Tampa Bay Buccaneers 2009 Preview

ChiCitySports .ComCorrespondent IJuly 6, 2009

CHARLOTTE, NC - DECEMBER 08:  Antonio Bryant #89 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers catches a pass over Chris Gamble #20 of the Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium on December 8, 2008 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

2008 Summary:
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers entered the 2008 season as the defending NFC South Champions, but they brought this title with them into the season with a quarterback controversy swirling around the franchise.

Up in Green Bay, a once retired then un-retired quarterback by the name of Brett Favre was itching to return to the league and that immediately drew the interest of Bucs head coach Jon Gruden, who had long been a fan of the future Hall-of-Fame quarterback.

The Bucs would fail to offer the Packers enough to land Favre, and he would ultimately wind up a New York Jet, but what came about from Gruden's interest in the grizzled vet was a rift with his incumbent starting quarterback, Jeff Garcia.

That rift would extend all the way into the regular season, when Gruden suddenly benched Garcia for the re-acquired veteran quarterback Brian Griese following a season-opening loss at the hands of the Saints.

Griese would start the next three games for the Buccaneers, and win all three games, including a come-from-behind effort on the road against the Chicago Bears, in which he would throw a career-high 67 passes.

The Bucs would sit at 3-1 before a matchup against the Broncos in Denver when Griese would be knocked out of the game with an injured elbow.
Garcia filled in the rest of the way, and although he was unable to lead the Bucs to their fourth consecutive victory, he would not relinquish the starting job again until Week 15 when he would miss a game against the Falcons due to a calf injury.

Following the loss to the Broncos, the Garcia-led Bucs would go on an extensive hot streak and win six of their next seven games. Garcia's play and a stingy Buccaneer defense were paramount to the team's success.

Garcia would only turn the ball over one time during this stretch and complete over 70 percent of his passes in five of the seven games.

The season suddenly changed, though, after a date on Monday Night Football with their division rival Carolina Panthers.
With both teams entering the game at 9-3, many believed the victor of this game would wind up winning the division and possibly go on to clinch home-field advantage for the remainder of the playoffs.

What would happen however, would change the Bucs season for the rest of the way. The Panthers running back tandem of Deangelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart would run completely over the Buccaneer defense, as the duo combined for 301 yards rushing and four touchdowns.
The Panthers would claim first place as their own, while sending the Bucs crashing back to earth.

The next week, the same problems would arise, this time with Michael Turner rushing for 152 yards and a touchdown in an overtime victory for the young Falcons.

A week later, the Bucs would return home to close out the season against AFC West opponents San Diego and Oakland and a reeling Tampa Bay defense would be picked apart once more.

First the Chargers, led by Philip Rivers, would pick the Buccaneers defense apart left and right as behind Rivers' touchdown passes, the Chargers would defeat Tampa Bay 41-24.
This sent the Bucs to their third straight defeat and on the brink of missing the postseason after once being 9-3 and widely seen as a possible Super Bowl contender.

It was almost fitting that ultimately the Jon Gruden era would end with a loss to his former Raider club after it began with a Super Bowl championship at the hands of that same team.
Once again, with the Bucs simply needing a win to get into the playoffs, the Buccaneer defense could not make a stop when it absolutely had to have one, and the Raiders would stunningly end the Bucs season with a 31-24 victory.

Shortly thereafter, the rebuilding process began. Jon Gruden and General Manager Bruce Allen were both fired, Jeff Garcia was not retained, and Monte Kiffin left to the University of Tennessee to be the new defensive coordinator on his son's staff.

The once heir apparent to Kiffin, Raheem Morris, would become the team's head coach. The Jon Gruden era was officially laid to rest.

2009 Free Agency Additions:
RB Derrick Ward (New York Giants)
LB Angelo Crowell (Buffalo)
QB Byron Leftwich (Pittsburgh)
K Mike Nugent (New York Jets)
LB Niko Koutouvides (Denver)

2009 Trade Acquisitions:
TE Kellen Winslow (Cleveland)

2009 Offseason Departures:
LB Cato June (Houston)
CB Phillip Buchanon (Detroit)
LB Derrick Brooks (Unsigned)
RB Warrick Dunn (Unsigned)
DT Jovan Haye (Tennessee)
QB Jeff Garcia (Oakland)
DE Kevin Carter (Unsigned)
WR Joey Galloway (New England)
WR Paris Warren (New Orleans)
WR Ike Hilliard (New York Giants)
TE Alex Smith (Traded to New England)

2009 NFL Draft:
1-17. Josh Freeman, QB, Kansas State
3-81. Roy Miller, DT, Texas
4-117. Kyle Moore, DE, USC
5-155. Xavier Fulton, OT, Illinois
7-217. E.J. Biggers, CB, Western Michigan
7-233. Sammie Stroughter, WR, Oregon State

2009 Outlook:
The youngest coach in franchise history will fittingly begin his new regime tied to young quarterback Josh Freeman, the team's first round pick in 2009 and possible starter from day one.

Freeman is only 21 years old, but his size and cannon arm may be enough for coach Raheem Morris to warrant giving him the keys to the offense and begin his career as the new franchise quarterback.

The Tampa Bay Bucs will have an entirely new look to them when they take the field in 2009. Gone are many veterans that were instrumental to the teams success under previous coaches Tony Dungy and Jon Gruden. Replacing them are younger players who aren't quite yet household names.

Most notably, the Bucs said goodbye to Warrick Dunn, Derrick Brooks, Jeff Garcia and Joey Galloway. Longtime defensive guru Monte Kiffin will be replaced by Jim Bates, the former Dolphins and Broncos defensive specialist, but the defense will likely still be under the watchful eye of their 32-year old head coach.

This leaves new offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski with the task of developing their new young signal caller, and revamping an offense that was heavily geared towards the passing attack for the past several years.
With Jagodzinski's expertise being a run-oriented offense geared to the zone blocking scheme, while relying heavily on the tight end to make plays in the passing game, it should be no shock that the Bucs two major moves in the off-season were addressing those two positions.

The Bucs did just that, as they signed running back Derrick Ward, formerly of the New York Giants, and they acquired Pro Bowl tight end Kellen Winslow from the Cleveland Browns.

Who will start at quarterback remains to be seen, and likely won't be figured out until the preseason ends. The depth chart is made up of Byron Leftwich, the former starting quarterback in Jacksonville and previous backup to Ben Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh, Luke McCown, and the aforementioned Freeman.
Should the Bucs decide to let Freeman observe on the sidelines from the beginning, the job will likely belong to Leftwich.

Aside from Kellen Winslow, the Bucs will have receiver Antonio Bryant back after a career season in 2008. Joining Bryant in the Bucs wide receiving corps will be former rookie of the year Michael Clayton and Maurice Stovall.

The running game will be paced by the aforementioned Ward along with veteran Earnest Graham. On the offensive line, the Bucs strength will once again be on their interior with guards Aaron Sears and Davin Joseph flanking center Jeff Faine. Playing the tackle position will be Donald Penn and Jeremy Trueblood.

Defensively, the Bucs will look moderately different in 2009. Once again however, they will be primarily centered around the play of Gaines Adams and inside linebacker Barrett Ruud.
Adams will anchor the defensive line from the right defensive end position and be joined by fellow linemen Stylez White (formerly Greg White), Chris Hovan and Ryan Sims. Rookie Kyle Moore figures to be in the mix as well, playing on the left side of the Bucs line.

The linebackers surrounding Ruud will be free agent acquisition Angelo Crowell and new starter Quincy Black.
Black will take over for Cato June, who left via free agency to join the Texans, while Crowell will fill the shoes of longtime Buc Derrick Brooks. Jermaine Phillips will also begin his transition from safety to linebacker and rotate with Black.

In the secondary, Jim Bates will have veteran cover corner Ronde Barber to go along with last years first round selection Aqib Talib.
Torrie Cox and Kyle Arrington will round out the cornerbacks for the Bucs. At safety, Tampa will once again have the underrated Tanard Jackson roaming around at free safety while Sabby Piscitelli will start at strong safety.

2009 Schedule:
Sun 9/13Dallas
Sun 9/20at Buffalo
Sun 9/27NY Giants
Sun 10/4at Washington
Sun 10/11at Philadelphia
Sun 10/18Carolina
Sun 10/25New England
Sun 11/8Green Bay
Sun 11/15at Miami
Sun 11/22New Orleans
Sun 11/29at Atlanta
Sun 12/6at Carolina
Sun 12/13NY Jets
Sun 12/20at Seattle
Sun 12/27at New Orleans
Sun 1/3Atlanta

2009 Prediction:
For many years under the guidance of Tony Dungy and Jon Gruden, the Buccaneers experienced a great deal of success, culminating in the team winning a Super Bowl in the 2002 season.

Last year, the Bucs were soaring high, winners of nine of their first 12 games and en route to yet another division title before the bottom fell out.
Monte Kiffin announced his intentions of leaving the Bucs to join his son at the college ranks, and the defense appeared to leave the Bucs with him. Tampa would end the season on a 4-game losing skid and the Gruden era would officially end.

All great things eventually come to an end, however, and it appears the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will begin a transitional period under the heralded, but still very young, head coach Raheem Morris.
Morris, at age 32, is the youngest coach in the league and he will be reliant on Josh Freeman, the young 21 year old quarterback the franchise drafted 17th overall in the 2009 draft.

When Freeman starts will be a major question for Morris, with some believing it could be as soon as the season opener against the Dallas Cowboys.
But regardless of Freeman's entry into the starting lineup, this is a Tampa Bay team that is vastly different on paper than many of the previous ones, and as a result this is a team that could take a bit of time to get things going.
It doesn't help that before the teams bye week in Week 8, the young Bucs will not face a team that finished with a losing record a season ago.

As a result, the Bucs figure to have a rough start out of the gate, and likely will see their record take a hit because of it.
2009 will begin the process of returning the Bucs to prominence, but they are still likely a year or two away from resuming their role as lead dog in the NFC South.

Predicted Finish: 5-11, 4th NFC South
Hassellbeck - VSN Writer


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