Season Preview: Tampa Bay

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Season  Preview
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Say what you may, but there is storm brewing in Tampa. It wasn’t during Schiano’s rookie season, and it might not be this year…but there is magic brewing in Tampa. On paper, Tampa seems to be improving in multiple ways without having seven quarterbacks on the roster ( cough John Gruden cough). I’m man enough to admit I thought GM Mark Dominik should’ve been cast will the mass exodus of staff at the end of 2011-12 season. Alas, I may have been proven wrong, as Dominik and Schiano seem to be creating a dynamic duo that could rival Tony Dungy and Rich McKay. Let’s take a more in-depth look at how the Bucs are on the right track for this season.Offense:
The offense is a few tweaks away from making this one of the most explosive offenses in the league. Yeah, I said it. This offense is going to rely on three things this season:
1.    Josh Freeman
2.    A (potential) juggernaut offensive line
3.    Offensive scheme

Big Year coming up here
Big Year coming up here

Number 5:  
If you have never watched a Tampa game, or have never even seen Josh Freeman play, then you are obligated to believe the hype. Now hear this; this kid can play. It’s his consistency that is the Achilles heel. His size, strength, and ability to create “something from nothing” like Big Ben Roethlisberger is a HUGE reasowhy I remain hopeful for Freeman for a few more years. Notice, I did not mention the words “franchise” and “quarterback” in the same sentence. The phrase meaning can be interpreted in manyways, but that is for another day. Josh is a legitimate quarterback that, if his consistency and mechanics (although it’s a little late to be improving them) are polished, could be a solid starter in the NFL. That last tidbit is also something to be said of a collegequarterback, which doesn’t put a lot of stock into the future for Freeman and the Bucs. Josh has a lot of work to do, no doubt there. But this season will prove if Josh is worth the wait or not. Carl Nicks

The Hogmollies:

The offensive line is that of an All-Pro caliber (when healthy). I would rank Donald Penn (when healthy) with Joe Thomas and Ryan Clady as one of the best in the league. The same can be said for Carl Nicks and Davin Joseph in their respective catagories. Jeremy Zuttah isn’t a Pro-bowl caliber yet, but could change that. Add newcomer Gabe Carimi, Jamon Meridith (who could rebound from last years production), and the development of Demar Dotson and you have a top five offensive line. The hard part is keeping all these guys off the cart and on the field. It’s really that simple.

Sullivan’s Travels:

The third puzzle piece was the role of the offensive scheme. The offensive coordinator position was something well debated when Schiano took over in 2012. There were many high profile names that could’ve been associated with Tampa. So when Tampa hired the no-name man behind the success of “The Other Manning”, Mike Sullivan (just like the shock of hiring of Schiano, himself)…all fell quiet. Nothing is proven yet, but going from ranking 32nd in yards per game and total offense to 9th in the same categories in one season is phenomenal. Was it a fluke? Only time will tell. But opinions aside, the right tools dictate this is could be a recipe for success. With a rising receiving core and an outstanding offensive line, the right scheme is what Tampa needs to solidify this offense on a contender level. Tampa runs a very pro-style, very straight line, pound it out type of offense. If Peyton Hillis is healthy, Tampa is REALLY going to get a reminiscent replica of the Dunn/Alstott days. I like this because it’s not anything splashy. Just like Schiano and the Bucs organization, they are all old school. No flash, just results. Sullivan’s hiring is a means of letting the fans know that Tampa isn’t conforming to the league trends anytime soon. Tampa is an under the radar, 16 weeks of hard nosed football type of team. With this in mind, it seems Tampa is getting back to the old days of smash mouth football with Doug Martin (Warrick Dunn) and Peyton Hillis (Mike Alstott) leading the charge. The only thing different is this team has a legitimate quarterback who has the potential to lead his team back into the post-season. The only question? How much longer are Bucs willing to wish and wait and hope and maybe?

The rest of the offense:

When I talk about receiving cores these days, I am reminded of the 2012 Superbowl/ 2008 Superbowl rematch. The Giants and Patriots seemed to be evenly matched EXCEPT for one thing: the New England secondary versus the New York receiving core. This has to be one of the greatest mismatches in Superbowl history. And to show how even these teams really were, the Giants barely won with a strong and deep receiving bench. Lately the trend among teams seems to be stockpiling receivers. You used to have one star receiver and two slot receivers, with a tight end for the short game. Things have changed a bit. The trend seems to be all about stockpiling receivers to “plug” receivers into each play like this is tetris. Last year, you had the two best receiving units on both sides of the ball in the Superbowl. And both teams were about three to four receivers deep.  What this all means? This is league standard when it comes to receivers nowadays. It’s not about playing the entire game with three receivers and a tight end. It’s about having a full team of receivers and exploiting a defenses weakness by playing to a certain receiver’s strength on EACH play. Tampa Bay, right now, could match up with a lot of the contender teams of the league. But for the future’s sake, this teams receiving core (Mike Williams, Vincent Jackson, Kevin Ogletree, Tiquan Underwood etc) might just rise up to be one of the next 49er, Giant, or Raven receiving cores, on top of an excellent running attack. In terms of depth and potential, this Tampa squad has what it takes to someday win it all. Will they continue to progress and make good on it?

Something to think about:
To let your mind wander about how this world runs in cycles, try deciphering the difference between Josh Freeman’s situation and Trent Dilfer’s situation when he was drafted by Tampa. Both were highly touted coming out of their respective universities, coming into less than desirable situations full of transition and constant moving pieces. Also, both wanted to be the “savior” of the franchise so badly that it almost seemed like there was more pressure being put on themselves…then from the fans or club.

The defense is the most attractive thing about this squad. The defense is loaded with young, heavy hitting defensive moguls. Guys like Da’Quan Bowers, William Gholston, Adrian Clayborn, Mason Foster, and Dashon Goldson make me believe this group has got something special going on. There are three guys, though, who are set to lead this team into unbelievable heights. Lavonte David, Darrelle Revis, and Mark Barron, These four guys are the keys to an unbelievable defense.Darrelle Revis

Darrelle Revis:

I must admit, I would be the first one to cast the hater stone Darrelle Revis’ way. And had Tampa NOT offered the deal they had (which may be the reason Darrelle came to Tampa with such a good attitude), I would still be chucking stones. Plain and simple, they don’t call it “Revis Island” because it’s tropical in the winter. And although it is yet to be made clear if his good intentions will last, I am thinking this is the best move the Bucs made all off-season. With the right attitude, Revis could become of the best corners to ever play the game. Period. And now it’s time for speculation to end and the lights to come up.

Mark Barron:

Before I get into Mark, I would just like to examine how Ronde Barber is a team player to Tampa. After 15 years as a corner back, Ronde is approached to switch to free safety to help with the team and conforming to a crowded secondary. He could’ve said no, but didn’t. Live and die as a Buccaneer as they say, and that’s what he did. So after 16 years in the sun, I think I speak for ALL Tampa fans when I say…thanks for all you did for Tampa. Now, if you’re Mark Barron…you have has got some HUGE shoes to fill if he wants to become one of the next defensive gods in Tampa Bay. Barron was a solid contributor last season in the worst secondary in football. With that said, his age showed. His consistency was spotty, and he seemed to be overpowered a little too easily at times for his size. That will (hopefully) come with time. I don’t think last year was necessarily a badyear, but more or a learning curve for Barron. Welcome to the NFL, Mark. Now it’s time to get with it. This year should be much different for him.

Lavonte David
Lavonte didn’t surprise me with his awesome contributions when he made the step up last season. Mostly because Lavonte has been wowing spectators since his time as a peco-back at Nebraska. Stepping up and bringing the same energy and focus to the Bucs squad was nothing short of standard play for David. He was neither inconsistent, incompetent, or underwhelming. David was a solid rookie contributor on an otherwise weak Tampa defense. After watching Lavonte continuously rise to the occasion for four years in Lincoln, and then a solid rookie campaign in Tampa, he should only grow with time as a linebacker and team mate. He should be fun to watch over his career.

Mason Foster is going to have to do this more often
Mason Foster is going to have to do this more often

The rest of the defense:
The rest of the defense’s success is going to be hinge on the fore mentioned players. The main problem last year (other than the lack of secondary emphasis) was the way the defense carried themselves. In fact, past about week 10, Tampa just seemed to…give up. The loss of Michael Bennett hurt. But I could see rookie William Gholston might be more to prove than what Tampa bargained for in replacing Bennett. With Da’Quan Bowers and Adrian Clayborn on the ends, It might also make sense to try Gholston out at tackle, should the other inside guys bust/Gerald McCoy gets hurt for the fourth straight season (and it will happen). Getting deeper into the defense, Mason Foster needs to step up after replacing previous middles/defensive generals Derrick Brooks and Barrett Ruud, ironically both of which “departed” Tampa against their will. Raheem better hope Washington doesn’t play Tampa anytime soon. It’s going to take a few years before the fans let those moves ALONE go. Tampa fans had to shake their head at even drafting Foster in the first place. Regardless, this needs to be a make or break year for him. The middle linebacker position brings a lot of reward, but also a lot of responsibility. He needs to be the leader of this team, period. Moving on, the addition of Dashon Goldson in the secondary should prove a genius move to an already stacked secondary. All in all, it’s one thing to have potential and star players on the team, but it all boils down to how they play…as a TEAM. Indeed, this defense will rise (or fall) together.

The rest of the story:
As crazy as you might think it is, Tampa seems to be on the verge of building another championship caliber defense. This time with a STRONG offense. For fans, it’s all about being patient and trusting the organization. Tampa fans finally have some stability in their franchise. Give them three to five years, and this team could be poised to make deep runs into the playoffs, year after year. This is what Tampa is all about and why Tampa flew under the radar for so long. Tampa has never been the flashy, high profile team of the league. They’re about keeping an “out of sight, out of mind” mentality. Unless you were a Tampa fan, or are just an avid fan of football in general, you have probably heard of Monte Kiffin or the “Tampa 2” as much as you’ve heard about Tex Winter and the triangle offense, pardon the switching of sports. Tampa isn’t going to be anything special this year. They MIGHT make the divisionals. They definitely have a long road ahead of them. BUT…if Tampa can get to the playoffs this year, and even win a game in the post-season…this should prove a brighter future for Tampa Bay. In the end, this is what the season should be about. Rising (or falling) together.

Crystal Ball: 8-8, second in NFC Southno playoffs (missed it by thaaaat much!)
Added predictions:
-After a wish-washy season, Josh Freeman will be a free-agent in 2014, as Tampa will search for a new quarterback.
-Mike Glennon will compete for the starting job in 2014.
-Doug Martin will have a sophomore slump. After showing off his lightning speed and combination toughness last year, defenses will be prepared this season. Look for time to be equally split between Martin and Hillis.
– Defense: between tenth and fifteenth overall in total defense, second in run defense, and third or fourth best in pass defense.

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  1. Tampa’s defense will be legit this season. Adding Revis only makes them that much better.

    I agree that Tampa could finish 2nd in the South, only because I’m not sure about the Saints, but in order for that to happen Josh Freeman has to step up.

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