Only four NFL teams—the Steelers, Packers, Bears and Jets—will determine conference championships and Super Bowl berths, as the Seahawks, Ravens, Falcons and Patriots went down this weekend.
Had the Buccaneers made the playoffs, there's no telling if they could have been in the final four going into next week, but the likely result for a young team in playoffs as a wild card would be a road defeat.
What can’t be speculated is the 10-6 team can now face the new season without any more injuries and look to the continued development of the team.
The Buccaneer staff boldly promoted and sought young players last season, and it paid off with a near playoff berth. Next season those young players are no longer rookies, but some still have much to learn.
Offensive lines take time to jell, maybe more so than defensive squads, so maybe a season under their belts will improve their ability to protect quarterback Josh Freeman in the pocket, and hence give him more time to complete passes. At 23, Freeman has shown he is a quick study.
Freeman made strides at his position last season and showed he can be the spark in a scoring drive. At 6’6” and 248 pounds, he also brings self-protection to the field.
Freeman sometimes swats away a single stampeding lineman bearing down on him. Compact quarterbacks don’t have that luxury. Some tall quarterbacks don’t have that much height and weight and don’t defend themselves like that.
But the Buccaneers need huge and effective offensive linemen and others to keep their quarterback healthy and protected. When center Jeff Faine is not in the lineup, the young team seems more challenged, as he has nine years' experience, but he’s also on injured reserve right now. It’s hoped that he will heal well.
Will Tampa Bay pick up some talent in free agency? Maybe. Will they seek more offensive or defensive linemen over running backs or wide receivers or other positions? That'll be determined largely by how they assess their healthy roster and needs in the weeks before the 2011 NFL Draft. Then, too, it’s always who is the best available when the next draft choice is on the clock, so any analysis of choices now is speculation.
One goal is always prime: Protect the quarterback. Now that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have one tall and hefty franchise guy taking snaps, that objective may be even more intense.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have found a franchise quarterback in Josh Freeman, and fans are eager for that first hike on familiar ground.
Photo credit: Dwight Drum @ Racetake.com