Pro football preview | Tampa Bay Buccaneers

August 31, 2011 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

NEED A BIG SEASON FROM

Josh Freeman, quarterback

You can talk about the rebuilt defensive line and whether the secondary can hold its own if Aqib Talib is suspended and Ronde Barber can’t fight of father time for another season. But it in the end it comes down to quarterback Josh Freeman.

Freeman makes plays that are not in the playbook and is the main reason the Bucs won five games by three points or less, including two by one point.

Entering his third NFL season, the 6-6, 248 pounder is knocking on the door that is reserved for the league’s elite quarterbacks.

Freeman had a breakout year in 2010 throwing for 3,451 yards and 25 touchdowns with only six interceptions. He was one of only four quarterbacks to throw at least 25 TD passes and have less than 10 interceptions and ran for 364 yards, second most among quarterbacks behind Michael Vick.

“Josh Freeman, quarterback for the Tampa Bay Bucs, will be an MVP candidate by the end of the year,” predicted former Bucs great Warren Sapp in his role with the NFL Network.

Bucs head coach Raheem Morris put his reputation on the line when he pushed for the team to select Freeman in the 2009 draft and he hasn’t regretted it for a moment.

“We all get that it has to be all about the quarterback,” Bucs offensive coordinator Greg Olson told NFL.com. “Everyone here understands that. Raheem says it all the time, ‘It’s all about No. 5.’ It’s not meant to put undue pressure on a young quarterback, but he knew he could handle it and Josh has everything you could look for from a quarterback.”

Freeman also doesn’t shy away from leadership. This summer during the lockout he took it upon himself to organize the team for workouts and it was obvious he was in charge.

“I felt it was my responsibility to get everyone together and that it was important. We are optimistic about this season and want to make sure we are ready and prepared,” he said.

FORECAST: (8-8: tougher schedule keeps Bucs home for playoffs)

There is no doubt the Bucs are a better team than the one that went through a miserable 3-13 season in 2009. The question is how much better?

Their 10-6 record last year could be a deceiving. They feasted off the dreadful NFC West with a 4-0 mark and beat two of Ohio’s hapless in Cleveland and Cincinnati. The only team with a winning record they defeated was New Orleans in the last game of the regular season when the Saints pulled their starters.

What they do have is a franchise quarterback in the making in Josh Freeman, whose supporting cast is comprised of perhaps over-achievers. Receiver Mike Williams and running back LeGarrette Blount had surprisingly good seasons, but are still questions marks with a history of having a volatile personality.

The receiving corps could be better than average and the running back corps doesn’t have anyone behind Blount that poses a threat. The offensive line led by Davin Joseph should do enough to protect Freeman, who is a load to bring down and can be very creative with his feet and arm.

Defensively there has to be worry. The linebacking corps is young, especially with Mason Foster in the middle. The line is talented, but still untested. And in the secondary the Bucs don’t’ know how much Ronde Barber has left and whether Aqib Talib will be suspended. If Tanard Jackson returns in September from a year suspension for substance abuse it will be a big plus.

This year the Bucs are paired up with the four teams from the AFC South, which is tougher than last year’s NFC West, but still not overbearing with Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Houston and Tennessee. There is also Green Bay , Dallas and Chicago on their schedule.

History is not on the Bucs side.

Between 2002 and ’09 thirty teams experienced increases of at least five victories from one season to the next. The next season 24 of those teams won fewer games after the improvement and only two of the 30 improved.

The Bucs went from 3-13 in ’09 to 10-6 last year, an increase of seven more victories. In ’05 they improved six games going 11-5 after a 5-11 season. But in ’06 they fell to 4-12.

Bucs head coach Raheem Morris says none of that stuff means anything. He is a predicting a division title this year. Ever an optimist, he may be right. But then he might be wrong. The ice is thin.

IMPACT NEWCOMER

Mason Foster (6-2, 242), rookie, linebacker

The Bucs believed in this guy so much they elected not to re-sign Barrett Ruud their mainstay

at middle linebacker. Granted, Rudd had his shortcomings, but allowing a veteran to go for an untested rookie involves a lot faith if not downright moxy. The third round draft pick out of Washington is young and raw and doesn’t yet grasp the system, but Bucs head coach Raheem Morris loves his physical presence, which Bucs say Ruud never had.

THIN AT RUNNING BACK

The running game starts and ends with LeGarrette Blount, which has to be concern considering everything that can happen at the position and no one knows if he is a just a one year wonder. He gives them a nice physical presence to pound away, but they need a third down back to help passing game. Backups Allen Bradford and Kregg Lumpkin have a combined two NFL carries and Earnest Graham doesn’t frighten any team anymore.

DEEP AT DEFENSIVE LINE

Yes, it’s untested and unproven, but it’s deeper and better than in recent years. Bucs spent first two draft picks in ’10 on defensive tackles Gerald McCoy and Brian Price (still recovering from injury) and two top picks this year in defensive ends Adrian Clayborn and Da’Quan Bowers. Roy Miller adds quality

along with Michael Bennett.

Coach Morris says……..

“We always talk about Free (QB Josh Freeman) and being perfect on protection and things of that nature, but the bottom line is, some of those plays last year Free made we didn’t draw up upstairs. Those plays have got to happen by big-time players. We’ve got a bunch of young guys for a reason. We want to be lively, we want to be energetic.”

2020 Record: 10-6

Head coach: Raheem Morris, 2nd year, 13-19

2011 SCHEDULE:

Sept. 11 DETROIT

Sept. 18 at Minnesota

Sept. 25 ATLANTA

Oct. 3 INDIANAPOLIS

Oct. 9 at San Francisco

Oct 16. NEW ORLEANS

*Oct. 23 Chicago

Nov. 6 at New Orleans

Nov. 13 HOUSTON

Nov. 20 at Green Bay

Nov. 27 at Tennessee

Dec. 4 CAROLINA

Dec. 11 at Jacksonville

Dec. 17 DALLAS

Dec. 24 at Carolina

Jan 1. at Atlanta

*In London

2010 RESULTS:

CLEVELAND W 17-14

at Carolina W 24-7

PITTSBURGH L 38-13

at Cincinnati W 24-21

NEW ORLEANS L 31-6

ST. LOUIS W 18-17

at Arizona W 38-35

at Atlanta L 27-21

CAROLINA W 31-16

at San Francisco W 21-0

at Baltimore L 17-10

ATLANTA L 28-24

at Washington W 17-16

DETROIT L 23-20

SEATTLE W 38-15

at New Orleans W 23-13

KEY GAME:

Every game in the NFL is a key, but if you have to pick one it might be the Bucs division opener at home against Atlanta on Sept. 25. A win would provide a huge boost in confidence that might carry them through the season.

BY THE NUMBERS:

5: Five of the Bucs 10 victories last season were decided by three points or less. Three were decided by three points and two by one point.

1: The only team the Bucs beat with a winning record last year was New Orleans and that came in the last game of the season when the Saints pulled their starters in the second half.

7: Bucs are hoping 7 is not an unlucky number for them like in ’06 when they won seven fewer games after going 11-5 in ‘05 which was a six game improvement over previous year. They are coming off a 7 game improvement from the ’09 season.

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