Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Top 10 Questionable Players For 2011
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers entered this season with plenty of questions and plenty of critics. Most were saying Tampa wouldn't come close to sniffing .500, much less win 10 games and come close to a berth in the playoffs.
Now that the Bucs did just that, expectations will be high for 2011. Some things are clear, like the fact Josh Freeman is truly the quarterback of the future, or how Mike Williams and Kellen Winslow will be his main targets for years to come.
While there's plenty of youth that could be around for awhile, there's still several questions to be answered with this young team.
Here are 10 key players who will have question marks stamped on them going into 2011...
McCoy was very quiet early in the season. Even though he was picked just behind Ndamukong Suh, he wasn't playing anywhere close to the level of the Detroit Lions rookie.
When he finally began to play consistently, McCoy tore a biceps' muscle. The defensive line was a strong position of need going into last year's draft, and the Bucs clearly attempted to shore up their problems there by drafting McCoy and fellow defensive tackle Brian Price in the first two rounds.
It's still way too early to say much about McCoy, the former Oklahoma standout. From the signs that he showed just before his injury, it was clear that McCoy was getting more comfortable on the line.
The question is, how much progression will we see out of Gerald next season? If it's a significant improvement, one of the main weak spots for the Bucs ever since the departures of Warren Sapp and Simeon Rice could finally be solved.
In a season filled with injuries for Tampa Bay, Tanard Jackson was out for a much different reason. The safety tested positive for a PED, the second time he has done so, which got him slapped with a suspension that kept him out the whole season.
Jackson, once considered one of the NFL's best future safeties, could be out of a starting spot come next summer, that is if the NFL is not on lockout. Cody Grimm and Corey Lynch came on strong in replacing Jackson and could compete with him for the starting spot.
While I still think Jackson is a premier talent in the Bucs secondary, he needs to be on the field long enough for people to find out. So the question is, can Jackson stay off the "stuff" and stay on the field for the Bucs? We will see.
Continuing the defensive trend. I've talked about a man on the line and one in the secondary, and now I'll talk about a linebacker.
Geno Hayes was surprisingly amazing at times in 2009, and when he wasn't, he still remained consistent. The year 2010 wasn't exactly the same as '09. Not even close. The consistent play went out the window, and along with that he was tased and arrested, adding to countless troubles that the Bucs have had in recent years off the field.
Hayes had big shoes to fill, being the heir to Derrick Brooks at weakside linebacker. He did a good job of stepping up in '09 but then fell back this past season. Hayes is another player with Pro Bowl talent, but he must restrain himself from incidents off the gridiron (tased at a club, stabbed in the head by a girlfriend) and produce consistently on it.
Hayes will never be Brooks, we all know that, but the talent is definitely there for Hayes to really make a name for himself in this league. So the question is, can he focus and improve on what he needs to, and keep those focuses on the field?
Even though he was drafted two rounds in front of Mike Williams, it's clear to see he doesn't have the ceiling in terms of talent like Williams has. Benn was another young Buc who started out slow, began to play well, and then had his season ended by injury.
Wide receiver was a position of concern coming into this season, with Tight End Kellen Winslow being the only consistently solid pass-catcher of the bunch. Sammie Stroughter and Maurice Stovall, though solid on special teams, weren't going to cut it. So the Bucs brought in Williams and Benn to give Josh Freeman more targets.
It turns out the Bucs had a lot more talent at the position than first thought, but Benn might have been the only one that slightly played under expectations. From what I saw right before his injury, he looked like he was coming into his own.
So the question is, can Benn step up and be the number two guy across from Williams? I say give it plenty of time, he'll work out any kinks he has, and he'll be part of the foundation for years to come.
Coming out of Southern Cal, many wondered if the Buccaneers had found a starting defensive end in Kyle Moore. A couple of years have passed, but the question still remains.
While I don't think Michael Bennett has necessarily muscled Moore out of a spot, Moore hasn't been able to stay healthy. The rare moments he is, the performance hasn't been there. Moore, as long as Brian Price and Gerald McCoy don't turn out as complete busts, won't contend for a defensive tackle spot.
On the other hand, Bennett, Stylez G. White, Tim Crowder and the rest of the average ends, will give Moore another chance. That is unless Tampa goes that way with a high draft selection.
So the question is, as it has been the last two years, can Moore be a dependable starter in the NFL? Well, he's no Lee Roy Selmon or Simeon Rice, but for now he may be the best option at the position.
Talk about a knockout season. LeGarrette Blount left behind his troubles from Oregon and became the leading rusher among rookies in the NFL. Not bad for a guy that wasn't drafted. Over 1,000 yards later, it's crazy to think he wasn't.
Defenders didn't know what to think. Go high and get a leveled shoulder? Go low and get leaped over, becoming the bad end of a top ten play on Sports Center? You may ask, with Blount having played so well, why would I have him on this list?
No, it's not a sophomore slump, otherwise there would be many more players on this list, seeing as the Bucs had a mass of rookies play this year. Blount may still have problems hanging on to the ball. Sounds like a simple thing to fix but rather than carrying the ball high, Blount says he feels more natural having the pigskin lower.
Blount didn't have large fumble numbers, but carrying low and away from the body might not be good going forward. I'm more concerned about Blount's inside runs on short yardage situations. He'll plow defenders on any regular run, but as we saw in Atlanta earlier this season, he breaks outside instead of just pushing the pile.
So the question is, is Blount the answer in short yardage situations, and can he change the way he carries the ball? Besides that, Blount is the best Tampa has had at running back in a while.
Who? Yes, I'm talking about the punter. Robert Malone had an average year as a rookie out of Fresno State. But now the Bucs will look at him to improve quite a bit going into his second year.
Malone's average of 41.5 yards was adequate in his first shot in the NFL. After he took over the starting spot from Chris Bryan, Malone came in to play a dozen games, easily improving the numbers that Bryan had put out in the first four games.
The question is, is Malone good enough to keep the job, or should the Bucs look to free agency? I say they keep Malone for the time being, seeing as you can always replace a kicker or punter any time of the season.
He may not be as good as Josh Bidwell was when he was punting in Tampa and making Pro Bowls, but I think he'll come along nicely.
Another defensive starter, another starter that went down to injury last season. Black and Geno Hayes both seemed a bit off from the season before, and then Black's injury obviously didn't help. At the same time, Black didn't have a huge drop in his productivity in terms of stats.
Many are wondering if he's still the solution on the strong side, and many fans in the area have debated this. He's had his moments and could still be used as a solid special teams player, but many don't think he's capable of being a solid starter for years to come
It will interesting to see if the Bucs go another way with the strong side of their linebackers. Hayes looks like someone that could be wearing pewter for awhile. But on the other hand, Barrett Ruud might leave for free agency, and then there's Black's case.
So the question is, will the Bucs have a change in the near future at the position that Black currently occupies? Black has overcome many problems to end up where he is today, so I'm sure he won't give up the position without a fight.
We never got a good look at Brian Price this past season, seeing as he was on injured reserve most of the time, just like many others from the defense. The second round pick from UCLA was a surprising pick, but it was clear the Bucs were trying to solidify the defensive line.
The line was once again one of the weak links in the Bucs organization with both Price and Gerald McCoy (the first two picks by the Bucs in the 2010 draft) going down with injuries.
Roy Miller may give Price a bit of a running for his money, in terms of playing time at one of the defensive tackle spots. Miller hasn't played close to his expectations since coming out of college, and the likes of Al Woods and Frank Okam aren't too much of contenders for any starting spot next year.
So the question is, basically, how good is this guy? We didn't get much of a impression, good or bad, so we'll just have to see. Until then, he remains a question mark.
You may ask, why is this guy on the list? He has nothing more to prove. He's been consistently great for a long time, making him the best corner in team history. Despite being the elder of the defense, he was one of the few starters to not go down with an injury.
Despite maybe losing a step or so, he still is producing at the corner position opposite of Aqib Talib. His motor still runs high, and his play still speaks volumes to how good he is. But if he returns, which I think he should and will, could this be the year that he finally falls off?
The stats may not be great the past few years for him, but quarterbacks just haven't thrown his way, even with Barber getting up in age. And when Talib went down with an injury, it gave opposing QB's even more reason to go to the other side of the field with their throws.
So the question is, can Barber continue to play at the level he has, or will you see the effects come into full force next year? That is if he doesn't retire.