STATE OF THE TEAM
After a promising 10-6 campaign in 2010 that saw the team barely miss the playoffs, the Buccaneers crashed down to a disappointing 4-12 mark in 2011, a descent that featured a season-ending 10-game losing streak. When things like that happen, more often than not heads will roll. Not surprisingly, head coach Raheem Morris and his entire staff were fired after the 2011 season ended. The Buccaneers then decided to massively shift gears and tap Greg Schiano out of the college ranks (via Rutgers) to be their new head man. It will be interesting to see how things transition under Schiano, who does have NFL-coaching experience as an assistant with the Bears in the late 1990's. As one might expect, nearly every key player, especially on offense, regressed statistically from 2010 to 2011, including QB Josh Freeman, WR Mike Williams and RB LeGarrette Blount. In an effort to boost the team's sagging attack, the team signed prize free-agent wideout Vincent Jackson with the idea of giving Freeman a big-time receiving target and drafted running back Doug Martin to bolster its backfield.
The Bucs didn't just have problems on offense last year, as their defense was highly disappointing as well. The secondary and linebacking units were especially problematic, although the defensive line also had its share of issues. Part of the secondary and defensive line's deficiencies can be attributed to injuries to starters, but the secondary - especially at safety - was not exactly top-notch to begin with. To that end, highly-touted Mark Barron was drafted by Tampa Bay, seventh overall, this past April. Meanwhile, all of the team's starting linebackers: Quincy Black, Geno Hayes (who is now gone), and Mason Foster had disappointing seasons in 2011 and draftees have been brought in to compete with the holdovers.
Outside of Ronde Barber, Earnest Graham, and Josh Freeman, who is still very young, the Bucs appeared to suffer from a lack of leadership and veteran savvy in 2011. Former LB Barrett Ruud and RB Cadillac Williams moved on after 2010 and the team clearly missed their presence as leaders. It is essential that others, besides Barber and Freeman, step up in that regard in 2012.
The 2012 Bucs will be a team that should rely fairly heavily on their running game to control the clock and keep their defense fresh, not to mention keep Freeman upright. On the plus side, Freeman will have some more weapons at his disposal in 2012, most notably Jackson, so as long as he can keep the interceptions down, he should have some nice passing games this season. The Bucs do have some young talent, but the big question is whether or not Schiano can mold them back into a winner in 2012 in an expedited fashion.
Vincent Jackson, WR (Chargers)
Brought in on a big contract to be the stud No.1 wideout the team sorely lacked last year. His numbers may take a slight hit, but at worst he should open up the field for others.
Eric Wright, CB (Lions)
The Bucs may be looking to move on from Aqib Talib and his off-the field issues, as well as prepare for Ronde Barber's eventual retirement.
Dallas Clark, TE (Colts)
Clark has a chance to carve out some fantasy value with the Bucs, though it's unrealistic to expect the sort of elite production that he enjoyed while teamed up with QB Peyton Manning in Indianapolis.
Mark Barron, S, Alabama (Round 1, 7th overall)
It would be a shock if he isn't starting at strong safety out of
Doug Martin, RB, Boise State (Round 1, 31st overall)
A complete back, Martin was drafted to hopefully supplant LeGarrette Blount as the team's lead back.
Lavonte David, LB, Nebraska (Round 2, 58th overall)
Penciled in to start at weakside linebacker for the Bucs, replacing Geno Hayes, who had taken over for franchise cornerstone Derrick Brooks.
Sean Jones, S (FA)
Was the team's leading tackler in 2011, but that didn't say much, as the team drafted Mark Barron to take over his old job.
Kellen Winslow, TE (Seahawks)
Cycled out of Tampa Bay and replaced by longtime Colt,
WHICH Josh Freeman WILL SHOW UP IN 2012?
Josh Freeman had an amazing second season in 2010, as he threw for 3,451 yards, 25 touchdowns and only six interceptions, while completing 61.4 percent of his passes en route to recording a 7.3 yards per attempt rate. But 2011 saw Freeman take a step back, as he threw for only 16 touchdowns vs. a whopping 22 interceptions (second-most in the league). On the positive side, he did throw for a career-high 3,592 yards and completed a career-best 62.8 percent of his passes, but the drop in TD passes and the alarming rise in interceptions harkened back to his turnover-prone rookie season in 2009. It should be noted that the Bucs were behind in a lot of games in 2011, due in large part to their porous defense, so if the defense can improve and Freeman can take better care of the ball, then a return to 2010 form is not out of the question.
WHAT WILL Vincent Jackson'S IMPACT BE?
It's been a while since the Bucs have had a playmaker with the pedigree of Vincent Jackson. No one on the team even approached the 18.4 yards per catch, 1,106 yards receiving, and nine touchdowns that he amassed in 2011. Jackson is a big and physical receiver, who can outleap and outmuscle defenders both down the field and in the red zone. Though Jackson may not match his San Diego production levels with the Bucs, his presence alone should free things up for the likes of TE Dallas Clark and fellow wideouts Mike Williams, who is probably better suited to be a No. 2 option at this point, and Arrelious Benn, who is further removed from a serious knee injury. The obvious hope is that he'll find good chemistry with QB Josh Freeman, who took a step in reverse last year, but has the talent to flourish with a formidable target like Jackson at his disposal.
WHO WILL RUN THE BALL AND HOW MUCH?
The Bucs traded up to draft Doug Martin (who some see as a potential Ray Rice clone) late in the first-round of the 2012 draft, with the idea of having him take over as the team's starter. That said, the bruising LeGarrette Blount, the incumbent starter at RB, will most certainly give Martin a run for his money for the top job - especially if he can cut down on his fumbles - and should still see a fair amount of carries in 2012, even if he in fact becomes the team's No. 2 backfield option. The addition of Martin represents a clear upgrade to the Bucs' ground attack, but it remains to be seen if he and Blount will combine to form a dynamic one-two punch, or if the situation winds up as a back and forth mess.
RISING: Josh Freeman regressed in 2011, but he has improved weapons around now, which should help him right the ship with regards to his turnover ratio.
DECLINING: The rugged LeGarrette Blount will probably lose his starting job to Doug Martin, a more complete back who the Bucs aggressively targeted in the draft.
SLEEPER: Doug Martin, a well-rounded back, figures to make a major impact in as a rookie if he wins the starting RB job over Blount, as most expect.
SUPERSLEEPER: Preston Parker could have a tough time duplicating his 2011 production now that Vincent Jackson is in the fold, but he has the potential to reach even greater heights, given his ability as a return man and ability to effectively play slot or outside receiver.
Mark Barron, S
Will take over at strong safety for Sean Jones and could approach 90+ tackles along with multiple picks, forced fumbles, and sacks.
Lavonte David, LB
Playmaking LB should take over at OLB for the departed Geno Hayes and could also see time as the ILB in nickel packages.
Mason Foster, LB
Though he was a bit of a disappointment his rookie season, Foster should still start at MLB and has 100+ tackle potential.
RotoWire Rank: 31