Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 5 Areas of Concern in 2012
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The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have been quite the busy bunch this offseason.
They've brought on an entirely new coaching staff, spent an uncharacteristic amount of money on free agents and added—at a minimum—three new starters via the NFL draft last month.
But for all of the work they've done and strides they've made, there are still areas of concern for the Bucs both on and off the field heading into the 2012 season.
That of course is to be expected from an organization who enters the season desperate for answers on how to end their current 10-game losing streak.
And while a lot of the unknowns surrounding the team will work themselves out over the course of OTAs and training camp, there are a few inherent topics that will be up for debate before, during and after the season has come to its conclusion.
Good, bad or indifferent, the Buccaneers have spent countless hours, days and weeks since the end of last season changing not only their identity as a football team but the mentality within the locker room.
Lucky for us, we'll soon find out how well the message has been received by the results on the field.
5. The Jeremys: Zuttah and Trueblood
Jeremy Zuttah (76) replaces the departed Jeff Faine as the starting center.
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Four of the five starting offensive linemen from the 2011 team will return for the Bucs this season.
That group includes left tackle Donald Penn, right tackle Jeremy Trueblood, right guard Davin Joseph and guard-turned-center Jeremy Zuttah.
Left guard Carl Nicks, a free agent addition, is the only newcomer to the Bucs' starting offensive line in 2012.
So while continuity appears to be an advantage, experience at center and performance at right tackle are anything but.
Zuttah, who started 14 games at left guard in 2011, re-signed with the Bucs this offseason and did so with the understanding that he would be moving to center to replace Jeff Faine. Zuttah has 44 career starts in four seasons, but only nine of those starts have come under center.
Meanwhile, Trueblood—a second-round pick in 2006—has been frustratingly inconsistent and undisciplined over the course of his career, which has led to numerous penalties on the field and fines from the league office.
And if new Bucs coach Greg Schiano sticks to his words, those two characteristics—inconsistency and a lack of discipline—do not favor Trueblood's standing with the new guy in charge.
So as improved as the Bucs may appear on paper with the addition of Nicks, the uncertainties regarding Zuttah and Trueblood leave the Bucs with two glaring question marks along the offensive line heading into the season.
That could be disastrous given Schiano's desire to establish the run early and often.
Can rookie linebacker Lavonte David provide an immediate impact on defense?
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For years, it seemed, the Buccaneers could rely on the superb play of their linebackers to make up for any operational deficiencies elsewhere in the defense.
Boy, how times have changed.
Last season, the Bucs were plagued by lapses in coverage, defensive mix-ups and more than their fair share of head-scratching moments, many of which emanated from the linebacking corps.
Quincy Black, Geno Hayes and rookie Mason Foster all appeared lost, overwhelmed and unprepared for the challenges they faced week-after-week.
Worse yet, the group looked weak. They were pushed around and knocked down far too often. Opposing offense's ran the ball right at them and, judging by their 32nd-ranked rush defense, succeeded more often than not.
Hayes is now gone after signing with the Bears this offseason. Both Foster and Black return, although Foster appears to have a better chance of starting at this point.
Black, on the other hand, will likely have to earn his starting spot back. And that isn't necessarily a bad thing.
The Bucs are hopeful second-round pick Lavonte David, drafted to compete for a starting spot, will provide not only a breath of fresh air, but a little toughness and ball skills to the group.
That said, the linebackers will continue to be an area of concern for the Bucs heading into 2012.
Yes, Greg Schiano brings a new attitude and level of accountability that has been sorely lacking for a few seasons, but this unit will have to improve by leaps and bounds for the Buccaneers to see any marked improvement this season and beyond.
And as of right now, that remains a major question mark.
The ageless Ronde Barber is "experimenting" with a move to safety.
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You know things are bad when you experiment with moving a future Hall of Fame cornerback in Ronde Barber to safety.
Such is the way of life for the Buccaneers, who enter 2012 desperate for help at the position and willing to try anything to correct the issues that have wreaked havoc on the team. Those issues include allowing the most points (494) in the NFL last season.
If the experiment sticks, Barber will find himself playing deep alongside 2012 first-round pick Mark Barron, who was specifically drafted because of his ability to defend against the pass and a knack for stuffing the run.
The Bucs also find themselves with a few new additions in the secondary, specifically free agent cornerback Eric Wright and Keith Tandy, a 2012 sixth-round pick.
The group also includes the oft-troubled Aqib Talib and the as-yet unproven talents of Anthony Gaitor, Myron Lewis, Ahmad Black, E.J. Biggers and Larry Asante, to name a few of the 16 current defensive backs on their roster.
Which only further illustrates the risk of experimenting with Barber at safety.
Not only does he lack experience at the position, but the Bucs would lose nearly 15-years of professional experience at corner if he were to move.
Yes, Wright would fill some of that void and maybe Greg Schiano can finally get through to Lewis or E.J. Biggers and motivate them to finally live up to their potential.
But regardless, the secondary remains in a state of perpetual flux as the 2012 seasons approaches.
And that is certainly a cause for concern.
2. Gerald McCoy and Brian Price
Gerald McCoy has yet to stay healthy through an entire NFL season.
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To say the Bucs need Gerald McCoy and Brian Price to stay healthy would be putting it lightly.
In fact, McCoy and Price need to stay healthy if they intend on staying employed with the Bucs beyond this season.
Since being drafted in the first two rounds by Tampa Bay in 2010, the tandem have yet to deliver on their promise or potential, battling injuries and poor play thus far.
McCoy has spent more time on injured reserve than he has in opposing backfields while Price has simply been ineffective.
That said, McCoy's inability to fight off the injury bug is at the heart of what plagued the Buccaneers last season. They allowed more points (494) and rushing yards per game (156.1) than any other team in the NFL thanks in large part to the void left by McCoy's absence in the middle of the defensive line.
Furthermore, the Bucs' defense managed to sack opposing quarterbacks a league-worst 23 times and picked-off just 14 pass attempts all season.
Yes, injuries are a part of the game and something no one can predict when scouting a player, but when you consider the amount of money the Bucs are paying him, it's now or never for the great "Geraldini."
For the Bucs, potential and promise no longer apply to No. 93.
They need production.
1. Fan Support
No, those are not fans disguised as empty seats.
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Attendance at Raymond James Stadium since 2008 has been lackluster at best. Oh, there have been sellouts, but just like wins, they've been few and far between.
You see, dismal attendance has been the product of several factors, both on and off the field.
Some are quick to point to the owners box and talk about alienation and a sense of entitlement. Others will point to the sideline and chastise the product on the field and the former coach without a clue.
But many others point to their wallets and explain how struggling paycheck-to-paycheck takes precedent over entertainment.
Now ask yourself, are any of them wrong?
The Glazer family appeared arrogant and seemingly conducted their business in a manner without fear of repercussions. Ticket and concession prices kept rising and fan relations were directly impacted because of it.
As far as the product on the field, the Bucs compiled a record of 26-38 from 2008 through last season. Collectively, the teams were uncompetitive and hardly entertaining. As a result, the Bucs have had 13 of last the last 15 home games blacked out by the NFL for failing to sellout the stadium in advance.
Lastly, there is no ignoring the difficult economic climate many in the Tampa Bay community have endured over the past few years.
Foreclosures and unemployment continue to act as financial handcuffs for the region and until there are significant improvements across the economic spectrum, the potential fanbase is diminished anyhow—whether the team is competitive or not.
I think Bucs fans in the area should prepare for another season of blackouts ahead. How many there will be is anyone's guess, but what has become evident is it will take a lot more than good will to win back the fans.
And that just may be the toughest victory to get.