Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Stock Up, Stock Down for Positional Units This Preseason
For the Bucs, most observers will want to see how well they bounce back from a humbling 30-7 loss at the hands of the Tennessee Titans last Friday, which was particularly upsetting because of how promising they looked during their 20-7 victory over the Miami Dolphins the week prior.
Nonetheless, with two full games done and over with, how has each respective unit fared this preseason?
That is, whose stock is rising, and whose is falling?
Quarterbacks: Stock Down
Simply put, the Bucs' quarterbacks have not delivered this preseason. When you factor in the considerable talent upgrade this year's group has over previous seasons, it is troubling to say the least.
In particular, starter Josh Freeman has not looked like a fourth-year signal-caller at all. He continues to stare down his targets and for whatever reason, still comes off as timid, hesitant and indecisive at times.
All of which has many people wondering, "what happened to the 2010 version of Josh Freeman?" You know, the one that threw for 3,400-plus yards, 25 touchdowns and only six interceptions.
So far, Freeman has completed just eight of 15 pass attempts for 62 yards and one touchdown, which again sounds more like a rookie quarterback stat line, rather than one entering his fourth season in the league and third as a starter.
Yes, it's only the preseason and his participation thus far has been limited, no doubt. But in his two brief stints, he has not looked right. Plain and simple.
Stephen Holder of the Tampa Bay Times is reporting that starters may stay in the game until the second half, which means Freeman will have plenty of opportunities to redeem himself and calm many of the anxieties that Bucs fans have about their quarterback.
Note: Backup quarterbacks Dan Orlovsky and Brett Ratliff have combined to complete 17-of-26 pass attempts for 159 yards, but have yet to add a scoring toss.
Running Backs: Stock Up
When the Buccaneers drafted running back Doug Martin with the 31st-overall pick this past April, many viewed it as a wake-up call to LeGarrette Blount, whom new head coach Greg Schiano "put on notice" during the offseason because of his noted fumbling issues.
Little did we know then that Martin wasn't being drafted to necessarily replace Blount (at least not yet), but rather to complement his style of running.
Blount is much more of the bruising, ground-and-pound kind of runner, whereas Martin has much more fluidity and agility to his movements. It has become commonplace around the league to have two fully-functional running backs at a team's disposal, so the Bucs are simply keeping up with the Jones' by doing so.
By drafting Martin, the Bucs not only added an additional offensive weapon, but it has also appeared to motivate Blount in the process. He has not only improved his pass-catching ability (an area widely considered a liability previously), but he also appears re-dedicated to protecting the football (six fumbles lost in two seasons).
Both runners have combined to provide a handful of highlight reel-type runs early this preseason and should things stay the course, will afford the Bucs an opportunity to really wear down opposing teams as the season progresses.
Note: Martin and Blount have combined to rush for 85 yards on 29 carries, with each adding a rushing touchdown. Backups Michael Smith, Mossis Madu and De'Anthony Curtis have added an additional 78 yards on 31 rush attempts.
Receivers/Tight Ends: Stock Down
The receivers and tight ends are truly at the mercy of their quarterbacks, which in this case means they have really lacked production to this point.
Newcomer Tiquan Underwood has been the most-promising of the bunch, hauling in three catches for 76 yards. That says quite a bit considering all of the other receivers and tight ends have combined to haul in just 145 yards among them.
In other words, Underwood has accounted for more than a third of all receiving yards this preseason.
But again, that speaks more to the struggles of the quarterback play than it does to their abilities. That said, most would agree that receivers have the ability to "help their quarterback out" by running crisper routes, coming back for the ball, etc.
Nonetheless, this group was widely considered the deepest coming into the preseason, but really haven't lived up to the billing.
Free-agent receiver Vincent Jackson has just one catch for eight yards. Much like Josh Freeman, Jackson will have ample opportunity vs. New England tonight to showcase his true potential.
Third-year receiver Mike Williams has the lone touchdown grab of the group, which occurred early in last week's game vs. Tennessee.
Note: Dallas Clark and Collin Franklin are the only tight ends yet to record a reception this preseason.
Offensive Line: Stock Neutral
Much was made about the poor play of the Bucs' offensive line last week versus the Titans.
That is a fair assessment, but perhaps the bigger issue that Tennessee brought to light isn't necessarily the quality of Tampa Bay's line, but rather the quantity of their line. That is, that the Bucs lack consistent depth across the group.
Tackle Demar Dotson filled in admirably during the absence of left tackle Donald Penn, and is now reportedly in the mix for the right tackle job, currently held by the oft-criticized Jeremy Trueblood.
In any event, the (presumed) starting five of Penn, Carl Nicks, Jeremy Zuttah, Davin Joseph and Trueblood have the potential to be one of the better lines in the league.
Especially if the Bucs are able to stick to their plan of establishing the run, which does all sorts of things for the offense, namely preventing them from becoming one dimensional (like last season), which would alleviate much of the pressure from the shoulders of quarterback Josh Freeman.
Defensive Line: Stock Down
Much like the offensive line, the depth of the defensive line was also exploited by the Titans last week. Not that it is an excuse for their poor play, but it is definitely a factor into how the unit has fared.
The defensive line has been much maligned over the past few seasons, mainly because of their lack of a consistent pass rush. That trend has unfortunately carried on, as the group has yet to register a quarterback sack through two preseason games.
In fact, linebacker/pass-rushing specialist Dekoda Watson is the lone Buccaneer with a recorded sack thus far.
Defensive tackles Gerald McCoy and Roy Miller have played sparingly through two games, but in their brief appearances have showed glimpses of their potential. Free agent Amobi Okoye has been slowed by injuries and Frank Okam has been ineffective, which is putting it nicely.
Second-year defensive end Adrian Clayborn is looking to avoid the dreaded sophomore slump and exceed the seven-and-a-half sacks he recorded in his rookie campaign last season.
That said, the only thing worse than their lack of a pass rush has been their inability to stop the run.
Last season the Bucs allowed a league-worst 156.1 yards rushing per game. Last week the Titans gouged them for 216 yards on the ground.
This begs the question, exactly how do they intend on stopping the Carolina trio of Jonathan Stewart, DeAngelo Williams and Cam Newton?
Linebackers: Stock Up
Second-year middle linebacker Mason Foster has been vastly improved compared to where he was a year ago—it's amazing what an offseason has meant to No. 59.
Couple that with the play of rookie outside linebacker Lavonte David, and the Bucs potentially have this generation's version of Quarles and Brooks. Potentially.
Fellow linebackers Quincy Black and rookie Najee Goode have been okay, with the latter actually outperforming the more-experienced former.
Rennie Curran, Adam Heyward and Dekoda Watson are three more who could play considerable roles at some point this season, whether on special teams or during certain game situations.
Overall, this group has much more depth and flexibility than last year's bunch, which is by and large what ailed them.
Have they been perfect? No. But the additions of David and Goode, coupled with the progression of Foster and Watson have this group's stock rising as fast as any other units on the team.
Secondary: Stock Neutral
Much like receivers are directly impacted by the play of their quarterback, defensive backs are equally impacted by the play of the defensive front.
It was previously noted that so far, the defensive line has yet to generate a consistent pass rush.
It's also no coincidence that the one interception the Bucs have is when Tennessee quarterback Jake Locker was scrambling away from oncoming defenders.
That pick, caught by safety Ahmad Black, set up a touchdown pass from Josh Freeman to Mike Williams two plays later.
It has been those very turnovers—the ones that lead directly to scoring opportunities—that have been fleeting over the past few seasons.
The Bucs, acknowledging as much, spent big bucks on free-agent corner Eric Wright. They also drafted safety Mark Barron (seventh overall) and cornerback Keith Tandy (174th overall) in an effort to shore up their porous secondary.
Oh, and they're experimenting with Ronde Barber, who is entering his 16th year in the NFL, by moving him from corner to safety.
Does the group still have room to grow? No doubt. But their success is directly correlated to that of the defensive line. If that group can generate a better pass rush, this group has more than enough ability to capitalize on it.
Special Teams: Stock Up
It took 32 years for the Bucs to return a kickoff for a touchdown, which finally occurred during the 2007 season by returner Michael Spurlock.
In just two preseason games this year, rookie running back/return specialist Michael Smith has shown that he is more than capable of duplicating the feat, returning a kickoff 74 yards before finally being tripped up by a Dolphins defender.
Outside of Spurlock, who had three returns for touchdowns (two kickoff, one punt), the Bucs have truly lacked a return threat for most of their team's history.
Additionally, kicker Kai Forbath has gone a perfect 4-for-4 on field-goal attempts this preseason, filling in for Connor Barth.
Special teams is without a doubt an important tenet of the game, so if the Bucs are able to utilize Smith to shorten the field on multiple occasions throughout the season, it could only help their historically sluggish offense.