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June 26, 2010 @ 1:30 pm
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From the Cheap Seats: New Season, New Expectations

Written by Romando
Romando Williams


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PewterReport.com is happy to debut a new feature on the website. Fan blogger Romando Williams will be regularly offering up his insight into his favorite team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, in his blog titled From The Cheap Seats. Williams is a long-time Pewter Report subscriber, an active participant on the PewterReport.com message boards and a die-hard fan that is extremely knowledgeable about the game of football. His brother, Andrew Williams, previously played defensive end for Tampa Bay. Below is Rolando Williams' first fan blog. More entertaining and informative blog entries will come in the weeks to come.

Hard-core football junkies in 32 cities are foaming at the mouth for any morsel of scoop about their newly drafted rookie classes. Tampa Bay is no different. Football has seemingly turned into a year round sport. Neverending transactions, trades, free agency, the draft, organized team activities, off-season workouts and training camp are all blurred together culminating in a new season.

The year is 2010, and this version of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers appears anxious to embrace a new journey. The Bucs have not seen the likes of 3-13 since 1991. That alone speaks volumes for a perennial doormat that found a way to reach the pinnacle of the game during the 2002 season. The build-up to that fabled January day was mired in player inconsistencies and horrible front office drafts. The recent collapse of the team reeks of the days of old and orange.

With the anticipation of a new season come new expectations as well. Here are my critical expectations for the season:

Offensive Line
Are these guys as bad as some want to make them? I feel like a newly appointed public defender trying to save the world when I extol their "on paper" virtues. I have all good intentions, but somehow feel I fall short of my goal.

Statistical analysis has its place in every game. However, with any numbers, they can be gathered and presented with only one view in mind and a lot of times intended not to tell the whole story. Football Outsiders has a nice page that attempts to rank offensives lines in a couple of ways. If, when deciphering this data, you take all of the ranks and average them, you will get a totally different picture than the doom and gloom some would like to portray.

Let me just say don't get your hopes up, as it's not alarmingly better, either. Without lulling you into a numbers-induced coma, try on my Cliff's Notes-version geared towards a holistic view.

Based on an average of the run-blocking category rankings, the offensive line should be rated between 19th and 21st in the league. When measuring them against individual categories, the Bucs are still low in the league, but are percentage points below the leaders and even closer to the NFL averages for the 32 teams.

The Bucs have an adjusted sack rate of 5.7 having given up 33 sacks while the Colts, considered the best, have a 3.1 rate on 13 sacks. Most would – and do – harp quite a bit that left tackle Donald Penn doesn't run block well. Yet, the Football Outsiders have the tandem of Penn and Jeremy Zuttah ranked sixth in the league running through their gap. Penn and Zuttah beat Trueblood and Joseph by five ranking points with both pair positioned aloft the top third of the league in their gap running.

The center position drags the group down drastically with a 32nd-rank running between the guards and center on both sides. That would suggest the time Jeff Faine was injured, but his injuries can't be used as an excuse, nor do they surpass scrutiny in 2010. Those rankings averaged give you a 16th or 17th ranking even with the center dramatically affecting the number.

Outside the tackles, running to the left, the Bucs rank 18th. Conversely, running to the right they are an abysmal 31st in the league. As you can see, the tilting of this statistical view brings a little different picture of the Buccaneers offensive line. I'd like to think it earns a little more patience for a group of guys who must toss the past aside and forge some new and wider running lanes in 2010.

It has been said that a jump in performance should be forthcoming if Josh Freeman is the quarterback we think he is. Freeman  has no shot at that goal if this offensive line doesn't come together and put away past and preconceived notions. They need to take all of their great plays, drives, and games and turn them into a more consistent 2010.

Issues, injuries, substitutions, coordinators, new and different schemes ... are they all excuses? I'd say it's all unfortunate for a group of guys that lack the consistency at present to ascend to the upper third of offensive lines in this league.

There's a very thin margin for error in 2010. The running game should be a quarterback's friend. Could they do better in protection? Sure, they could. But a better-than-decent running game will give Freeman the freedom he needs to grow. The problem is it seems like we are always waiting for these guys to break through, to get it right and to become consistent. 2010 must be the year.

Lastly, I'm not going to get on my soapbox about Penn. Quite frankly, I'm a little disappointed by both he and the team. Sure, the Bucs have all of the leverage by rule because he is a restricted free agent. However, if you consider Penn to be a core player then treat the guy like he is one. If he's not that guy, I'm sure all concerned would rather the front office cut bait and move in another direction.

Defensive Line

I remember when defensive tackle Chris Hovan was drafted by the Minnesota Vikings. I remember the intensity he had every Sunday. While that intensity may not have waned, his ability to wreak havoc has been tempered by age.

After painfully watching the Carolina Panthers mercilessly run the ball at will, the Buccaneers decided not to neglect the defensive line any longer. With the third pick in the 2010 draft, the Buccaneers selected Gerald McCoy, a defensive tackle out of the University of Oklahoma. In addition, the Bucs added UCLA defensive tackle Brian Price in round number two.

No one wants to add undo pressure on these young men. Nevertheless, they must know they were brought here to be instant impact players. Coaches, players, and intelligent fans will utter and post all of the familiar cliché's: "They are just rookies," "They have to learn," "Based on past performances, don't expect greatness the first year."

But let's not fool ourselves, we may not get greatness and will understand if we don't, but we expect it and want it in the worst way. Do McCoy and Price have what they need for greatness to emerge in 2010? On paper, both of them have the production in college to back their lofty selections in the draft. Either of these guys coupled with Roy Miller should bolster an absolutely porous defensive front.

Running the football is said to be an attitude that is gained and cultivated over time. If we take that statement as truth, stopping the run should be no less the endeavor or effort. The team needs those young men to be great. The Bucs need them to make the players around them better.

Neither Barrett Ruud, Stylez G. White, nor any other player on this defense who relies upon destruction up the middle will complain about the tackles formerly in place. However, when the Bucs drafted McCoy and Price all the Cover 2 disciples at One Buccaneer Place were dancing with joy. They know with better defensive tackle play comes better play from the people around them. Those elements should make stopping the run common place again when the Buccaneer defense is on the field.

Josh Freeman
I'm just a hair shy of buying into Freeman hook, line, and sinker. He showed some things last year in his nine starts. He showed a huge arm not seen since the likes of Doug Williams. He showed moxy (or self-preservation) by pulling down the rock and running at crucial times. He showed leadership by answering the media's tough questions and not throwing his teammates under the bus.

Much more than his play, his offseason has been all a fan would want to hear and know about the franchise quarterback. Freeman's presence at the facility has been well documented. While in the state of the art facility, Freeman has been watching and dissecting film. He's been in the classroom with offensive coordinator Greg Olson and quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt, both of whom have vouched for his studious determination.

Freeman is doing all the things you'd want to see and hear from a guy who wants to be great. Peyton Manning, while still playing, is already considered in the conversation for the best of the best due in part to his meticulous attention to detail. Have we seen a quarterback with Manning's study skills and at least some of Randall Cunningham's wiggle?

Steve Young comes to mind, but who after that? In no way am I comparing Freeman to any of these guys. Yet, it intrigues me to think that the Bucs have a guy that is willing to be cerebral enough to think through the game so well and maximize the mix of brawn and brain he possesses. To quote head coach Raheem Morris, "We need Josh to be his very best self."

Mind you, he's only two years removed from college, yet we see signs of Freeman stepping up and taking the reigns wherever he can. So far, his words and his deeds match. Let's also hope they translate to the field.


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