Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Last Year: 4-12)
2012 NFL Season Preview:
QB Dan Orlovsky, WR Vincent Jackson, TE Dallas Clark, G Carl Nicks, DE Wallace Gilberry, DE Jayme Mitchell, DT Amobi Okoye, DT Gary Gibson, CB Eric Wright.
Early Draft Picks:
SS Mark Barron, RB Doug Martin, OLB Lavonte David, ILB Najee Goode, CB Keith Tandy.
QB Josh Johnson, RB Kregg Lumpkin, FB Earnest Graham, TE Kellen Winslow Jr., C Jeff Faine, DT Albert Haynesworth, OLB Geno Hayes, CB Elbert Mack, S Tanard Jackson, SS Sean Jones, S Corey Lynch, KR Micheal Spurlock.
2012 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Offense:
The Buccaneers had so many problems last year that it would take hours typing them up. Some can't even be listed, as Josh Freeman, LeGarette Blount, Mike Williams and others had undisclosed personal issues that can't be discussed. And no, that's not referring to stupidity for Blount or lethargy for Williams, although those things did not help matters.
Freeman had his personal demons last year, but his touchdown-to-interception ratio falling from 25:6 to 16:22 occurred for a myriad of other reasons, one of which was lack of pocket awareness. Another was that none of his receivers could get open. Mike Williams, as as reported here, was out of shape during the beginning of the season and fell asleep during team meetings. Fortunately for Freeman, he won't have to count on Williams as his top weapon this year in the wake of the Vincent Jackson signing.
Jackson was a dynamic downfield weapon for Philip Rivers, but there are a couple of concerns with this pairing. If Jackson wanted to have the best pro career possible, he would have stayed in San Diego or signed with a team that has an established, top-tier quarterback. Instead, he chased the money and signed with Tampa Bay. And how great is Jackson anyway? He's never caught 70 passes in a single season, despite having Philip Rivers as his signal-caller. Jackson has never played with a quarterback not named Rivers or Drew Brees, so was he just a product of the system in San Diego? He was the 61st pick in the 2005 NFL Draft, so it's not like he was really highly regarded when he came into the league.
A player who was a high pick was Kellen Winslow Jr., but he's gone because head coach Greg Schiano didn't want to deal with him. Winslow was a declining player anyway, but the Buccaneers somehow managed to downgrade him by signing Dallas Clark, who looked like he was running in quicksand last year. He was also pathetic when attempting to catch the football, finishing second in the NFL only behind St. Louis' Lance Kendricks in drops per reception. It's quite possible that Clark won't even make the team, so it'll be up to 2011 fourth-rounder Luke Stocker to take Winslow's spot. Stocker had 12 catches as a rookie.
The Buccaneers did make two positive offensive acquisitions. The first was Doug Martin, whom Tampa moved ahead of the Giants for in the 2012 NFL Draft. Blount may handle the inside running for now, but Martin will be utilized heavily as a pass-catching safety valve for Freeman. Blount really frustrated the coaching staff with his inability to receive the ball or protect effectively, so Martin will likely be on the field more often despite having no professional experience.
The second good move was signing Carl Nicks, arguably the top guard in the NFL. He'll man the left guard position, formerly stationed by Jeremy Zuttah, who will now play center in place of the decrepit Jeff Faine. The other member on the left side is blind-side protector Donald Penn, whose nine sacks last year were a bit misleading because Freeman was responsible for several of them.
Right guard Davin Joseph is solid, but the one area the Buccaneers really failed to upgrade was right tackle. Jeremy Trueblood was atrocious there last year, so it's really puzzling as to why general manager Mark Dominik failed to provide some competition for him this offseason.
2012 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Defense:
Referring to Tampa Bay's stop unit as "terrible" would be very kind. The defense finished dead last versus the run (5.1 YPC), second-to-last against the pass (8.2 YPA) and worst in terms of getting to the quarterback (23 sacks). Several of the players mailed it in, but don't take that to believe there's not a lack of talent on the roster. There definitely is.
The Buccaneers have jettisoned some of the bad apples. In addition to Kellen Winslow offensively, they let go of defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth and safety Tanard Jackson. The only poor-character individual still remaining is Aqib Talib, who is facing a possible suspension for an arrest. He may be sidelined for 4-8 games.
It appears as though Tampa Bay has not dumped Talib because of the dubious situation it has at cornerback. It's just Talib and no one else. Mark Dominik signed Eric Wright to a 5-year, $37.5 million deal in March, but the pedestrian corner wasn't practicing with the first team at OTAs because of some undisclosed illness. He'll probably be inserted into the starting lineup eventually because of his ridiculous salary, but he'll quickly be demoted because he can't cover anyone. Anthony Gaitor, Myron Lewis and E.J. Biggers will also be in contention for major playing time, but the latter two really struggled last year.
Ronde Barber used to be a starting corner, but he has moved to free safety - a move that has occurred a year too late based on how brutally he was torched in 2011. Unfortunately, he's 37, so it's unlikely that he'll have much success in his new position. On the opposite end of the spectrum, strong safety Mark Barron has no NFL experience. He was chosen No. 7 overall in the 2012 NFL Draft. There's no question that he was a reach; he was pushed up because of the alarming lack of safety prospects.
Believe it or not, there is some good news pertaining to Tampa's stop unit. Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy will be back from injury. He suffered an ankle malady and then tore his biceps, consequently playing in just six games last season. It's a shame too because he was having a great year. He can be a force if he can stay off the injury report - something that has been a major problem for him thus far. McCoy will start next to Brian Price, a 2010 second-round pick who has flopped thus far in the NFL.
There's more of a positive outlook on the exterior of the defensive front. Adrian Clayborn, the No. 20 selection in the 2011 NFL Draft, had an outstanding rookie campaign. He notched 7.5 sacks, five of which came after Week 10. He was a bit weak against the run, but he should improve in that area going forward. Meanwhile, left end Michael Bennett was terrific in every aspect. He was consequently tendered as a first-round restricted free agent this offseason. He'll obviously command a big contract if he has another great season.
The Buccaneers spent two draft picks on linebackers, and understandably so. That area was a major liability last season. Lavonte David, an undersized, but productive weakside linebacker, was chosen in the second round. Najee Goode, a fifth-rounder, will push Mason Foster in the middle. Foster, a third-round selection last year, struggled mightily in his rookie campaign, constantly getting washed away in run support. Strongside linebacker Quincy Black had similar problems, but was much worse in pass coverage.
2012 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Schedule and Intangibles:
The Buccaneers have a habit of overspending for mediocre (or worse) talents. Punter Michael Koenen was awarded a 6-year, $19.5 million contract last offseason for some strange reason. It's basically the equivalent of an average person spending $2,000 on a pack of gum. Koenen posted a decent 45.1-yard average with 24-of-67 attempts inside the 20.
Kicker Connor Barth, who received less money this spring (4 years, $13.2 million), was brilliant in 2011, nailing 26-of-28 tries, including 13-of-14 from 40-49 and 2-of-3 from 50-plus.
The Buccaneers didn't score a special-teams touchdown and allowed one, but they actually outgained their opponents by less than a yard on punt and kickoff returns.
Prior to the 2009 season, the Buccaneers were 68-36 as hosts. However, they were a shameful 1-6 at the New Sombrero in 2009, a mediocre 4-4 in 2010 (compared to 6-2 in away contests) and 3-5 last year. They need to reestablish dominant homefield advantage.
The Buccaneers have some beatable non-divisional opponents, including: Redskins (home), Vikings (road), Raiders (road) and Rams (home).
2012 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Analysis: The Buccaneers will be much more competitive than they were last year, as long they don't quit on their head coach again. Assuming Josh Freeman is able to fully concentrate on football, the offense should be pretty solid. The defense, however, will make it extremely difficult for this team to win football games. There's little doubt that Tampa Bay will be the last-place team in the NFC South.
Projection: 5-11 (4th in NFC South) http://walterfootball.com/offseason2012tb.php