There are some wise words I once heard about building a football team. I can't remember the exact quote, but it went something along the lines of: "become very good at something instead of average at everything." Edit: The wise Phantom had the quote in his back pocket. "If you're a losing team, the first order of business is to get good at something." It is the kind of attribute that jumps out at you about a team when you read a schedule. The Giants have their defensive line, the Patriots have their passing attack, the 49ers have their killer rush defense, (last season) the Broncos had their rushing game, etc.. What are other teams going to think when they see the Bucs on their schedule? What is going to be our staple that we build from?
What is the philosophy and how does it apply to other teams?
I believe every team needs a foundation to build from. They should excel at one thing before they can really improve at others. This does two things for a team: it makes game planning much easier and it gives them an obvious direction to build talent. I will use the Giant's defensive line and the Jet's corners for this example.
The Giant's defensive line is known for its pass rush. They are arguably the most productive 4-3 line in the league. The Jet's cornerback tandem is also arguably the best in the league. Both of these advantages allow their individual teams to game plan accordingly. The Giants rely on their 4 man front to get pressure consistently, and allow their safeties to provide a lot of help in coverage. The Jets, conversely, don't have a 4 man front that can get pressure consistently. They rely on their corners to cover and take extra linebackers and safeties out of coverage to help generate a pass rush. While they use different methods, both of these defenses have proved to be effective in the past few years.
There is one big question that front offices are confronted with: where should I improve my team? When a team is average on both sides of the ball, that question is not easily answered. Do they make their quarterback happy with weapons or do they give their defensive coordinator some help? When they decide on one side of the ball, the question can be broken down further. What kind of weapon do you provide for the quarterback, or what kind of help do you add on defense? It is much easier to answer these questions when a team excels at something. It is hard to provide examples for this point due to contracts, drafting styles (BPA), and scheme priorities. However, conventional wisdom would tell you to draft and sign FA's towards your weaknesses.
So what will the Bucs excel at?
I believe the answer is found within the trenches. The Bucs used the first and second round picks in two consecutive years (2010 and 2011) on defensive lineman. The team at least wants to excel here. Plagued by injuries and growing pains, production has been hard to come by from our line. We have been left to wonder when will the spark be lit. Could it be 2012? The talent is there. Clayborn showed explosiveness early on. The once considered first round pick Bowers is coming into this season healthy. The big question marks lay with Mccoy and Price. Have their constant injuries effected their ability to progress? Their injuries have gone as far as to start discussions on drafting a defensive tackle. Will we one day have the same luxury as the Giants? Time will tell.
When following money, three of the five highest paid players on the team are offensive lineman. The acquisition of Nicks and the releasing of Faine have made our offensive line, well, nasty. We have two guards coming off pro-bowl seasons and a tackle voted to the top 100 on NFL network. There is a lingering thought in a lot of our minds: do we have the best line in the league? This is certainly an area on paper that many teams will game-plan for, but can we put our hats on it? I believe yes.
What does a great offensive line provide for us?
The advantages of a great offensive line are less prolific to the eye than that of a defensive line; they aren't as sexy of a position. A good line is more of an ode to old school football. The revamped line will create bigger holes in the running game and protect Freeman for longer. We are likely to see a rise in yards per carry. One of the biggest reasons the NFL is turning into a passing league is the massive discrepancy between yards per carry and yards per passing attempt. With an offensive line that provides more yards per carry, we are likely to run the ball more than often. Teams that run the ball with success are more likely to see odd coverages (cover 0, 1, 3, etc.) that bring safeties in the box. These coverages don't allow for much, if any, safety help over the top and allow for more big gains in the passing game.
An excellent offensive line is a great foundation for an offense. It allows a team to bring in a franchise quarterback and feel confident about developing him. The Panthers are a great example of this. Their offensive line consists of many first and second round picks. They brought in Cam Newton and were able to provide him protection that allowed him to make plays. On the flip side, teams like the Jaguars and Vikings see their rookie quarterbacks get the crap beat out of them without much success. I really wonder how much of a beating Andrew Luck is going to go through this coming season. However, are the Bucs looking for a franchise quarterback? No, of course not. We have Freeman. There have been talks about his regression, but, like developing a rookie quarterback, a good offensive line will help him progress with confidence.
What do you think the Bucs will be known for?