5 Reasons for Optimism Heading into the Bucs' 2012 Season
As the Tampa Bay Buccaneers begin to wrap up one of their busiest and highest-profile offseasons in team history, now is a good time to really sit back and reflect upon everything that has occurred over the previous six months.
The changes made—from the guy calling the plays to those who will be executing them—have all been relatively well-received and have paved the way for the future of the franchise moving forward.
That said, with Bucs training camp nearing, how do the moves that have transpired since the conclusion of the 2011 season impact what is about to unfold during the teams 2012 campaign?
Has enough been done by the team to win back their once loyal fanbase? Better yet, should Bucs fans believe that the dark days of yesterday are not in the forecast tomorrow?
There are many reasons to be excited about the 2012 season, but arguably none greater than the five mentioned ahead.
5. Improved Offensive Line
The Bucs signed guard Carl Nicks to bolster their line.
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It's saying something when a group that is returning four of five starters can be called improved.
But such is the case when said group has added the likes of two-time Pro Bowl guard Carl Nicks, whom the Bucs signed as part of their free agency splurge in March.
The remainder of Tampa Bay's offensive line consists of tackles Donald Penn and Jeremy Trueblood, guard Davin Joseph, and guard-turned-center Jeremy Zuttah.
All told, the starting unit has an average age of 27.8 years, with an impressive 31 years of combined NFL experience.
New head coach Greg Schiano has openly expressed an interest in becoming a run-first team, so the onus falls squarely on this group to serve as the catalysts for the entire offense.
It's worth noting, however, that the Bucs struggled to establish the running game on many occasions last season, finishing with the 30th-ranked rushing attack in the NFL (91.1 yards per game).
Granted, they were forced to abandon the run early and often because they found themselves trailing quite frequently.
Nevertheless, the addition of Nicks and a re-commitment to pounding the rock certainly bodes well for not only the offense, but the team in its entirety.
4. The Backfield Tandem of Blount & Martin
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For all that has been made about LeGarrette Blount and his offensive limitations (pass-protection, pass-catching, etc.), this much has become clear: the Bucs got one heck of a deal in claiming him off waivers.
After all, since taking over as the primary ball carrier, Blount has ran for nearly 1,800 yards and 11 touchdowns in just 21 career starts.
Shortly after taking over as head coach, Greg Schiano made it clear that the Bucs would get back to running the ball as their primary means of offense, but lamented over the fact that he wasn't sold on Blount's ability to properly secure the football.
Sensing a need for depth and yearning for a game breaker, the Bucs traded back into the first round of April's draft and selected Boise State running back Doug Martin with the 31st pick.
The move didn't come as much of a surprise in the sense that it was a definite necessity. Quarterback Josh Freeman was the team's second-leading rusher.
As mentioned previously, the Bucs will look to establish the ground game early and often, so look for Blount & Martin to get every opportunity to shine this season.
All that's missing is a catchy tag-team nickname.
3. The Impact Vincent Jackson Will Have on the Receiving Corps
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Vincent Jackson was signed this offseason to catch passes.
And lots of them.
But when it is all said and done, his greatest accomplishment could be for something a little-less sexy: elevating the play of those around him.
There have been numerous reports that have surfaced from One Buc stating how well Jackson has assimilated himself with the receiving corps.
In fact, just today fellow receiver Mike Williams was quoted as saying:
You get off the field, watch a little film, and he makes you watch a little bit more film. He makes you watch yourself and watch what the defender is doing to you. That's kind of what I learned from him that you have to keep evaluating yourself and evaluating other players, too.
Last season was a complete debacle from a receiving standpoint, as often times, guys would seem almost uninterested to run-out routes, or would simply run the wrong routes altogether.
If early indications are accurate, the Bucs' receiving corps is already in better shape than they were at any point last season.
2. Aqib Talib Will Be a Buc
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As word began to spread that charges against cornerback Aqib Talib were being dropped, the outlook for Tampa Bay's defense in 2012 improved exponentially.
After all, Talib is their best cover-corner and an integral part to what the Bucs will try to accomplish defensively. Oh, and his presence will all but assure Ronde Barber will not return to corner.
However, late Tuesday night it was reported that Talib still faces possible disciplinary action from commissioner Roger Goodell for his latest transgression, which may not bode well considering he is a repeat offender.
Greg Schiano and defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan are said to be installing an aggressive defense, so Talib's presence, experience and cover skills will certainly be in demand.
In any event, barring injury or a season-long suspension, Talib will be available for the Bucs in 2012, which can only help all parties involved.
In particular, their 32nd-ranked scoring defense.
1. Greg Schiano
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Since being named head coach of the Bucs in late January, Greg Schiano has taken painstaking measures to restore order and accountability to the organization.
In short, he has taken control.
But with that control, comes a sense of what can best be described as comfort.
Comfort for fans because at the very least—unlike his predecessor—he certainly looks and acts the part of a head coach. And comfort for the players that he is clearly a man of his word and will always stand behind them (see: LeGrand, Eric).
Above all, though, is the overwhelming feeling that for the first time in what seems like a long time, the Bucs appear to be heading in the right direction, with the right guy at the helm.
Yes, I know they are just two season's removed from a 10-6 record, but doesn't it feel longer than that? Better yet, doesn't that 10-6 look more and more like an artificial number the more we look back on it?
How will Schiano fare this season and beyond? Who knows.
But if the first six months tell us anything, it's that even if the Bucs aren't successful, it won't be because they weren't prepared.
And judging from the previous regime, that speaks volumes.