This 10-6 year was success outside of any realistic fans dream. Some are going to argue they should have gone 11-5, others will say they escaped a few games and may have gone 8-8 or worse. Either way, there are several players that the team will be leaning on who must improve substantially next season in order to maintain success.
Many players performed above what was expected of them. LeGarrette Blount, E.J. Biggers, Ted Larsen, Cody Grimm, Mike Williams, and many more looked much better than coaches could reasonably demand for such young players. They will have to sustain that level of play if the team hopes to improve, though doubters exist that believe some of them overachieved. This article, however, is not about these players. Those who need to step up are those who will be heavily depended on or at some level disappointed.Gerald McCoy (DT) - At the beginning of the season the first rounder was looking like the typical rookie defensive tackle. He would get pushed around more than I liked to see and ended up out of position too often. McCoy was able to get his act together toward the second half of the year and started to accrue sacks and tackles for loss. His injury put him on IR and he missed games that would have been valuable for his development. This is not a criticism of McCoy- no one can expect much from a rookie, especially a DT. The team is going to need him to put consistent pressure on the quarterback and to provide staunch run support in order for the defense to become respectable all around.
Brian Price (DT) - While everyone was shocked that he dominated in camp, that performance didn't transfer into the regular season. He look strong and quick but his nagging injuries kept him from playing most of the year. Really, he wasn't able to make use of his rookie season. Tampa has to have the player that showed up in camp in 2010 with an array of pass rush moves and power. Price is going to have to quiet any suggestion that he is injury prone, and he certainly doesn't want to draw any comparison to Michael Clayton or Maurice Stovall as far as his training camp and regular season performance is concerned. Price and McCoy need to get healthy, stay on the field, and learn the nuances of their position. Otherwise the run defense is going to be very inadequate.
Roy Miller (DT) - He hasn't the speed nor the moves to be effective against the pass, yet he has ability against the run. Each starting defensive tackle is on this list because their development is absolutely integral for the Bucs defense and their rise to prominence. Miller is already very strong yet he must improve at positioning himself in the right gaps to frustrate opposing running backs. At least all of these men to this point are solid tacklers.
Tanard Jackson (S) - The safety is a big one. He's the best safety on the team by leaps and bounds and a very good NFL safety overall. He hits hard, tackles well, reads the offense and intercepts the ball regularly. Unfortunately all of that means garbage if he's on suspension. If he comes back an angel everyone will want him back; if otherwise he'll never play in the league again. The choice is obviously only his to make, so just how much more he is attracted to substance abuse than he is to football will be the only relevant factor as to whether he plays again (in Tampa or elsewhere). I'd like to see him back in pewter to make other teams perceive the secondary in abject horror. It is just sad to see such a young player dispose of his future with so much frivolous disregard.
Quincy Black (OLB) - I will say for the most part the corps played well this year. Geno Hayes is really starting to look good amassing sacks, interceptions and passes defensed. The Tampa 2 needs the Will backer to be a great- Hayes is becoming polished. Quincy Black has an unfair amount of athleticism and needs to add technique. For a huge guy with blinding speed he should hit harder (the sack against Moore being the only exception). He's caught out of position a lot and when Morris tried to mix him up in the blitzing game he was not very effective. He'll need to learn some pass rush moves and how to beat TE's that he runs into in order to do well. OLB is something the Bucs will draft early and he could wind up on the bench without improvement.
Barrett Ruud (MLB) - Fans have been quite vocal about Ruud, and while I like him very much I will say he needs to improve. He's the best tackler on the team, but most criticisms suggest he can't do so with authority. Every now and again he'll be run over by a back, but that's to be expected to an extent. He wasn't victimized too much this season in that regard; I believe that the ugliness of those circumstances may inflate the concern of fans more than it really should. His main trouble is shedding blockers and getting to the RB's. In the off season I was excited to see him this year with two high picked DTs in front yet they were both injured and didn't make an immediate impact. I'm afraid to say with Price missing almost all of the season, Ruud may not look that much better with only McCoy and Miller having experience and starting in front.
DE's (all of them) - This will be Tampa's first round pick, every fan who's paying attention knows it. Unless insanity develops in April there will be one if not two high caliber players coming in to support the DE's. Michael Bennett looked good at times with his speed, and he's not bad against the run, but he doesn't dominate. White is the oldest and most established on the team at this position but he produces less every year and may not be in the teams future plans. Tim Crowder gets to the quarterback better than I thought he would but it's not a regularity. Both he and Kyle Moore have value in that they can play a little bit of everything up front- they're just don't particularly shine. What Tampa has here, at best, is depth in mediocrity.
Jeff Faine (C) - In 2009 and 2010 he's missed twelve games, and has only played two full seasons in his 8 year career. Though he is very talented and intelligent, if he can't stay healthy it's impossible to get the job done. Faine is great in pass protection and above average in the running game. For Josh Freeman's first season he helped make reads at the line, and he doesn't often screw up the snap. Faine is just injury prone. Perhaps this can be put on the coaches just as well as Faine. Kellen Winslow hasn't missed a game since coming to Tampa, and outside of his temper his health was an immense concern. If the coaches can implement a practice strategy with Faine as they do with Winslow by having him miss sessions during the week then Jeff will be fresh for Sunday and it may help him avoid injury.
Davin Joseph (RG) - the Pro Bowl guard has played excellently throughout his career with the team aside from this year. Joseph dropped off from the past few years and ended up getting put in IR in the home stretch. He's above average against the pass rush and absolutely terrifying when he run blocks, just not this year. Instead of playing like an all-star he played above average, and sometimes just average. Whether it be hitting the weight room harder or watching more game tape, he'll need to regain that elite form in order to help the team.
Jeremy Zuttah (LG) - It would be remiss to leave out that this Guard was playing Center for about half of the season. He looked miserable at Center at times, and others he was serviceable. His time at guard showed little improvement from his past. Zuttah is adequate at best against the pass rush and he doesn't get any push when run blocking. He needs better technique and strength to become satisfactory at run blocking but he's probably better suited as a back up who wears many hats. That is his true value to the team as they will hopefully go to Free Agency or the draft to upgrade at LG.
These individuals are not bad players. Getting injured is out of the hands of the individual, yet the team relies on everyone to play to the best of their ability. Those who fall short of higher expectations will be scrutinized more heavily, and not all will get a chance to redeem themselves next year. If they all make it to camp fans can only hope their ambition and competition will push them to higher levels.