TAMPA, FLA -One of the most underappreciated, and most under-scrutinized team, and team most likely to one day maybe go to the Super Bowl and have nobody anywhere pay any attention to them at any point during the season, is starting to make some headlines.
In the pre-season (of all times).
And for mostly all of the wrong reasons.
The NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers may be that one team that it seems, nobody anywhere gives a rat’s ass about.
Around these parts, ESPN gives more coverage to golf each weekend then it does to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
I have seen more race car coverage on TV then NFL games involving the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
They just may be able to go on a lengthy playoff run one year and have nobody have a clue where they even play.
In fact, you never even see Tampa Bay’s NFL team play on TV most of the time.
You will hear about the NHL Lightning day in and day out.
You will hear about the same amount of media coverage for the MLB Rays, but the Bucs…not so much.
I even thought that the Buccaneers would be that one and only pro sports team that if you want to find out how they are doing, you just might have to Google them (unlike most other teams that you can find quite easily on ESPN).
Tampa Bay’s starting quarterback, supposedly, is Josh Freeman.
Freeman has been there in Tampa for 4 years. Hall of Fame quarterback Fran Tarkenton says he thinks that is probably 3 years too long.
Tarkenton said he has doubts about Freeman’s ability to succeed in this league, maybe more specifically, this Buccaneers team.
For those of you that don’t know, Francis ‘Fran’ Tarkenton was a former NFLer with the Minnesota Vikings and the New York Giants. He has also served as a commentator on Monday Night Football. At the time of Tarkenton’s retirement, he owned every major quarterback award.
Going back over the past 10 years or so, there aren’t too many success stories coming out of Tampa Bay’s most important position on the football field.
Byron Leftwich (2009), Jeff Garcia (2008-09) and Trent Dilfer (1995-99) are the only ones that come to mind.
“They’ve had him there for four years and they have question marks about you?’’ Tarkenton said. “You didn’t have question marks about Matt Ryan (ATL) after his fourth year or Joe Flacco(BAL). That means they don’t think he can play. He’s not going to get magical and all of the sudden in the fifth year be Aaron Rodgers. They want Mike Glennon (North Carolina State) to be able to play. The only thing that will keep him from playing is if he’s not able to learn the system and make plays.’’
The general consensus around TB is that they want Freeman to succeed. Even though they used a third-round draft pick on Glennon, the Bucs desperately want Freeman to succeed. If he plays well, that probably means the team will be in the playoffs for the first time since the 2007 season. That would give both the GM and Head Coach some job security.
Other offerings coming from perhaps the most important players in this (Freeman’s teammates), defensive tackle Gerald McCoy takes exception to the criticism Freeman has been getting recently and said the quarterback is a team leader.
Some media and fans are down on Freeman, but I think he still has the confidence of his teammates, which is hugely important.
Glennon has been given more preseason work than Freeman, could be a sign of things to come.
To add to Tampa’s problems, they don’t have anybody on the roster that could really take this team somewhere; then again, Tom Brady was a nobody in New England for a little while, behind Drew Bledsoe, but the only QBs Tampa currently has on the roster are Glennon (the suspected next-in-line), Adam Weber, and former Indianapolis Colts backup to Peyton Manning, Dan Orlovsky.
Elsewhere on the field for the Buccaneers head coach Greg Schiano (who does not have a whole lot of experience), gave a run down on a variety of subjects as they pertain to Tampa Bay.
On special teams, if Lawrence Tynes can’t get healthy, the Bucs could end up going with someone else who isn’t currently on the roster. Derek Dimke is the other possibility.
The Bucs made a trade for return man Jeff Demps, however Demps apparently is more concerned with track and field (how good has a coach got to feel about hearing that his return guy is more interested in participating in track and field??!?!). Demp has yet to officially join the team.
“Supposedly he is coming,” Chiano said when questioned by reporters. “I don’t know. I don’t worry about guys that aren’t here!”
So that is the QB situation and the kick return specialist that are up in the air, what is next? The tight end situation does not appear to be any clearer. Luke Stocker has been bothered by injury. “He hasn’t practiced much,” said Schiano .
Whenever he gets going on a hot streak, something happens, adds Schiano.
On the bright side, Tom Crabtree has been working his tail off, so has Nate Byham.
“They’ve taken turns going with the [first team],’’ Schiano said. “They’re driving each other. If we play two of them, that’s fine with me, too. They’re both key special-teams contributors. Jonathan does a little more in our sub package. I think there are going to be plenty of plays to go around for those guys, but they’re two key guys in our entire picture.’’
In the pre-season game with the Patriots, the Buccaneers were not able to get much going in terms of pass-rush, but then again who does when you play against Brady and his offensive line?
Schiano has been challenging Da’Quan Bowers to be an every-down player, and the Bucs have some other good young players on the defensive line, but the pass rush still has to improve.
Things didn’t get any easier for Josh Freeman in that game. New England’s pass rushers got him down 3 times in the first quarter before he was done.
Freeman had completed 2 of 3 passes and racked up 8 yards, he didn’t have much of a chance to do anything, but could have avoided the second sack if he hadn’t held onto the ball for so long.
When rookie Mike Glennon took over after Freeman got pulled, he had a bit more success. Glennon went 12-22 for 121 yards and not 1 but 2 touchdown passes as well. He wasn’t perfect though, as an intercepted pass turned into a TD run the other way for the Pats.
Also on the offence vs. New England, running back Doug Martin got banged up in the opening quarter with an undisclosed injury, rookie Mike James came out in relief, did okay. And Peyton Hills showed Tampa fans that he can still provide some quality depth in the backfield.
GM’s TAKE ON FREEMAN
“I have a lot of confidence in Josh,” general manager Mark Dominik said. “I know Coach has a lot of confidence. That position is the position in the National Football League. Win or lose, regardless of if you get too much blame or not enough kudos when you do win and people take it for granted, the more time you have to evaluate that player at that position, the more of a chance you have to be correct. I think Josh is looking at it with a confidence and saying he believes in himself and there were some parts of last year he wasn’t happy with, but there were good parts last year. We’ve talked to Josh and his agent, and we feel like we’re at a good spot. Everybody feels comfortable with where we’re at.”
But it will all come down to Freeman’s performance. He needs to avoid slumps like the three-game stretch late last season when he threw 10 interceptions. He needs to play the way he did when the Bucs got off to a 6-4 start.
“He knows it,” Dominik said. “We know it. But I think the thing that’s kind of been lost is some of the great things he did last year. Some of the big games where he played really well and showed he can do it. I think what he’s doing in camp right now is playing really smart with the football. You can’t underestimate the second year in a system. Continuity is so important. If you keep it together, that gives you a chance to have more success.”
If Freeman plays well the Bucs will wrap him up, and they’ll have continuity at quarterback. If consistency continues to be an issue, the Bucs will have to start from scratch next year and Freeman will be playing for another team.
The Bucs poured a ton of resources into their secondary in the offseason. They traded for cornerback Darrelle Revis, signed safety Dashon Goldson as a free agent and used a second-round draft pick on cornerback Johnthan Banks. Those are the types of things you have to do when you’re coming off a season in which your pass defense ranked last in the league.
That should be enough to bring about some dramatic changes. All indications are that Revis is healthy and, if he is, he’s the best cornerback in the league. Banks could start immediately and, if he doesn’t, will be the third cornerback. Goldson’s arrival at free safety means strong safety Mark Barron, last year’s top draft pick, should be able to concentrate on playing more in the box — where he’s at his best.
Schiano still is somewhat new to the NFL and to his players. His hard-edged approach drew all sorts of attention last year, and he has said he’s relaxing things a bit now that he has changed the culture of the locker room.
But this team isn’t completely past the culture shock that came with Schiano. That’s why it’s critical for the Bucs to get off to a fast start. If they do, the players will fully embrace Schiano’s ways.
If the Bucs start poorly, players won’t buy into Schiano and things could fall apart in a hurry.
The Miami pre-season game could be a gimme for the Bucs, the final game against Washington could be good for them as RGIII will not be playing and backup QB Kirk Cousins suffered a foot injury Aug. 19 vs Pittsburgh so as of right now, it’s anyone’s guess who will be throwing for the Redskins that night.
The season opener for Tampa Bay could go their way, the NY Jets are the competition, a team who is having more trouble at the QB position than the Cleveland Browns. The schedule however will start to get tougher when Tampa Bay faces powerhouses New England and New Orleans (Week 2-3 respectively).
The other bright side for TB regardless of who plays and who doesn’t is that three of the four other teams in the NFC West had mediocre years last year. Carolina, New Orleans and Tampa Bay all finished with records of 7-9. Of course Atlanta finished in 1st at 13-3, but if a team with Drew Brees couldn’t even reach 10 wins….
Next game is Aug. 24 vs Miami.
Fun Fact: the Buccaneers are one of only 3 NFL teams to win in their only appearance in the Super Bowl XXXVII. The other 2 are New Orleans and the New York Jets. Tampa beat the Raiders, who had the league’s number-one offence that year, 48-21 in what was nicknamed ‘The Pirate Bowl’.
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