While the Bucs will do their best to continue Atlanta's never ending streak of 0 back to back winning seasons all time, they will also try to do something to stop from having back to back losing seasons of their own for the first time since 03-04. Not to mention the first 3-year playoff drought since 94-96; although that will require considerable work one would think.
But will it? Are the Bucs far from turning it around in year two of the Dominik/Morris Project? First up will be the period between Monday Morning and March 4th when Free agency starts. This is when coaches go, come, move, get raises, get fired, get social security, etc. Then you find out what you can pick up on N-bay, while keeping your eye on who's available through the NFL job placement service from a college near you.
So while we know we will increase the quality of the team with Free Agents and Draft picks, lets look at how all the spots look to change from September 2009 to 2010.
OFFENSIVE LINE: This year we figured out what the O stands for in O-line. Overrated. In fact when Jeff Faine went out early in the season it was like 1985 all over again. Jeremy Zuttah who filled in for Davin Joseph last year for a short injury was not able to replace Aaron Sears in similar fashion when the 3rd year pro did not show up due to after effects from a concussion. To further matters, Jerremy Trueblood has not been able to develop into an elite right tackle, instead leading the league in false start penalties. Trueblood was replaced after yet another personal foul and the Bucs may look to address that position and breakup the Bookends Joseph/Trueblood next season. Denmar Dotson could be a name to remember along with Aaron Sears to bring stability and strength to the foundation of the offense.
QUARTERBACK: Next year will be quite different for the position, finally stable for the first time since the end of 2002. Josh Freeman will go into the offseason as the starter and will receive 100% of the snaps and attention. Even should there be a coaching change along the lines of OC, QB Coach, or even HC, its a forgone conclusion Freeman is the franchise QB. At this stage of the game, it would seem Greg Olsen will have at least the QB Coach position to work with him for 5 or 6 months, learning by studying film of his games this year, where every pick will be evaluated. Expect an improved, but not perfect quarterback in 2010, one still a year away from the prime of his life.
RUNNING BACKS: Cadillac Williams has proven he can go an entire season on his reconstructed knees, which goes to prove what doctors have said: that genetic defects were repaired and have left him with knees stronger than those of the normal man. Some feel Derrick Ward could be trade bait, but in that case, any of the backs could fill that role. Earnest Graham wasn't really given the reps even before he became Fullback because of loss of both men designed for that role. If anything, the Bucs could use a Warrick Dunn type back who can hit a hole and take it the distance. Right now, no one is sure if Cadillac has that speed or not. Definitely not a position of need, that’s for sure.
WIDE RECEIVERS: This segment begins and ends with Antonio Bryant. He is the wild card that controls what happens from January to August. The Bucs will scour the market, and their roster, for guys who can play. Sammy Stroughter has been a very impressive rookie, especially when you take his 7th round status into account. He will have another year under his belt, and a full offseason playing catch with Freeman. Michael Clayton has survived being cut for performance issues because of his low salary. Not so much now, as that works against him. Does it surprise anyone if we say Clayton has a 50-50 chance of being on this team next season, and could find himself simply being cut. Maurice Stovall has been pretty much a bust so far, but since Josh Freeman has come on as the starter, Stovall has taken his opportunities and run with them. He may have saved his job, but its doubtful, seriously doubtful; you will see Clayton and Stovall on the roster next year. This offseason expect the Bucs to add talent to this position, and early enough so it has time to accrue with Freeman. Bucs are set at Tight End.
DEFENSIVE LINE: Without a doubt, the number One area of need with the Bucs is on the defensive line. Guys like Styles G White, Tim Crowder and rookies Roy Miiler and Kyle Moore are those expected to be back and contribute to the turnaround on that side of the line. While there are some others that will provide depth, expect the Bucs to move on from Ryan Simms and Chris Hovan and address the line in BOTH free agency and the draft. This is one of two positions sure to experience a coaching change, going away from DL Coach Robert Nunn who is a Bates guy. With the Coaching situation unstable in Chicago, it could have effects here in Tampa. Rod Marinelli was the Bucs Defensive line coach all during the Dungy years and helped develop Warren Sapp and Simeon Rice.
LINEBACKERS: Probably the biggest change since the return to the Tampa Two has been the play of the linebackers. Barrett Rudd suddenly came off everyone's trade bait list, and Geno Hayes has everyone talking about Derrick Brooks, and not about how he was let go either! Even Quincy Black is playing at a higher level, and these three guys are playing as good as Hardy, Derrick and Lonnie Marts ever did in 1995. No coaching change is expected here as Superbowl coach Joe Barry is already the man here, fully versed in the Tampa Two having trained Derrick Brooks and Shelton Quarles after Lovie Smith left the Bucs.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: This is a wildcard spot on the Bucs defense. Aqib Talib was on fire for the longest time, and was actually the only guy who was excelling on the Bucs during the Bates type defense in place. Not to say he fell off, but a few receivers started catching the ball a little more frequently after the change. Not to worry, Talib was picked FOR the Tampa Two, and the defense will benefit the most from an offseason of stability now that the Tampa Two is the defense de-facto. Question marks surround Sabby Piscitelli, however it should be pointed out that John Lynch was not John Lynch until about his 4th season. Sabby missed his rookie year for the most part, so the jury is not out fully on him yet. However, the courtroom will convene next year, so he may want to start tackling like Lynch circa 1996+ as opposed to 1993. Ronde Barber is nearing the end of his career, something he will probably call on his own when he is ready. He showed a lot of people by playing the Bates man systems pretty good. Barber has always been Barber, a guy with a nose for the ball, is still scoring TDs. Tanard Jackson has cemented his place, and the Bucs will probably cut ties with the other surviving member of the Superbowl team, Jermaine Philips. Flip as they call him could fetch a trade with another player, but his glass forearms have become a liability here in Tampa Bay. A coaching changes is a certainty here, as Joe Baker is a Bates guy and the Bucs wanted to bring in Jimmy Lake before the season, but were skeptical as to fan reaction for bringing in two assistants from an 0-16 team. A full offseason concentrating on teaching the Tampa Two will be critical to the draft pick surely to be added in the draft.
SPECIAL TEAMS: This team will return every single one of its returners who have scored kick off touchdowns over the last 3 years. There is a chance Rich Bisaccia may leave, and we wish him the best of luck. He is a head coach waiting to happen, so that is a position the Bucs need to replace with care. After all, statistically the defense stinks, so does the offense. Bucs special teams however are number one. Punter Josh Bidwell will be a huge question mark, and Connor Barth may have saved the Bucs front office from making the biggest release mistake when they let go Matt Bryant. Barth has been solid in the last few games, and will have another one to help make or break his status as Bucs Kicker.
The Offensive and Defensive Coordinator positions should be addressed within a month of the end of the season. There is no way the team should be even now not thinking about who they want as their offensive coordinators. Maybe they picked too fast last year in an effort to ensure the OC and DC made it out to the Senior Bowl. This year, get it right, and if you dont, you need to stick with your mistake. The firing of the Offensive Coordinator was a complete mess that killed everything this year as far as any type of continuity.
Any way you look at it, the big picture is a full offseason with a coaching staff that adds a few pieces, and players who have now fully bought into the system as a result of a few wins at the end of the year.
And Buc'em will be there every step of the way to report on it. Well, Sort of. Stay tuned.