two interceptions.
Angelo Crowell, LB
Had career-high 126 tackles in 2007 with the Bills before missing all of 2008.