The Buccaneers are coming off a 3-13 season and are still in the middle phase of a major rebuilding project. Their goals are pretty modest this season. Sure, they'd like to get into the playoff hunt in 2010, but that's more of a dream than a reality—and they know it.
The Bucs' objective is to improve on last year's disturbing finish, and there's reason to believe they can do it. Unlike last fall, when then-rookie coach Raheem Morris wasn't sure what kind of offense or defense his team was going to run, the Bucs enter this season with an identity established on both sides of the ball.
Still, the Bucs are going with a younger lineup than they fielded in 2009. So expect some growing pains. If all goes as planned, however, they'll make a little progress, too.
Offense: Second-year quarterback Josh Freeman is the centerpiece of the offense, but the Bucs won't make him the focal point of their attack. The hope is that by serving up a steady diet of Cadillac Williams, Derrick Ward and Earnest Graham, the Bucs can lure an eighth defender into the box and create opportunities for Freeman downfield.
The new wizard behind the curtain is Greg Olson, who really isn't new at all. He spent all of 2009 running the offense after Jeff Jagodzinski was fired 10 days before the start of the season. Because he got such a late start, though, Olson never got to implement his own scheme. Now that he has his own game plan in place, look for the Bucs to lean on a power rushing attack as well as Freeman's ability to strike deep.
To take advantage of Freeman's big arm, the team could need rookie wideouts Arrelious Benn and Mike Williams to contribute quickly. Though they need some work, Benn and Williams are good enough to push the likes of Michael Clayton, Sammie Stroughter, Maurice Stovall and Reggie Brown.
Defense: When Morris took the defense back from the deposed Jim Bates after 10 games last year, it was the best move he made. Though it was viewed by many as another indication that Morris was in over his head, the decision to abandon Bates' two-gap, man-coverage scheme and return to a one-gap, zone-coverage system put the defense back on the road to respectability.
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The personnel is best suited to play in a one-gap scheme up front and in zone coverage in the back, but don't be confused: Morris is not running the Tampa 2. He has developed a hybrid system designed to confuse and pressure the quarterback, and he'll do it by dialing up more blitzes than are usually seen in a cover 2 scheme.
The line was a weakness last year, but the prospects for 2010 are improved because of the addition of first-round pick Gerald McCoy and second-rounder Brian Price. But this unit needs much more than just two potentially dominant tackles. Though McCoy, Price and second-year pro Roy Miller should allow the ends to max out on their skill set, the line still seems a little thin on the outside.
Kyle Moore, DE: He spent the first half of his rookie year recovering from a knee injury, but he bounced back and got regular snaps down the stretch. He proved he is worthy of starting this season. A strong one-gap player with the quickness and speed necessary to get into the backfield—especially after losing 20 pounds in the offseason—Moore will also work inside on occasion. He should finish his first full season with at least five sacks.
"He's a guy who can really give guards some trouble on third down and give us some pass rush from the left end, because he's got his explosion back. And what we're seeing from him there is something we haven't seen here in a while." —defensive line coach Todd Wash
"Offensively, they're nothing like they were under (former coach Jon) Gruden. He did the absolute most he could with what he had to work with. Preparing to face his offenses was always a challenge. That doesn't mean they won't improve this year, though. I think their young QB (Freeman) has a lot of promise, and he showed a lot of moxie bringing his team back from deficits last year. ...
"Defensively, I expect them to improve substantially. They're obviously making a concerted effort to defend the run better, taking interior linemen early in the draft. Every linebacker loves when his team drafts big talent in front of him. That should free (Barrett) Ruud up to make even more plays, and hopefully he starts getting the credit he deserves. This guy needs to get paid at some point, for God's sake."
QB Josh Freeman, Josh Johnson
RB Cadillac Williams, Derrick Ward
FB Earnest Graham, Chris Pressley
WR Mike Williams, Sammie Stroughter
WR Michael Clayton, Arrelious Benn
TE Kellen Winslow, Jerramy Stevens
LT Donald Penn, Demar Dotson
LG Jeremy Zuttah, Xavier Fulton
C Jeff Faine, Jonathan Compas
RG Davin Joseph, Shawn Murphy
RT Jeremy Trueblood, Demar Dotson
LE Kyle Moore, Tim Crowder
DT Brian Price, Roy Miller
NT Gerald McCoy, Dre Moore
RE Stylez G. White, Tim Crowder
SLB Quincy Black, Adam Hayward
MLB Barrett Ruud, Rod Wilson
WLB Geno Hayes, Dekoda Watson
LCB Aqib Talib, E.J. Biggers
SS Sabby Piscitelli, Sean Jones
FS Tanard Jackson, Sabby Piscitelli
RCB Ronde Barber, Myron Lewis
K Connor Barth
P Brent Bowden
KR Clifton Smith
PR Clifton Smith
LS Andrew Economos
CSN: Brian Urlacher, who played 13 seasons for the Bears, announced his retirement from football Wenesday on his personal twitter account.
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