Raheem Morris has some big shoes to fill in Tampa Bay this season.
The first year head coach has the distinct pleasure of following Jon Gruden--the only coach to take the Bucs to the Super Bowl--and Tony Dungy, who is responsible for turning the perennial laughing stock of the NFL into one of its most respected franchises from the late 90's into the new millennium.
The Buccaneers are in a rebuilding mode. Gone are the familiar faces of Derrick Brooks, Warrick Dunn, Jeff Garcia, Ike Hilliard & Joey Galloway that had been the veteran staples over the last few seasons for the Bucs.
Enter Barrett Ruud, Derrick Ward, Byron Leftwich & Kellen Winslow--the new face of the Buccaneers.
Not nearly as impressive a list.
Couple the Buccaneers rebuilding--which is always tough--with the fact that they play in a very touch NFC South Division and it creates a potential equation for disaster.
Lacking any true star power, and facing one of the toughest schedules in the NFL, Morris will certainly have his moxy tested early and often this season.
Today we are going to take a brief look at the teams in the NFC south that the Bucs will have to face this season.
This is what many consider to be one of the most impressive and explosive teams in the NFL. Drew Brees set the world on fire last year, passing for 5,069 yards and 34 touchdowns last season.
Brees has a bevy of weapons at his disposal as well. Marques Colston, Devery Henderson and Robert Meachem create a very impressive trio of wideouts, and Jeremy Shockey is still a very dangerous option at the tight end slot.
Throw the super hero like explosiveness of half back Reggie Bush in there, and the grinding style of Pierre Thomas, and this offense if enough to make anyone cringe.
This is worrisome for the Buccaneers' defense. The run stopping ability is not as much a worry as the secondary is. Cornerback Ronde Barber is no spring chicken anymore, and while he may not show it all the time, has lost a step. Aqib Talib has potential on the other corner, but is still very young, and very immature.
Tanard Jackson will miss the first four games of the season due to a violation of the leagues substance abuse policy, and Sabby Piscitelli will be a regular starter for the first time.
Jackson is talented, and I have a hunch that Piscitelli will be a stud in this league eventually, but that promise of talent will not be enough to thwart the Saints impressive aerial attack this season.
The Falcons were one of the leagues pleasant surprises last season. Posting a 4-12 record in 2007, Atlanta was bad enough to have a great first round pick, and they used it to make a franchise changing decision, selecting Matt Ryan, a quarterback out of Boston College.
Ryan took the reigns of the franchise, and with the help of newly acquired running back Michael Turner, led the team to an 11-5 record and a playoff birth.
Talk about a great turn around.
Turner, an understudy of the future Hall of Famer LaDanian Tomlison ran for 1,699 yards in his first year as "the guy". Turner's back up, Jerious Norrwood, was no slouch either, finishing at just under 500 yards on the ground at an average of 5.1 yards per carry.
Ryan passed for 3,440 yards and 16 touchdowns. Not as impressive at Brees' numbers, but non the less, this guy got the job done. Roddy White, Michael Jenkins and Brian Finneran are all back this year to give Ryan tons of options through the air.
The team also added Tony Gonzalez, who many people consider to be the greatest tight end to ever play the game.
Keith Brooking will anchor the defense again this season, and will be sure to turn in yet another Pro Bowl performance from his linebacker spot. Pass rushing guru John Abraham will be healthy this season, and could spell trouble for the Buccaneers inexperienced offensive tackles.
The Panthers were 12-4 last season and won the NFC South. When you are led by Jake Delhomme at quarterback, and DeAngelo Williams in the backfield, you can always expect big things.
Williams was one of the most exciting players in the NFL last year, rushing for 1,550 yards and a 5.5 yards-per-carry average. Couple that with the efforts of rookie Johnathan Stewart last year, and the Panthers were a scary team to defend on the ground.
Steve Smith is back at wide receiver for the Panthers, and he is one of the most explosive guys in the league. Dwayne Jarrett has a big upside as a receiver for the team, and Mushin Muhammed is always one of the biggest silent surprises in the league each year.
Jon Beason, Chris Gamble and Julius Peppers anchor a defense that is exciting and at times can be dominating.
As much as it pains me to say, I don't see how the Bucs can stand much of a chance at finishing anything better than 6-10 this season. The division they play in is what many consider to be the strongest in the league. What's more is the team has to play very tough out of division teams this year such as the Dallas Cowboys and the New York Giants.
I see the season breaking down like this...
New Orleans wins the division, Carolina wins a wild card birth, Atlanta finishes at third with a record that would be good enough to win a division if they were in the AFC, and the Bucs finish last, get a high draft pick, and continue the rebuilding process.
Thomas Gemkow is the official Tampa Bay Buccaneers Correspondent for WhatTheBucs.com, a blog that is part of the FanBall.com sports blogosphere. Currently residing in Lake County, Thomas has been a local sports correspondent the St. Pete Times, Citrus County Chronicle, Ocala Star Banner & was honored by the FCCPA in 2003 for his sports and feature writing ability. You can check out his archived work at his personal blog site, ThomasGemkow.com or follow his updates on Twitter @ThomasGemkow
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