Let's make this simple, shall we?
How will the Tampa Bay Buccaneers perform this season? How many games will they win? Can they contend for a playoff spot? Can they simply be more competitive?
There are countless questions, but the thought here today is that this season is very, very dependent on two KEY players.
First and foremost, as it was from the day he started and still is today, it's all about FIVE, as in No. 5, would-be franchise quarterback Josh Freeman. Former coach Raheem Morris said it often, so has GM Mark Dominik. Greg Schiano knows it, you and I know it.
Tell us how Freeman performs this season and we'll have a pretty good idea what's in store for this football team.
Let's break it down this way—Freeman comes into this season, his third full year as the starter, with one really good year (2010) and one really, really crappy year (2011). Schiano is in the process of installing a run-oriented offense, yes, but the arm of Josh Freeman will still be utmost in importance. The team didn't bring in Vincent Jackson and pay him $13 million this year to be a down-field blocker. If that was the case, they could have simply brought back the blocking greatness that was Michael Clayton.
Freeman enters this season with a quarterback rating of 79.0, which is pretty stinky. The presence of Doug Martin, LeGarrette Blount and speedster Michael Smith give him ground weapons. All-Pro guard Carl Nicks gives him more protection in the pocket, as Schiano has decreed that the line "needs to keep Josh Freeman upright."
Can the Bucs win six games if Freeman and McCoy don't perform?
Here's where things get interesting. Michael Lombardi of NFL.com tells us that in the 40 games Freeman has started, he's only thrown 34 passes longer than 20 yards and has completed a whopping NINE. Ouch!
This season, with more weapons, more protection and an offensive coordinator not named Greg Olson, Freeman needs to play well, really well, he needs to thrive.
Without a really good season from Josh Freeman, all bets for a decent year are off.
Now for McCoy.
Tell me how and how much Gerald McCoy will play and we can give you an idea as to the success of this football team in 2012.
McCoy fans like to remind us that the team got off to a 4-2 start with the greatness that is "Geraldini" in the lineup last season. When he went down for the second straight season with a bicep tear, well, you know the rest.
Face it, McCoy doesn't need to have a good season in 2012, he needs to have a GREAT season if this defense is to have any chance at all of stopping some of these high-power teams they'll face.
McCoy needs to be great for 16 games, no ifs, ands or buts about it. He's the key if this defensive line is going to put any pressure whatsoever on quarterbacks like Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Cam Newton along with both Mannings, Eli AND Peyton.
No McCoy, well, it doesn't matter who plays well at linebacker, doesn't matter who the corners may be, doesn't matter if you have a No. 1 pick at safety and a storied veteran back there with him. No pass rush equals long afternoons in the National Football League.
That's it in a pre-camp nutshell.
How will Freeman fare?
What about McCoy?
It's that simple, isn't it?