The Bucs are in rebuilding mode. They're committed to a youth movement and trying to build a lasting contender. The Bucs are building through the draft. They're trying to run a team on the cheap by sticking with young players. A convincing argument could be made for any of these assertions, but no matter how you explain it one fact remains clear: this team is trying to get young, desperately.
That's been obvious since the 2009 offseason when the team cut long-time icon Derrick Brooks along with several other veterans. Ronde Barber, John Gilmore, Jerramy Stevens, Ryan Sims and Keydrick Vincent are the only players on the roster in their thirties. To go with all this youth the team is coached by the youngest head coach in the NFL: Raheem Morris.
But the Bucs aren't just going for youth, they're trying to develop players from the moment they come into the league and keep them with the team. They're currently starting only three players who did not play their first regular season game with Tampa Bay: tight end Kellen Winslow Jr., guard Keydrick Vincent and safety Sean Jones. The focus on the draft and undrafted rookies is obvious, as is the lack of spending on free agents.
The team is relying on youth at a lot of positions, and where it isn't relying on youth right now it has youth waiting in the wings - with the possible exception of the Offensive Line. with each passing game it seems new youthful players are getting more snaps and opportunities. Rookies Gerald McCoy and Mike Williams started the first week of the season, a win against the Browns. 2nd-year player E.J. Biggers got his first start of his NFL career in that game as well. The game against the Panthers didn't see the role of the rookies expand, but against the Steelers both Legarrette Blount and Arrelious Benn saw their first NFL action, and 7th-round pick Cody Grimm saw his first NFL start. Throughout the season we will probably see the game time of all the rookies increase.
The only 2010 draft picks who have not seen game action yet are 3rd-round CB Myron Lewis, who missed a large part of the offseason due to injuries, 7th-rounder Erik Lorig who has made a position switch from DE to TE and P Brent Bowden, who was cut before the first regular season game. Lorig could see some game action as early as this weekend, but Myron Lewis may take a while longer to get on the 45-man active roster.
With all this youth, the early-season bye week has allowed the team to try to work some of their newer young players into the gameplan. Brian Price, Arrelious Benn, Legarrette Blount and Kareem Huggins will most likely see their roles expand this weekend. These are all players who could turn out to be important parts of the future of the franchise. As such, keep an eye out for these young players who will see extensive action against the Bengals. This game will show us glimpses of what to expect from this team in the future. A win would be a very promising result, but the quality of play is perhaps even more important.
This is trying to get rookies to raise their quality of play. It is trying to get back to winning and trying to build a lasting contender. Whether this succeeds or not rests on the shoulders of these rookies. But what will this mean for the future? Well, I have a few predictions:
- Cadillac Williams will not play for the Buccaneers in 2011 as his contract ends this offseason and his role in the offense is being reduced.
- Mike Williams and Arrelious Benn will open the 2011 season as the starting wideouts.
- Ronde Barber will retire after this year, opening the way for E.J.Biggers or Myron Lewis to start.
- The 2011 draft will produce new Bucs starters at defensive end, safety and left guard.
- Stylez G. White will not be re-signed. His contract too will end this offseason, and the team won't be keen to re-sign a 31-year-old DE with nothing more than decent production.
- Jeremy Trueblood will also be gone, unless Trueblood manages to remove all penalties from his game. Trueblood is a good run blocker but struggles in pass protection. Moreover, his contract ends after this season and the team has a few young OTs it likes in James Lee and Demar Dotson.
- There will be minimal changes on the coaching staff. Raheem Morris will be signed to a multi-year deal, but sadly Rich Bisaccia will leave the team for a better position elsewhere.
How do you see this youth movement? And where do you think it will lead?