The Tampa Bay Buccaneers had one of the bumpiest seasons under first-year head coach Greg Schiano. After starting the season 1-3, Tampa stormed back to win five of six to get to 6-4.
Then, the bottom fell out. Tampa Bay lost five straight games to fall to 6-9 and out of the playoff race.
Josh Freeman had a much better season in 2012, but his 17 interceptions were his demise.
Tampa Bay also found a running back in Doug Martin, who rushed for 1,154 yards and 11 scores in his rookie season. Vincent Jackson had an excellent inaugural season with the Bucs, catching 72 passes for almost 1,400 yards and 11 scores.
Defensively, Tampa Bay was on opposite sides of the spectrum.
The Bucs had the best run defense in the league, holding opponents to just 82.5 yards per game on the ground. For how superb Tampa Bay was at stopping the run, it was just as horrendous in stopping the pass. Tampa Bay had the worst pass defense in the NFL, allowing 297 passing yards a game.
The Buccaneers did plenty to improve their pitiful secondary by trading for shutdown cornerback Darrelle Revis and signing safety Dashon Goldson. Despite some major acquisitions, Tampa Bay will definitely miss the veteran leadership of Ronde Barber, who retired during the offseason.
The Bucs also extended wide receiver Mike Williams for six years and $40.25 million. Williams caught 63 passes for 996 yards and nine scores in 2012 and was a great complement to Jackson on the outside. Tampa Bay did lose tight end Dallas Clark and could have a timeshare at the position between Luke Stocker, former Packer Tom Crabtree, and former Jaguar and Raider Zach Miller.
Tampa will also have left guard Carl Nicks back in the lineup, who is one of the best offensive linemen in the league when healthy.
The Buccaneers traded their first-round pick to New York in exchange for Revis, but the team did draft cornerback Johnthan Banks in the second round.
Despite a disappointing season, Tampa Bay did have one of the better offenses in the league. The team ranked 10th in passing yards and 15th in rushing yards but hurt itself with 23 giveaways.
There is plenty of young talent at the skill positions on this roster. Freeman has plenty of raw talent and showed it in 2010, when he threw 25 touchdowns and only six picks in his second season. Martin came out of nowhere to be one of the best running backs in the league, and the receiving duo of Jackson and Williams is one of the better combos in the NFC.
Tampa Bay's offensive line is also one of the strongest in the league, but right tackle could be a weak spot. Demar Dotson and Gabe Carimi, who the Bucs traded a sixth-round pick to Chicago for just after OTAs began, will compete for the starting job.
It will be hard for Martin to repeat his incredible rookie season, but that isn't to say he won't be much worse. Consistency eluded Martin, who only had six games of at least 95 rushing yards but five with 56 yards or less.
One of Martin's greatest qualities is his ball security. Martin fumbled only one time in 2012—something that should be admired in a workhorse running back.
Whether Martin is superb or not, Tampa Bay's offense will hinge on its quarterback. Freeman proved he can be a decent starting quarterback, but whether he can take Tampa Bay on a playoff run remains to be seen. The weapons and the running game are there, so Freeman has nobody to blame but himself if the offense doesn't produce next season.
Tampa Bay brought in North Carolina State quarterback Mike Glennon in the draft, so if Freeman struggles through another season, don't be surprised if his job is in jeopardy next year. The pressure is on.
Tampa Bay's defense may be one of the youngest, but it is loaded with potential. Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy finally stayed healthy for the entire season and had a nice year, recording 30 tackles and five sacks. Mason Foster and Lavonte David are two rising stars at the linebacker position and the secondary should be drastically improved with the additions of Revis, Banks and Goldson.
Health will be a big question for Tampa Bay. Revis' knee will be the major story, but if Da'Quan Bowers and Adrian Clayborn can both get healthy, Tampa Bay may have a ferocious front seven. Clayborn missed 13 games with a torn ACL, while Bowers missed six games.
The Bucs ranked second-to-last in the NFL in sacks, which is a big reason for the struggles against the pass. A healthy Bowers and Clayborn could bring a great amount of athleticism to the pass rush.
Tampa's secondary could go from one of the worst to one of the best in a matter of a season, depending on how well Revis, Goldson, Banks and Mark Barron mesh together. In a division with Matt Ryan, Drew Brees and Cam Newton in it, the secondary may be the most important group on a defense.
There is so much to love on Tampa Bay's defense. The team was already the best against the run, thanks to Foster, David and McCoy. A healthy Bowers and Clayborn can only help against the run and should add some pressure in passing situations.
The secondary raises the most questions, but it also makes me salivate over what it could become. Goldson and Barron will be a great tandem at safety, while a healthy Revis could take some pressure off of Banks to acclimate himself to the NFL right away.
Banks will also have the luxury of learning and working with one of the best corners in league history, which can only have a positive impact on his development.
If Schiano's troops can stay healthy, it could be one of the best units in the NFL.
The Buccaneers could be this year's breakout team. Freeman has everything he needs to succeed and must prove that he is a playoff-caliber quarterback. Martin, Jackson and Wallace are all excellent weapons, but Tampa Bay might lack a safety valve at tight end.
The offensive line could be one of the strongest in the league, but Carimi may bring his struggles from Chicago to central Florida if he is given the starting job.
The defense went through an extreme makeover, especially in the secondary, but if the talent and potential materializes, Tampa's defense could become the strength of the team.
Tampa Bay's schedule isn't too tough, but games against New England, Seattle and San Francisco will be measurements of how far this team has come along over the course of the season.
The talent and potential is there, but now it is time for Freeman and the Bucs to fulfill expectations.