Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Mapping out the Blueprint for a Super Bowl Run in 2013
They've been on a downward spiral since, compiling a paltry 69-91 (.431) regular-season record with just two playoff appearances (2005, 2007) during that span.
That said, the Buccaneers appear to have turned a corner this past offseason by bringing in head coach Greg Schiano, who instilled discipline and accountability to an organization that sorely needed both after three seasons of Raheem Morris at the helm.
Though the discipline and accountability Schiano brought didn't translate into a playoff berth in 2012, the foundation has been set for success—both short- and long-term.
And while there is no "magic wand" for the Bucs front office to use, there are a few things that can be done to get them back on track and on the road to a Super Bowl.
And maybe sooner than anyone thinks.
Get Mean on Defense
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A glance at this season's two Super Bowl contenders, San Francisco and Baltimore, and one thing is painfully obvious: their defenses are mean and nasty. They hit hard, they hit often and they're more than happy to remind everyone who's in control.
In short, the saying "nice guys finish last" doesn't apply to either squad.
The same can't be said about the Bucs, who too often get pushed around and picked apart. As impressive as Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy was at times this season, there were far too many stretches when he was a non-factor, as evidenced by his 23 solo tackles and five sacks. Warren Sapp, he is not.
So, how do the Bucs return to their days of defensive glory?
If they want to make a big impact quickly, they should add a couple of players who get under the skin and into the heads of the opposing team. The kind that not only talk the talk, but walk the walk. The kind whose mere presence is noticed by everyone.
Put it this way, who provides the defensive psychological warfare for the Bucs now?
My point exactly.
For the Bucs to turnaround their defensive shortcomings, they need to become the hunters instead of the hunted.
And that starts by adding a few arrows to their arsenal.
Strike Draft Gold—Again
Mark Barron (No. 24) and Lavonte David (No. 54) are the defensive future.
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It's no secret that scouting is an inexact science, which explains why there are a dozen Ryan Leafs for every Tom Brady.
Nonetheless, its importance is unmistakable to the success of every franchise in every sport.
As such, they have the potential to land multiple impact players much like did in 2012 when they hit draft pay dirt by landing three starters, Mark Barron, Doug Martin and Lavonte David, in the first two rounds.
With the Bucs in desperate need at multiple positions, most notably corner, safety and linebacker, they could conceivably find at least three more starters via the 2013 draft.
And given general manager Mark Dominik's past draft-day deals, it would come as little surprise to anyone if the Bucs once again packaged their surplus of mid-round picks to move up in earlier rounds, thus enabling them to take higher-impact players to address their many needs.
And while having a repeat draft performance is much easier said than done, doing so would help the Bucs out tremendously next year and beyond.
Remain Active in Free Agency
Soon-to-be free-agent cornerback Mike Jenkins.
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The Buccaneers were the center of the NFL universe for 24 hours last March, having just signed three free agents to contracts totaling in excess of $140 million.
By reaching deals with free-agent receiver Vincent Jackson, guard Carl Nicks and cornerback Eric Wright, the Bucs signaled their intentions to become active in courting coveted players, something truly unseen around here in nearly a decade.
And even if the Eric Wright experiment appears to be an utter disappointment, it should not serve as a basis for refraining from future financial endeavors.
Including this spring.
While an exact list of free agents won't be available for a few more weeks, the Bucs should look for every opportunity to add a quality player or two when the free agency period begins on March 12 at 4 p.m. ET.
Find an Answer for Rushing the Passer
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While many are quick to point fingers and direct blame at the secondary for many of the defensive miscues that cost the Bucs in 2012, the underlying issue is how ineffective Tampa Bay was at getting to opposing quarterbacks.
Their 27 sacks were just 6.5 more than Texans defensive lineman J.J. Watt (20.5) racked up by himself.
Suffice it to say, whatever they were trying to do last season didn't work. They need to try something else until they finally solve the riddle that is rushing the passer. Whether it's changing the scheme, technique, personnel or some combination of the three, something has to be done.
Simply put, the status quo has to go.
Otherwise, I'm not sure how much of a difference new faces in the secondary will make on their 32nd-ranked pass defense if the front four don't hold up their end of the bargain.