With the 2012 offseason program now complete, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will take the next six weeks to rest and prepare for the start of training camp in late July. The 2012 offseason additions of head coach Greg Schiano, high-profile free agents and this year’s draft class has brought on renewed interest and hope for Bucs fans.
However, there are a number of areas where major questions still remain for a team that is coming off one of its worst performances since the days of Bucco Bruce. Let’s take a look at five areas the Bucs must address to avoid a being shipwrecked in 2012.
The Bucs' 2008 first-round pick has had his share of offseason troubles since turning pro. In 2010, he was suspended for the opening game for an altercation with a St. Petersburg, Fla. cab driver.
Talib may miss much more than the opening game this season. He goes to trial June 25 in Dallas for a felony charge of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon from an incident that took place last year. The result of the trial could land him behind bars and/or with an NFL suspension from commissioner Roger Goodell.
Head coach Greg Schiano has already made it pretty clear that he’s not going to tolerate very many off-field distractions (see: the departures of Tanard Jackson and Kellen Winslow). He did wipe each player's slate clean once he arrived, including Talib’s.
"I can only judge people since I've been involved,'' Schiano said according to tbo.com. "I can't stick my head in the sand, but on the other hand, he's been extremely focused here, doing everything that we've asked. I'm pleased with that and I hope everything can just kind of sort itself out and we can get back to a normal situation.”
The team did go out this offseason and sign free agent CB Eric Wright from Detroit to shore up the defense. The loss of Talib could totally change Schiano’s plans for the secondary. It’s a plan that’s already seen Ronde Barber move from CB to S. DBs E.J. Biggers, Myron Lewis and Anthony Gaitor are also in the mix to provide help if needed. It will be help for a defense that ranked 21st against the pass in 2011.
Success for rookie head coaches in the NFL is something that does not come easy, and Greg Schiano’s road to glory will be a bumpy ride. The Bucs' front office has invested much more into the team over Schiano’s first five months on the job than they did during the entire Raheem Morris era.
There have been some critics who’ve already questioned the former Rutgers head coach’s hard-nosed approach toward his professional players. OT Donald Penn told nfl.com that the in-your-face philosophy is something that the team is embracing.
"That was one of the first things Coach Schiano said when he got here: The sooner everybody buys in, the faster we'll start winning," Penn said Thursday. "And I think everybody is buying in.”
The first-year head coach told nfl.com that he’s focusing on discipline and effort to guide his team.
"If they're busting their ass, and they're doing what I want them to do, even if they don't want to do it, then they're buying in," Schiano said. "Words aren't buying in. I can say anything. I can say I believe. But actions—when the actions show me, then I'll know they're buying in.”
Hopefully for Bucs fans, it’s actions more like Jim and John Harbaugh were able to produce and not those of Bobby Petrino and Josh McDaniels.
The Buccaneers have invested a healthy, or not-so-healthy, amount of recent draft picks on building a defensive front that would mimic the days of Sapp, McFarland and Rice.
Injuries have limited DT Gerald McCoy, who has yet to finish an NFL season injury-free. According to Warren Sapp, they’re injuries that can be avoided by adjusting his playing style. The former All-Pro will work with McCoy prior to training camp.
“This ain’t rocket science. I'm not going to give him the formula to become the next tyrant on the field. But I promise you, you’ll see a much…more improved and a much more complete player on the field this year. I guarantee that,” said Sapp, via 620WDAE.
Problems in 2012 have already begun for the DL. DE Da’Quan Bowers suffered a torn Achilles tendon in early May. DT Brian Price has been away from the team for much of the offseason program dealing with the loss of his sister in a car accident.
Coach Schiano told tbo.com that this is a prime opportunity for other players to perform at the starting level.
“That’s the nature of team sports,” he said. “When someone goes down, it’s another man’s opportunity. We’ll work at it and Michael Bennett and George Johnson are going to step up. Certainly Adrian (Clayborn) on the other side. We’ll make sure we have a group out there.”
The Bucs' DL will need to perform far better than last year if the Bucs want any type of success in 2012. Last year’s DL registered just 17.0 total sacks. In comparison, the league leader, the Vikings' Jared Allen, single-handedly recorded 22.0 on his own. By all accounts, the offense should be better this season, which will keep the defensive unit off the field a little bit more than in 2011.
The Bucs are going into the 2012 season with one of the easier strength of schedules at .484. That stat could be misleading at first glance.
The Bucs will face eight of the top 20 QBs from last season, (h/t ESPN), and Payton Manning during the 2012 campaign.
In addition to facing their NFC South rivals twice, the Bucs will also have to face the NFC East this year. You would be hard-pressed to find two divisions with that type of pure talent at the QB position.
The key to beating opposing QBs may lie within the Bucs' offense. Schiano will have to establish the running game and control the clock to give the defense the rest they’ll need to keep up with some of the elite QBs in the NFL.
Support for the Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium has been on a steady decline in recent years. What was once one of the more entertaining venues to watch football on Sundays has now become one that’s rarely seen on TV.
The Bucs ranked 30th in the NFL in attendance last season, averaging just over 56,000 fans per game. That’s made for a weak 12th man in a stadium that holds 66,000.
Tbo.com reported, “(Last) year's (opening day) Bucs-Lions matchup drew fewer people than any NFL game according to ESPN.com, and the only TV blackout."
If the new additions to the Bucs' roster start to perform and actually field a quality NFL product, Tampa fans won’t have to deal with visiting teams taking over Raymond James. Which, according to tbo.com, was the case when “the 2010 Game 2 crowd was swollen by fans of the opposing team, the Steelers, who enjoy a sizable local Pittsburgh diaspora."