For us self-confessed NFL ‘junkies,’ the summer months are an endless stream of fillers (Thanks NFL Network), when we gnaw our nails down to the cuticles waiting in anxious anticipation for the start of pre-season football.
The draft is a distant memory. OTA’s and summer camps are history, and we can virtually recall every snap of all of last seasons best games re-played ad-naseum on the NFL Network.
But come August, halleluiah, we’ll stake our exclusive claim to the TV remote once again. Some of us will begin to work for the credit card company (paying off debt), having upgraded our TV’s to that one, must-have flat screen we saw in the Bestbuy catalog.
Why do we do it?
Simple, stupid! We do it because watching grown men with rippling muscles prancing about in tight pants, reminds us of all that we wish we were but are not.
Seriously though, we do it because there’s something about the controlled violence of a football game, that last exclusive vestige of manhood (inspite of those female reporters walking the sidelines pretending they’re experts on the game), that quintessentially masculine domain, that inspires us to want to excel at whatever else it is that we do when were not glued to our TV sets living vicariously through these specimens of masculinity. But I digress…
As I was saying before I got carried away, come August, and time for preseason football again, we’ll all begin to evaluate our team’s chances of making it to the ‘Big Dance.’
While some teams are perennial post-season fixtures, the Tampa bay Buccaneers have not been quite so fortunate. Since their Superbowl win at the end of the 2002 season, they have made playoff appearances only twice in the following six seasons.
In both 2005 and 2007 they were the NFC South division champions, but in both seasons suffered early exits in the Wild Card round of the playoffs.
Even though their 2008 regular season record was the same as 2007, it wasn’t good enough to earn them a playoff spot in the talent laden NFC.
So what have the Bucs and their new rookie head-coach been up to in the offseason as they look to regain their winning ways?
Well the biggest hole they’ve had to fill, amongst numerous others, is at quarterback, and, if I’m being totally honest, it still remains their biggest concern following the draft and free agency.
There are currently five quarterbacks listed on the roster including their 2009 first round pick, Josh Freeman, out of Kansas State.
While Freeman is a big, strong-armed quarterback, it seems unlikely that he’ll compete for a starting spot in the 2009 season, especially because he lacks experience and NFL readiness, having declared for the NFL draft in his junior year.
The remaining four quarterbacks on the roster have played a combined 27 games over the last two seasons, of which only 16 have been starts. While Brian Griese is the most experienced quarterback on their roster, he boasts only 18 games with 8 starts in the last three seasons, and most of those as a Chicago Bear.
Having released Jeff Garcia, Warrick Dunn, and Ike Hilliard, the Bucs may have shot themselves in the foot if they were hoping for a playoff spot this season, having released what amounts to almost 50 percent of their offensive firepower.
Last season Hilliard and Dunn accounted for 754 of the total 3788 receiving yards (only Antonio Bryant had more yards), while Garcia accounted for 2712 of their 3788 passing yards.
Dunn was also the leading rusher with 186 rushes for 786 of their total 1837 rush yards. Amazingly, these positions don’t seem to have been adequately addressed through the draft or free-agency, leaving potential glaring weaknesses in their offense.
Considering the fact that the Bucs were the lowest scoring team in the NFC South last season, with only 361 total points scored (though their defense allowed the lowest total points in the division).
And considering the fact that they ended the season with a miserable string of four consecutive losses, there is tremendous room for improvement, and with the Carolina Panthers, Atlanta Falcons, and New Orleans Saints all looking to improve their rosters, it may well be an uphill task for the Bucs to make the playoffs yet again, unless they have a trick up their proverbial sleeve that the rest of us are unaware of.
So, back to my original question: What can the Tampa Bay Bucs do to return to playoff contention?
My suggestion: keep looking for a veteran quarterback and wide receivers that can provide the leadership and experience needed to instill confidence in a fairly young locker room.
Heck! They should have done everything possible to try and get Jay Cutler from Denver instead of letting Chicago (another NFC team) have their way with him.
Just my two cents.