The 2011 season has been over for quite some time, but now is truly the time where fans begin to feel it's effects. The draft has past, the combine is long in the rear view mirror and rookie minicamps have officially ended for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. So what are the fans to do in this month of lull? One word, speculate.
Now we know the 90 players Tampa will carry into the start of the off season program, and time has never been riper to begin discussions on what players will make the final roster and, more importantly, which players will contribute heavily during the 2012 season.
Will Josh Freeman have a bounce back season after finishing the disappointing year that was 2011? Will the offensive line preform as highly as they are grossing? Will Blount or Martin be the starting tailback in Shiano's run first scheme? Will Vincent Jackson be exactly what Freeman needs to excel? And which players will make the back half of Tampa's offensive depth chart? Let the speculation commence, after the jump.
It is little secret that in today's NFL, quarterbacks make or break any successful offense. The last 9 Super Bowl champions have all had quarterbacks who either played at an elite level, or have gone on to play at an elite level during their career. In fact, the last Super Bowl winning quarterback who was not considered elite was Brad Johnson, who should be very familiar to any Bucs fan. The game revolves around the success (or failure) of the quarterback position. So, like many fans of NFL teams, the Bucs are left to wonder if the have a quarterback that can lead them to an ever elusive NFL championship, and that search begins and ends with Josh Freeman.
Selected 17th overall in the 2009 NFL draft, Freeman has been given a rare opportunity in his life. He has been entrusted with the hopes and dreams of any person who bleeds pewter and red. Early in his career he was looked on as a savior to the franchise. His first start excited fans as he lead a come from behind victory against the Packers in thrilling fashion. The next season, he enjoyed a fantastic season statistically, throwing over four times as many touchdowns as interceptions. He displayed a calm demeanor in tough situations, and look on the cusp of elite status. That is, until the 2011 regular season.
The season on offense started out rocky. The running game was essentially nonexistent, receivers dropped balls left and right and Freeman seemed to be just slightly inaccurate at the wrong moments. On the positive side, he showed a much improved pocket presence and an undying passion even in the face of complete offensive collapse.
Skip forward to the beginning of Tampa's brief veteran voluntary workouts, Freeman looks to be a new man. He has slimmed down close to 20 pounds, and looks to be lighter in hopes of being more mobile in the pocket. But the questions still remain, is he the answer to Tampa's quarterback woes?
In his first year as head coach, Greg Shiano has given Freeman more chances to succeed without his team even touching the field. He has beefed up the offensive line, provided a true number one receiving threat, and given the running back position a much needed infusion of talent.
Freeman and new offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan must been liking their chops at the prospect of the potential match ups this team will face in the passing game. Defensive coordinators will have to balance decisions such as double teaming Jackson, which would allow players like Arrelious Benn, Mike Williams and Kellen Winslow one on one match ups. How can a team expect to cover those four receivers and still play the run against what may prove to be the best run blocking offensive line in football? Freeman should have the best chance in his four years as an NFL quarterback to light up opposing teams. This year will tell exactly what Freeman will be for Tampa, a good young prospect that never developed into his full potential, or and elite signal caller.
Behind Freeman, Tampa is looking to Dan Orvlosky to provide solid play in case of injury to the young quarterback. Orvlosky has been unspectacular in his NFL career, and is best known for a play he would rather forget than remember. Tampa fans everywhere are hoping Dan never hits the field in a pewter jersey.
Behind Orvlosky, Brett Ratliff sits as the lone remaining quarterback on the roster. The former Utah quarterback went undrafted following the 2007 draft, and has spent time with the Jets, Browns, Jaguars and Patriots before signing with Tampa last December. Ratliff is another player Tampa hopes never hits the field, and may not even make the roster in 2012, now that the 3rd quarterback rule has been eliminated from the game.
Expect this year to be a telling season in Tampa Bay. Freeman has been given every chance to succeed this year, but should he fail to improve, Tampa , whether just or not, may look to be in the quarterback market in 2013.
Projected depth chart: Josh Freeman, Dan Orvlosky.