Grades for Every Positional Unit Heading into Bucs Camp
The Bucs have undergone quite the makeover since wrapping up the debacle that was the 2011 season.
The organization, hopeful that it can turn start over by turning the page on last season, brought on an all new coaching staff and overhauled the roster with free agents and rookies.
Head coach Greg Schiano said his staff would hold players accountable, and so far, he's been true to his word.
Safety Tanard Jackson was released and tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. was traded, in large part, because it is believed Schiano was not happy with the idea of having a separate set of rules for key players, which was common practice under the previous regime.
With that said, where has all of the offseason activity left the Bucs as they enter training camp in just a few weeks?
In other words, how have the moves impacted both quality and quantity?
I've broken the team into nine groups—five on offense and four on defense—and have graded each based on the players currently on the roster.
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This group is anchored by the incumbent, Josh Freeman, who is entering his fourth season in the league. The question with Freeman is, which season was the fluke? The 26-touchdown, six-interception season of 2010 or the 16-touchdown, 22-interception campaign of 2011?
How Freeman fares this season may play a big role in deciding his role with the organization for the long-term, as he has just two years left on his rookie contract and a $10 million cap figure next season.
The Bucs have Dan Orlovsky and Brett Ratliff to back up Freeman, both of whom have been with three or more organizations in their short careers.
Orlovsky, with 12 career starts, appears to have a slight advantage over Ratliff, who has yet to see any professional playing time.
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The Bucs will run the ball this season—over and over and over again—especially if Schiano has his way and the Bucs execute the game plan as instructed.
After all, that explains why two backs, Martin and Smith, were drafted this season—because the ground game will serve as the linchpin for the entire offense.
Blount has been wildly successful in his two seasons with the Bucs, rushing for more than 1,700 yards and 11 touchdowns in just 21 career starts. But he has also fumbled the ball nine times, losing six of them. Simply put, that has to improve if he wants to continue to get touches this season and beyond.
Martin, Smith and possibly even Madu will serve as the "change of pace" backs, with Martin likely getting the lion's share of the load. Martin has shown the ability to catch passes, which positions him nicely for increased reps during games.
Lorig and Johnson will battle it out for the starting role during camp, although Johnson is the only "true" fullback on the team.
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This group stands to improve more than any other group on the offensive side of the ball versus last year.
Jackson's presence will do wonders for guys like Williams, Benn, Parker, Clark and Stocker, as he's bound to receive the bulk of double-coverage this season.
Not only that, but with an emphasis on run-first, opposing defenses will be cued in on stuffing Blount and company, which, in theory, would then allow this group to test one-on-one coverages in the secondary.
There's quite a bit of depth at both receiver and tight end, so expect a very competitive battle from this group during camp, which certainly helps the Bucs' offense heading into the season.
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On paper, this group is one of the better lines the Bucs have ever had. They've got size, experience and a nasty disposition.
That said, the projected starting five—Penn, Nicks, Zuttah, Joseph and Trueblood—will be under increased scrutiny this season because of the fact that their performance affects all facets of the offense. From pass protection to opening running lanes, the O-line serves as the catalyst to it all.
That's why the Bucs went out and added Nicks—to ensure that they would improve the NFL's 30th-ranked rushing attack and 27th-ranked scoring offense from a year ago.
Now, it's up to everyone to execute.
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This group is loaded with a mountain of potential, but very little to show for it in the way of production.
McCoy, Price and Bowers have shown a penchant for catching the injury bug, with Bowers currently expected to miss a large portion of the regular season as he recovers from a torn Achilles tendon.
Miller, Okam and Okoye have all underachieved thus far in their careers, but their saving grace is the fact that there is a new coach in town, so they will all be given a chance to show they belong.
The fact of the matter is, if this group can stay healthy and play an entire 16-game schedule, they have the kind of potential that could very easily make it one of the better, young defensive lines in all of football.
However, as I alluded to earlier, they have been unable to accomplish that to this point in their collective careers, so until they demonstrate the ability to remain injury-free, their grade will reflect past production rather than pie-in-the-sky potential.
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Much like their counterparts along the defensive line, this group sorely underachieved last season, which is, by and large, why the Bucs allowed more points and rushing yards than any other team in the NFL.
Black and Foster are back this season, joined by carryovers like Watson and Heyward and newcomers David, Curran and Goode, all of whom are pressing for more playing time.
I, for one, believe this group will benefit greatly from having a capable coaching staff teaching them the ins and outs of the game, as there's truly no substitute for quality coaching—or escaping bad coaching.
For what it's worth, don't overlook Curran getting increased reps this season, possibly even starting. He's a very quick, very athletic player and is undoubtedly chomping at the bit for an opportunity.
A little coaching and proper guidance could do wonders for this unit's production, but until we see how they react come preseason, the jury is still out.
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It's amazing how much of a difference one rookie (Barron) and one free agent (Wright) can make for an entire unit.
Both players are expected to step in and provide immediate relief to a unit that managed only 14 interceptions in 2011.
Not only that, but Barron's presence should also greatly impact their run defense, which finished dead-last by allowing more than 156 yards per game. Oh, and if the Barber-to-safety move sticks, his veteran leadership should do wonders for Barron and the run defense.
The uncertainty surrounding Aqib Talib doesn't help them, but Wright's addition should alleviate some of the pressure if Talib winds up missing time this season.
Much like with the linebacking corps, I will be interested to see how this unit responds to better coaching. Guys like Biggers, Lewis, Black and Gaitor have considerable upside, so the coaching staff's ability to tap into that potential is a wild card heading into camp.
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Not that it isn't money well spent.
Last season, Koenen set career marks in both average punt distance (45.1 yards) and average net punt (40.3 yards).
In addition, Barth made 26-of-28 field goal attempts and went a perfect 71-of-71 on PATs.