ATLANTA - NOVEMBER 07: Michael Turner #33 of the Atlanta Falcons rushes upfield against Quincy Black #58 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Georgia Dome on November 7 2010 in Atlanta Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are coming off one of the worst seasons in their franchise's history. Sure, the team has suffered through seasons with fewer wins - but few of those seasons felt like the team had just given up. At the end of the season, nothing the team tried to do worked as the double-digit losses piled up. As a conseuqence, many, many players must redeem themselves for the poor season they had last year. A quick look at a number of players who must do better for the team to thrive.
Linebacker Quincy Black appeared to be Bucs' fans favorite punching bag last season. The fifth-year veteran was frequently out of position and missed too many routine tackles, and that combined with an expensive new contract made him the subject of much derision throughout the year. But Black has returned and is penciled in as the team's starting strong side linebacker, a role he can fulfill adequately, at least in run defense. But if Black doesn't improve, he'll be swiftly replaced - and he won't return next season, as the Bucs can cut him after 2012 without any financial or cap penalties.
Another player who got a lot of abuse heaped on his person was cornerback E.J. Biggers. Although Biggers was technically the third cornerback, he was on the field very frequently and lined up on the outside in nickel defenses. Opposing teams targeted him frequently, with his worst game coming against Green Bay's Jordy Nelson who managed 123 yards on 6 catches against the Buccaneers. Add to that the fact that the fourth-year cornerback is a terrible tackler and largely useless in run support. Biggers simply wasn't good enough in 2011, despite an okay 2010 season. He must bounce back this year to earn a new contract, and to give the Bucs a chance to compete.
Foster didn't have an easy job last season, as the rookie linebacker was thrown right into the fire, asked to call the defense and be on the field for every down. Early in the season it looked like he could easily handle it: the entire front-seven was playing good, downhill football as the defensive line allowed Foster to play aggressively and rack up a few splash plays. Gerald McCoy was lost for the season, however, and with it any consistent defensive line play. To make matters worse, Foster then injured himself and had to miss significant parts of games. Overall, the linebacker played worse and worse as the year continued. He's penciled in as the starting middle linebacker for the Bucs now, and he needs to step up his game.
Freeman was perhaps the most disappointing player in 2011. Instead of taking a step forward from what was a very promising 2010 campaign, he took a few massive steps back. The single most telling statistic is the following: Josh Freeman led the league in turnovers. Was this all his fault? No, there were issues with his receivers and the offense as a whole just never clicked, but a large part of the blame still lies on Freeman's shoulders. Poor decision making, poor accuracy and some bone-headed mistakes combined for a fairly disastrous season. For the Bucs to succeed, Freeman must bounce back.
Mike Williams on his part had an awful 2011 season as well. He struggled to gain separation from defensive backs, seemed to lack the speed and explosiveness he displayed a year before and failed to win any jump balls. Most tellingly was the sheer number of dropped passes: something as routine as catching a ball had become a struggle for the second-year receiver. He needs to be better this season, but he'll have a little less pressure on his shoulders: he's no longer the team's number one receiver, as Vincent Jackson will take over that role. But Williams should still be on the field for the majority of the snaps and his 2012 seasons simply has to be better than his 2011 season.