Point/Counterpoint is a joint piece that will bring you two sides of a debate. Up this time around, why the 2009 Bucs are going to have a winning season, or why they won't. Niko has gone on record with his predictions here on Buc 'Em for a 9-7 record. I'll jump into the foray and take the flip side of the argument, the ever dreaded losing season. Keep in mind that while we portray one side or the other of the debate, we are doing so in the interest of providing solid reasoning, not because our personal convictions lead us there.
Let's hop right into the arguments.
Buc Wild - I won't ever be accused of being overly optimistic, instead trying to maintain some realistic expectations for our Gen X Buccaneers. On the radio piece I did a few weeks back (shameless self promotion) I predicted a 7-9 record for the Bucs. I just couldn't bring myself to go to the double digit loss days. I've since re-evaluated my predictions and gone for something a bit different. 5-11/6-10.
Niko - I'm going to own it right up until December, and only until then will I say I was out of mind....if indeed I am.
But I've picked the Bucs to go 9-7 or 8-8, and I'm sticking by it. Unless the Bucs get hosed this Sunday 23-7 or 30-13 or 21-3, I will in fact guarantee it. We will know what he have in a few days, But I can tell you right now, why this Bucs team will shock all of the "2 or 3 win" predictors, and not have a losing season, in fact maybe even have a winning one.
Niko -The Biggest reason people don't like the Bucs to win more than a few games are the loss of the named veterans that have been here for some time, and the hiring of Raheem Morris, who people see as just another position coach promoted, probably too early.
1) Coach Raheem Morris is WHY this Bucs team will win. Regardless of what happens this year because of the talent on the field, Raheem Morris is a winner. When he was named Head Coach my phone rang off the hook, because I was telling my friends from 2007 "watch out for this guy named Raheem Morris". The guy went to Kansas to coach College football and improved their defense immediately. Upon his return, OUR defense improved just as fast! Especially his position, which is the secondary; our sore spot from the '06 season. The improvement from not only the position, but from players Jermaine Philips, Rookie Tanard Jackson, and Philip Buchanon was incredible. The guy knows how to coach up players, and he is going to do that to the Bucs in general.
2) Talent Wise, this team improved in all positions. All you need to do is look at the players that were released, and you will find they are still out of work for the most part. Derrick Brooks deserved a better fate, but the fact is, he is still out of work, as are Ike Hilliard, Warrick Dunn, Alex Smith and Jeff Garcia. Replacing them are Geno Hayes, Sammy Stroughter, Clifton Smith, Kellen Winslow Jr, and Byron Leftwich. I did not like Leftwich all that much, but he was good enough to get the job done for a good Jaguars team in the past, and the Steelers somewhat last year. Atlanta had no talent around him when he was there. At the very least, he is good enough to throw the ball 45% of the time while we run the ball more.
3) There are plenty of solid players on this team, you just haven't heard about them yet. If you looked at the Bucs roster in 1997, you would have found no stars there either. That's because no one knew anything about Rufus Porter. Chidi Ahanato and Regan Upshaw were not stars either. Donnie Abraham, Charles Mincy and Anthony Parker did not elicit comfort or thrills back then either. But they were young hungry players who played well for their coach and his scheme.
4) This team will be a well coached team that stresses on the fundamentals, that follows the plan set for it. This team will run the ball and pass the ball deep. Intermediate throws to our two tight ends are almost guaranteed, as we saw NONE of that during preseason. Over the last several years we have gotten away from this. Too many practices were spent learning new plays, when it was obvious the team hadn't gotten the old ones down yet. Instead, they are learning the fundamentals of football, and that is exactly what Tony Dungy did when he came here in 1996. Except there is no 14 year losing history to battle with for year one like back then.
5) Boggles my mind to hear we have no depth on our team. This goes back to point 3, no one knows what we have yet, so they are not considered worth of praise. Or Depth.
When you have two tight ends like we do, you will rarely see 3 receivers on the field at the same time. Sammy Stroughter could very well be another Karl Williams for us, or even better. We have 3 Good receivers and that could even be 4 if what we saw from Stovall.
Defensive line has bodies that can clog up the middle, and some very good pass rushing ends that go almost 4 deep. There is depth, you just dont know their names yet.
6) Despite all the TALK, this NFC South is still a division winnable with 9 victories.
NEW ORLEANS still needs a defense. They Hired a coordinator. Will that do the trick? Its a mystery.
CAROLINA- Still going to battle with Delhomme as their leader. Its any year for that man, could this be the year he falters a bit?
ATLANTA- Yes they had a great year last year...but all I need to do is point out two things.
In 40+ years of Atlanta Falcons history, they have never, I repeat NEVER had back to back winning seasons. Also, have you heard of SOPHOMORE SLUMPS?? If the QB or the team itself has one, that could be our break.
7) The schedule is tough (based on last years results), but its tough early. If the Bucs come out of the first five games 2-3, they will know they are in this thing. If they are somehow better, the schedule lightens up in their favor.
Bottom line, I sincerely believe based on how I've seen the Bucs teams built over the last 30 years, that this is a team that is headed in the right direction. The pure fact is that for these things to come true that Ive listed, questions have to be answered. But if this season does go south, I believe that we have the core elements in place to succeed in the near future.
You can say what you want to about Josh Freeman, but I've seen us draft Trent Dilfer, Vinny Testaverde, and bring in Jack Thompson, all with the optimistic features of great QBs, Arm Strengths, ect. None of them panned out. Here comes a guy with all the physical tools, and yet there are tons of naysayers. Raheem Morris knew what he was getting, that's why he picked him. I put my trust in this Head Coach who has shown he has the know how and ability to get results, even if they are not big results that are earth shattering.
Bottom line: I'm not concerned in what others are saying about this team. The only ones who are qualified are local media who have gone to the OTAs and reported from One Buc on a daily basis. National media opinions do not matter to me, they are not here for the most part and either rely too much on locals for their info, or fall into the traps listed above.
Besides....worse comes to worse, I have received an excellent recipe after being so wrong about Luke McCown!
4 oz BBQ Sauce
1 Teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
1 Tablespoon Brown Sugar
2 # Crow!
Buc Wild - Safe to say with recipes like that, I won't be eating at your house. *crickets* Alright, enough with the journalistic humor.
I'll jump right in and go point by point.
1) I wish I shared your enthusiasm on Raheem Morris. Actually, let me take that a step further. It's not so much Raheem I doubt, it's the whole front office, Raheem included. With the latest debacle (Coach Jags) it washed away any confidence I had. I mean, this guy was supposedly hand chosen by Raheem a few months ago and now, 2 weeks before the opener he dumps him? Doesn't breed confidence. The way he handled the QB battle just wreaked of amateur hour happenings. He's made a niche for himself thus far as the hyper, over the top players coach, but I don't see that helping this team win. He's in for a lot of on the job training that will make 2010 and beyond easier, but 2009 we need a captain for the ship, not a parrot on the Glazer's shoulders.
2) I don't know that we improved talent wise at all positions. We parlayed one veteran QB for another. We did upgrade at RB, but at the WR position I still feel incomplete. Ike Hilliard was a rock on 3rd down, and we replace him with career underachiever Stovall. The OL is largely unchanged. LB sees the biggest hit. Hayes and Black couldn't crack the line up the last two years and I'm supposed to buy into the fact that they are better than #55? They might play well, but I suspect we'll see a fair share of slip ups and Ruud will have to be a bigger force. He was able to focus on his job only, now I wonder if he'll be looking over his shoulder to help out Hayes. Our secondary is a mess. T-Jack, Raheem's boy, is out for 4 games and Sabby can't take that next step. Best case I call it a wash talent wise.
3) There are certainly player we haven't heard of, but if the Bucs have to count on them to contribute, it will be a long season. While there are the unknowns that surprise each team with their play, I'm a big fan of knowing what you have. With a known commodity (player), there arent any unfortunate surprises. Right now I feel like our team is full of the unknowns. Sure we might hit the jackpot on a few, but to say we hit the jackpot on all is a stretch. Right now, by my calculations, we have 8-10 unknowns (Byron, Clayton, Stovall ,Stroughter, Geno, Black, Wilkerson, Sims etc). If we hit a 75% success rate and 6 of those guys turn out, we still have 25% (2) players that are regular contributors that fail. Give me some rock steady guys, and I'll roll the dice on a few positions, but not this many.
4) Two new OC's in 4 months, I can't say that players, particularly the young ones even grasped Jags playbook, let alone a new variation with Olson. It will be a very simple offense, no doubt, but this is a team built to play with the lead. If the Bucs get behind by 7+ points, it will be a long day. With the run based offense and a mediocre QB, it doesnt scream "play catch up." While the defense played well in preseason, I'll wait and see how they do in real games. If I were a betting man, I'd want to see low scoring grind it out games that our offense can stay true to scheme on.
5) Depth may not be an issue, but it's not hard to replace underachievers and mediocrity. Gaines Adams is a perfect example. We may have a rotation that he's a part of, but I want a guy that can control a game. We don't have a game changer on defense right now and if our DL doesn't provide pressure, again, long season ahead.
6) The NFC South is always a tough division, and if someone promised me a home and away split right now, I'd take it. The Falcons have an under rated defense, a budding QB, workhorse running back, star (big) WR and a star TE. Thats a disaster to cover. New Orleans may not have a D, but they can score 40+ no problem. I don't see our offense hanging there. And Carolina. Steve Smith continues to kill us and the two (three?) headed monster of Williams, Stewart and Goodson might rival our backfield. And by the way, their D can bring it.
7) The schedule. Until it gets going we have no idea what we face or how teams will play. But based on 2008 results, we play right out of the gate one of the more competitive divisions, the NFC East, with away games at Philly (pass) and at Washington. The Giants, who seem to own us at home, also waltz in here. 2-3 would be a huge win through the first 5. It does get easier but with the division games, a trip to London to take on Super Bowl favorite New England, upstart Miami, and a Packers team that is just getting better, it just seems brutal.
There are a few other items I think that lead us to a below average record.
1) Youth. Yes, youth is served. The younger guys need a steady hand to lead them, to keep their emotions in check. This comes in handy when there's a bad call, you get behind, or you slap a cabbie in the head. I guess we can rely on Derrick Broo........oh wait, he's gone. That's fine, Ike will get us thro.......he's gone too? No worries, Garcia can run around and make plays.........really? He's gone. Well what about Kevin Carter, surely he's still here. Wow, he's gone too. So our veteran leadership, the hand to steady the boat falls on a 30 something head coach, a journeyman QB, a soldier on offense who has already been called too emotional, a guy in trying to straighten out a drug problem, and a 30 something year old head coach. Who calls the team together and can calm the nerves, calm the rookies, light the fire?
2) Freeman. Ah yes, boy wonder. Unless we are making a serious run at the playoffs, I'd bet my left arm that he sees the field as a starter this year. And while that's an entirely different argument, I see Freeman in 2009 = losses. He's a rookie, he will (continue to) make rookie mistakes. Let's just say he starts in Week 10 We face the Jets, Panthers, Dolphins who will introduce him to NFL defense. He may be good in future years, but I'd bet he's worth an additional 2-3 losses if he comes in.
3) Lack of reps. What most teams have established in preseason, we haven't had a chance. We were down a starting QB, down our starting running back, down our top two receivers, our top tight end was invisible and our center was out half the time. We don't have reps together. That loss of time will lead to miscommunication. Most teams are in Week 4 or 5 of time together, we're in week 1.5.
4) Negativity. The team can buy into either the positive side or negative side. If things take a turn for the worse early, either in a game or season, it could just lead to a landslide in that direction. Case and point, the last four games in 2008.
5) Injuries. We're one injury away at QB, WR, LB, or DB from being screwed. If another DB goes down, or Bryant's knee acts up, oh man, it will be disaster. We don't have a team who can overcome the loss of a star player. We're built as a team, the sum of it's parts. We lose a significant part, we're driving with three wheels, which ain't good.
6) QB play. Leftwich is far too inconsistent (as are our other QB's) to lead us anywhere. With his injury history and slow moving ways, you can bet that by Week 8 he'll either be hurt or be towards the league lead in fumbles. Usually adding a league re-tread as a starter doesn't equal great success
7) This is hard to quantify, but you just can't go into the season with this many question marks. GM, Head Coach, OC, QB, secondary, DL, it just adds up to be too much to overcome. The biggest thing is the change in OC and introduction of new plays. It's hard to take a team seriously and expect good things when 10 days before the game, plays are being added. That leads me to number 8.
8) A late addition. How about expanding the playbook a week before the opener? Confusion has to be running all over these players. One slip in communication between players could equal six going the other way. I can't grasp changing plays/systems, or adding wrinkles on an already new offense this late.
I hate to be "that guy" who just brings the negativity, but there are just too many question marks and barriers to the team going out and being a playoff team. I look at this year and see a 2-3 year plan to get back to the playoffs. This is the down year with a new, well, a new everything, from the top to bottom, this team is different.
The question marks are there. Both sides have been pointed out. What do you think will happen in 2009? Sound off in the comments section below.