Disastrous. That is the word that comes to mind when I think about the 2011 Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Well, other than a few four letter words.
All kidding aside, 2011 was about as disastrous a season for the Buccaneers in every facet imaginable. From poor attendance to poor performance and everything in between, there were few things the Buccaneers got right last season.
For starters their defense was downright offensive, allowing a league-worst 30.9 points and 156.1 rushing yards per contest. Missed tackles and blown assignments were a common occurrence and there was perhaps no bigger culprit last season than the pitiful play of their linebackers.
Rookie middle linebacker Mason Foster led the group with 84 combined tackles, although he appeared well over his head at times last season. In his defense, Foster had to not only learn the intricacies of a professional playbook, but he had to do so in a lockout-shortened off season. There is little question Foster, 23, has the ability to play linebacker, but the 6'1" 240-lb. backer would certainly benefit from playing alongside a few equally talented teammates.
So while Foster certainly struggled to flourish in his role as quarterback of the defense last season, the bigger disappointment was how poorly fellow linebackers Quincy Black and Geno Hayes performed. Both fell well below expectations and oddly enough, appeared almost as lost as Foster did at times. Black is likely to be back this season as he is entering the second year of a five-year contract, although Hayes is an unrestricted free agent and does not appear to be someone the Bucs are concerning themselves with at the moment.
All of which brings us back to the core of the issue: as their linebackers go, so go the Buccaneers.
Having already lost out on the opportunity to sign free agents Curtis Lofton or Stephen Tulloch, the Bucs find themselves running thin on options in the open market. Veterans London Fletcher and David Hawthorne remain possibilities, though both players are said to be in talks with the Redskins and Seahawks, respectively.
Which brings us to April and the unpredictability of the NFL draft.
Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly, along with Alabama linebackers Courtney Upshaw and Dont'a Hightower are all in play for the Buccaneers, although highly unlikely at the number five spot. If the Bucs decide to stick at five and draft another player, their second-round pick (36th overall) becomes the likely landing spot for a linebacker.
In any event, it has no longer become a question of if they'll address the position, but rather when they'll address the position.
The Buccaneers cannot expect to compete with the current cast, as we have already seen how that movie ends. No, the Buccaneers have to add linebackers because their importance to the defensive unit—and by extension, the entire team—is unquestioned. How so, you ask? The Ravens could have won Super Bowl XXXV without Trent Dilfer, but could they have won it without Peter Boulware, Ray Lewis and Jamie Sharper?
That's all I'm saying.