The Bucs are the youngest team in the NFL. And most of these players are very young in relation to where they stand in their development as a player. Josh Freeman is the most obvious player to fall under that header: he's 22 years old, and his January birthday makes him just under a month older than Matthew Stafford. These 2 players are also the only 22-year-old Quarterbacks in the NFL, as all the rookies are at least 23 years old. Similar situations can be found across the roster. Brian Price is the 9th youngest player in the NFL at 21 years old and right behind him fellow rookie Gerald McCoy is the second-youngest defensive tackle in the NFL. Dekoda Watson is the youngest linebacker in the league. And then there's our punter: Robert Malone, the youngest punter or placekicker around. Overall, the Bucs have 6 players age 22 or younger on the roster, more than any other team except Carolina.
The overall youth and experience level means that this team should get better and better as the youngsters develop. With Jeff Faine and Ronde Barber being the only starters over 30, age-related decline is also unlikely to occur. So if this team can stay healthy and focused, the future looks bright. Which makes for a neat little segue to my first Bucs Link of today: Gary Shelton's piece on Mark Dominik's efforts to find young talent. The list at the end of the article is pretty impressive.
Two of those talents will be asked to contribute significantly to the team on Sunday. Legarrette Blount will have to anchor the run game, as conditions look to be cold and wet at FedEx field tomorrow. To do so, he may have to learn how to run the ball in short-yardage situations. Stephen Holder writes about Blount's short-yardage trouble, and how different the Bucs' scheme is from his college spread scheme at Oregon. He was never asked to run downhill while in college, despite his big build. Instead, he was supposed to run laterally, find a crease and cut upfield. He's still inexperienced and adjusting to the pro game, but it looks like he still has a lot of room for improvement. As good as he is already, if he works hard he could become a lot better.
The other young talent who will need to step up is E.J. Biggers. Last year's seventh round pick has had a pretty good year as the nickelback, but he'll be starting opposite Ronde Barber now that Aqib Talib is out for the season with a hip injury. According to Ira Kaufman, Biggers has performed solidly in his second year despite missing all of his first year due to a shoulder injury. Raheem Morris credits his offseason work, claiming that Biggers redefined what a player should do while out with an injury. That's pretty impressive coming from a coach who was here when Caddy was coming back from knee surgery, twice.
While I highlighted those two, everyone on the team will have to play well for the Bucs to win tomorrow. Perhaps no one more so than second-year quarterback Josh Freeman. With relatively poor performances in the past two weeks, people have started to say he's in a slump. Roy Cummings of the Tampa Tribune is one of those people, but Josh Freeman is still confident that he's playing good football. He does recognize that he has simply missed throws, but he thinks he's still doing the same things as he's been doing all year and that he'll get it right.
Getting some good young talent isn't the only good thing Mark Dominik has done, though. While he's had some free agency busts with Michael Clayton and Derrick Ward, signing Donald Penn to a new contract this offseason has been a very good move, so says Stephen Holder in the St. Petersburg Times. The left tackle has been having a very good year, and while he has allowed 3 sacks he says none of them were the result of him whiffing on a block. While Penn certainly hasn't been perfect, he's had a season that could be worthy of a Pro Bowl election.
Of course, Dominik's success contrasts with Bruce Allen's failure. While Allen did gather some of the young talent currently on the Bucs' roster, Dominik seems to have hit on more draft picks in his past two years than Allen did over his entire tenure. Allen was fired after 2009 along with Gruden, ostensibly for a failure to draft a future for the franchise. Now, Allen is the General Manager of the Washington Redskins, the team the Bucs face on Sunday, so it's a good time to reflect on the Allen era. And Pat Yasinskas of ESPN does just that, seeing the WR as the biggest failing of Bruce Allen's regime.
Sadly, none of these stories feature some good old, down and dirty, Xs and Os analysis. To close of this article, we have to go to Steve White for that analysis. This week, he's written a general article on the performance of the team as a whole and one on the defensive line specifically.