Build through the draft. That seems to be the mantra of the Buccaneers nowadays. A mantra that general manager Mark Dominick is holding almost to the point of fanaticism.
Dominick may be on to something after the Bucs finished 10-6 in 2010 while starting more rookies than any other team in the league. With the Bucs generally spurning free agency for another year, head coach Raheem Morris needs his kids to live up to or even exceed last year's stats.
Naturally, a number of fans and critics have been wondering aloud why Morris and Dominick were not more active in courting high priced free agents. What the Buccaneers need are for a few players to light up the field and shock the naysayers.
Here are five players the Buccaneers can look to break out this year and help make Rah and Dom look like geniuses.
If there is one rookie who is determined to make his mark early, it's Da’Quan Bowers.
After falling from a projected top five draft spot to the Buccaneers’ second round pick due to concerns over the health of his knee, Bowers has developed a self-described “log” on his shoulder.
The fact that he was passed up by every other team—sometimes twice—has not escaped Bowers. He has declared that he has “31 points to make” while he’s playing for the Bucs.
All indications point to Bowers being ready to play and even starting on opening day—barring injury during training camp. A healthy Bowers is bad news for the rest of the NFL.
There is a reason Da’Quan was projected to go in the top five. He has elite speed, strength and agility, but most importantly, he has motivation. Rejection is the greatest motivator for a pass rusher to claw and bite for every last sack.
Dezmon Briscoe is a wide receiver who was originally drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals last year, but was subsequently “stolen” from their practice squad by Mark Dominick. What a steal.
After scoring a touchdown in only his second game in the NFL, it should not be hard to understand why the Buccaneers are excited about Briscoe. He possesses only average size, but has a penchant for eye-popping catches and making plays.
The Buccaneers are looking to make Briscoe the third wide receiver, playing out of the slot.
However if he continues to impress and Arrelious Benn and does not suffer a setback in his recovery from an ACL tear, Briscoe could rise to be the Bucs' second receiver.
No matter his position, Briscoe's talent should help put Josh Freeman over the 30 touchdown mark this season.
Barrett Ruud is gone. Enter Tyrone McKenzie. A third round draft pick by New England in 2009, McKenzie has been a journeyman for as long as he has been playing football—but not because of a lack of talent.
McKenzie is a physical player with sound fundamentals, but where he truly excels is with his leadership on and off the field.
During the lockout, McKenzie led the effort to get the defensive players to Josh Freeman’s unofficial mini camp. He even flew out to Nebraksa and reviewed the defensive playbook with Barrett Ruud in a hotel lobby.
Ruud was dumped because he lacked the physicality needed from a middle linebacker. McKenzie has a reputation of being more of a thumper and with the defensive line a year older and wiser McKenzie will have a better opportunity to wreak havoc in the run game than Ruud had during his time in Tampa.
McKenzie's dedication, intelligence and leadership qualities are what give him the best shot to lead the defense both on the field and off.
A cornerback cut from the same physical mold as Aqib Talib, Myron Lewis is a long, fast defensive back. What we have yet to discover is whether he has a nose for the ball.
A lingering hamstring injury set back his development last season, but he enters training camp this year healthy and primed to compete with EJ Biggers for the nickel corner spot.
While Biggers distinguished himself both in the nickel role and as Aqib Talib’s replacement when he went on IR, Lewis hasn’t had that opportunity.
Lewis has a greater physical set than Biggers and this could be the year where he emerges as the Bucs’ Tramon Williams.
Were you expecting me to list a different defensive tackle as the breakout player for the Buccaneers?
Gerald McCoy will notch a few more sacks this year than last, but I chose to highlight Roy Miller because the success of the defensive line begins and ends with him.
Miller is an old man as far as the Buccaneers are concerned. At 24 years old, Miller is the most tenured defensive lineman on the Bucs’ roster. He is also the most experienced—he has not missed a game since becoming a starter in 2010.
While he is not the biggest or the fastest defensive tackle on the roster, Miller is probably the most polished. As the starting nose tackle he will not notch the most sacks, but he is vital to the run defense.
This year, look for the run defense to improve under Miller’s initiative. He will command more double teams, allowing the under tackle—namely Gerald McCoy—to penetrate and disrupt behind the line of scrimmage.