The New York Times' Fifth Down Blog has been running articles on each NFL team, using film study to examine the teams' 2010 performance. For the Buccaneers, Andy Benoit came to some surprising conclusions, some of which I agree with, some I don't agree with. Regardless, it's interesting reading. I'll go through his observations and share my thoughts on each of them.
I'll start with the least controversial point: Freeman looked like the second-coming of Ben Roethlisberger (on the field, that is), and he greatly improved his leadership and pre-snap analysis. Can't argue with that, Josh Freeman was easily the bright point of the team
Benoit also says Gerald McCoy displayed the skills that got him drafted 3rd overall. Gerald McCoy indeed flashed the athleticism, first step, speed and agility that could turn him into a terrific defensive tackle with a little more experience. He just struggled to play consistently and make an impact on every down. Toward the end of his season he did start to do that, though, collecting 3 sacks. I think he had his strongest game against the Atlanta Falcons, when he was consistently in the backfield despite not recording a sack. Benoit calls him the bright point for this defense, as the linebackers played poorly against the run. I can agree with that to an extent, all linebackers had a problem getting off blocks to make plays and none of them are real thumpers. At the same time, Geno Hayes and Quincy Black created plenty of splash plays by knifing through traffic, and Hayes and Ruud were especially strong in coverage.
The next observation: Talib was not a shutdown corner, but a great playmaker. This is true to an extent. Early in the season Talib gave up a number of touchdowns where he was gambling and trying to read the quarterback. But it didn't take long for him to fix that, and he played at a Pro Bowl level until an injury ended his season. Benoit also speaks to Ronde Barber's superb skills in the box, and that's probably the best aspect of his game now. Ronde doesn't have the speed and explosion to jump routes anymore, but his anticipation and knowledge mean he's most valuable when given the ability to read and react. Like Charles Woodson he was used inside on slot receivers whenever possible, and this allowed him to work through traffic against the run and read plays. He stopped numerous screens before they ever got a chance to develop.
On to Ted Larsen, who started at LG for most of the season. While Benoit calls him undrafted, Larsen was a 6th-round pick for the Patriots who was picked up by the Bucs off waivers. When Keydrick Vincent and Jeff Faine both were injured, Ted Larsen stepped in at left guard while Zuttah stepped in at center. Larsen had a decent year but was weak in pass protection, as Benoit says. However, Benoit says Larsen could be a long-term started at left guard. It's a possibility, but Larsen will have to work hard on his technique and add strength during the offseason for that to happen.
Finally we get to Blount and Williams. Let's look at Williams first, here's what Benoit says about him:
Wide receiver Mike Williams's elevation for jump balls revealed a lack of explosiveness. He was more of a really good No. 2 than a genuine No. 1.
Well, I'm going to have to disagree heavily here. Mike Williams' "lack of explosiveness" is visible only in the lack of great jumping ability. He doesn't elevate and get up over defensive backs that easily, despite being a great dunker. He's still a good target for jump balls because he does a great job of timing his jump and catching the ball at his highest point. He doesn't need to out-jump the defensive backs, he needs to out-time them, and he does a good job at that. In any case, that's the only area of Williams' game where that lack of explosiveness is visible. Watch these two clips and tell me again Mike Williams lacks explosiveness, or that he's not a #1 receiver. I'm not sure where the dividing line between #1 and #2 receiver starts, but I'm pretty sure a lot of teams around the league would be very happy with Mike Williams as their #1.
On to the other spectacular rookie on offense: Legarrette Blount. Benoit writes a scathing review, questioning his speed, ability to change directions and his ability as a power runner. He was a poor short-yardage back, he braced for contract instead of pressing on and he was a non-factor in the passing game. I can't disagree with any of those points, because they all show up on film. But I think Benoit misses two crucial points here: Blount's a dynamic open-field runner who can push through tackles and turn what would be a 5-yard run for most running backs into a 30-yard gain. That's where his true talents lie. Second, most of Blount's problems have to do with inexperience, having played in different schemes throughout his college career. This is where the lockout hurts Blount, though, because he needs all the off-season work he can get to learn how to read blocks and press the hole. Blount as he is now is not a budding star but a useful player who works best at the second level of the defense. But Blount with an offseason full of study could turn into a true star.