In 2009, the Buccaneers posted a miserable 3-13 mark, but the following season, they returned boasting an unprecedented level of improvement in seemingly every area of the game and a new “never-say-die” attitude, earning every bit of their 10-6 record.
Young, hungry and dangerous, Tampa Bay was poised to challenge for the NFC South crown in the face of contention from NFC favorites Atlanta and New Orleans in 2011.
These expectations had appeared to manifest themselves following impressive victories over both said teams at Raymond James.
The ensuing streak of 10 straight losses was marred by noticeable indiscipline on the field and an incredible drop-off from the previous season, which ultimately cost head coach Raheem Morris his job.
Enter former Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano, who now stands before a momentous task with monumental expectations.
This prediction can rightly be called "subjectively bold," as many (including myself) consider the Jim Thorpe Award winner's selection to be the downright obvious choice, but to those who remain, an utterly ridiculous selection in the face of other options.
There really is no way to tell for certain what direction any team will go, as an inconceiveable number of factors could land any particular player in a team's sights come their turn.
Popular theory, alluding to the millions of mock drafts out there, has the Buccaneers selecting any one of Matt Kalil (OT, USC), Justin Blackmon (WR, OK State), Morris Claiborne (CB, LSU), Riley Reiff (OT, Iowa) and Jonathan Martin (OT, Stanford).
But ultimately, Claiborne will be selected for a variety of reasons, beginning with the fact that Tampa surrendered 395 yards through the air on a weekly basis and ending with the continuous questions surrounding the reliability of Aqib Talib due to his choices outside of football.
In the words of redneck fairy-tale legend Ricky Bobby, “If you’re not first, you’re last.”
I despise just about anything related to NASCAR (including the hype machine that is Danica Patrick), but that Will Ferrell-faced fictional moron with a need for speed did say at least two things I agree with: his original mantra being one and the badassness of the nickname “El Diablo” (which apparently means fighting chicken) being the other.
But the regular season is not a race—seeded first or sixth, the playoffs are the playoffs. The NFL can be likened to throwing groups of four to fend for their lives against rabid man-eating lions. If you’re not first, you sure as hell don’t want to be last and, even more than that, you want to be as far away as possible from the guy behind you.
Indicative of one’s record or not, the talent level in the NFL is surprisingly close. The line is so fine that one or two quality players and a bit of luck can land you at the top of the division, maybe even the conference championship.
Tampa Bay went from 3-13 to 10-6 to 4-12 in just the last three seasons, so there is absolutely no reason they cannot rebound hard under new leadership a la John Harbaugh's 49ers.
Look for Schiano’s men to leapfrog to a second-place finish in one of the more competitive divisions in football.
We miss you...
After a nearly two-decade long love affair that reaped a Super Bowl victory, numerous winning seasons and countless Pro Bowl berths, it is finally time to say good-bye.
Spread offenses, quick routes and new rules have changed the passing game in the NFL to the dismay of defenses everywhere. The Bucs once excelled at bump coverage, but the recent changes to the game have led to penalties in situations that once may have been ruled “incidental.”
That and the increasing popularity of freakishly-athletic zone busting tight ends have made the “bend-but-don’t-break” system all too breakable these days.
Greg Schiano brings with him a system of complex and varied blitz schemes. No longer will the front four be relied on to bring all the pressure and the secondary be asked to suffacate the opposition into mistakes. Sure, we may see the Cover-2 from time to time, but there is going to be a notieable difference going forward.
Expect to see man-to-man about as often as zone and an aggresive attacking style of play going from here on out.
The quintessential reason why the Buccaneers will no longer extensively employ the once daunted “Cover-2 Buc” defense is because we can no longer get to the quarterback. The Bucs were at the absolute bottom of the league in sacks this past season (23) and five behind the next team.
As explained in the previous slide, there are multiple reasons for the lack of pressure, but the root of the problem may lay with defensive line. In the past, Tampa Bay often relied on an incredibly talented group to apply pressure themselves, and that they did. The unit has much promise and obvious talent already, but none can compare to the likes of Simeon Rice or Warren Sapp just yet (possibly never).
Gone are the days that Anthony “Booger” McFarland was arguably the worst guy on the line.
However, the changes that will be employed under head coach Schiano will take the pressure off an extremely young front. By adding a variety of blitzes with no predictable pattern of pressure, the defensive line will often face less opposition in getting to the quarterback.
Add a linebacker or two to the party, and loose speed-rushing defensive ends no longer have to contend with backs diving at their knees.
Look for the Buccanneers to notch a collective sack total upwards of 35 next season.
Expect Josh Freeman to rebound from a disappointing 2011 to have a Pro Bowl-caliber year.
In the midst of a predominently disappointing season, Freeman still managed to improved his completion percentage from 61.4 to 62.8, which does not sound all too impressive until you factor in that he threw 77 more passes than the year before.
Last season, the lockout did no favors for Freeman, who was coming off one of the better statistical seasons by a quarterback in Buccaneer history, but a full and lengthy offseason will put the budding star back on track.
Unlike the years before, there will be an array of additions on both sides of the ball. Freeman will likely receive direct assistance in the form of a couple offensive line upgrades and a speedy threat either out of the backfield or out wide.
But Freeman's success will largely depend on the performance of the defense. Assuming that the unit performs to the level I expect (top 13), Schiano's tendency to pound the rock hard and often will cut down on the number of times Freeman is asked to throw the ball—something the young quarterback was asked to do often last year as the Bucs trailed.
To put it simply, forcing passes because your team is trailing and when the defense expects it is a formula for disaster.