The new GM and head coach combination have been able to turn around a team that was undoubtedly in peril last season. They hadn't an identity, and this was because they really couldn't do anything well enough to hang their hat on. Tampa couldn't run the ball, and Byron Leftwich was just a waste trying to throw it. Once they put in Josh Freeman things began to turn around with an immediate win against Green Bay in those costumes.
Up until Freeman began to start I was hopeful. The difference that his play instilled in me and arguably the fanbase as a whole was a feeling of optimism. Both are within the same ballpark, but crossing your fingers at the end of a game is a lot more unnerving than believing there's a legitimate chance for victory. Mark Dominik is a major contributor to this relief.
You could start by claiming that Dominik is a psychic. I'd be inclined to believe that- evidenced by his trade of Gaines Adams as well as the discarding of Antonio Bryant. Without Bryant, money was saved and it gave an opportunity for Mike Williams to start as well as he has. The Adams trade amounted to Arrelious Benn who seems to be an emerging impact player.
These two moves ameliorated the once pathetic corps of receivers Tampa fans endured consistently for years. Bryant had an excellent 2008, and Joey Galloway was able to string three good years together, however there has never been options behind those number 1 players. Now, the options seem to be unlimited. Mike Williams is going to be a star, Benn appears to be a solid number 2, Sammie Stroughter is the shifty slot receiver, and Michael Spurlock can play in a pinch. Also, arguably one of the best pass catching tight ends in the league, Kelen Winslow II, will bail out Freeman on his worst throws.
Winslow plainly makes the GM look good. Though he had a mouth on him in Miami and never seemed content in Cleveland, Dominik pulled the trigger and traded a 2nd and 5th round pick to get him in the 2009 off season. Fans and pundits worried that the Tight End would destroy the locker room and miss games due to the fact he had been plagued with injuries. Last season he was the most reliable receiver on the Bucs roster, has played every game since coming to Florida, and still shows great hands.
Drafting the troubled Mike Williams invoked a similar response as the Winslow trade. Williams has been nominated for Rookie of the Week five times and is making a strong case to earn Rookie of the Year honors. His recent arrest for speeding has been the first sign of immaturity. Up to that point he's been a model player; the first of Tampa's drafted rookies to sign a contract and reporting in the offseason for personal work with Freeman.
Dominik and Raheem have been hitting on their late draft picks, which is something fans aren't used to. Sammie Stroughter is a starting slot receiver, and Cody Grimm has filled in well for Tanard Jackson. Erik Lorig started against the Panthers, and Dekota Watson may be starting his second straight game if Quincy Black doesn't play today, and performed admirably. Considering the fact that all of these are seventh round draft picks, management has an impressively high late round success rate.
Let's not forget the most recent acquisition that has yielded the most recent production: Tennessee's castoff, LeGarrette Blount. When he stuck another college player and got into a tiff during camp, many rolled their eyes and overlooked him. Dominik greedily snatched him up once he was on the market. I've been excited about this animal for weeks and am very pleased with his demonstration on Sundays. Not only does he give the offense a high quality running game, but he single handedly stalls the defense in order to give Josh Freeman breathing room.
Last year I watched games and expected them to lose. I wanted to see the young guys progress and see a team develop. When they won games I was elated, but mostly surprised. The complexion of the franchise has completely changed, and at this point I feel I'm watching a winner- a contender. The best part being that young players and the entire unit will keep improving. Since most of these guys are just now being allowed into bars, this could be a great sign for years to come. Mark Dominik was paramount to this improvement.