Pewter Report president Hugh MacArthur is looking forward to seeing what the 2010 Buccaneers can do during the regular season. But what is he looking for in the preseason games? Which two players will play the most pivotal role in the team's success? Find out in this installment of the Dirty Dozen.
The preseason is here and depending upon your personal calendar, this is either the official start of your Tampa Bay Buccaneers season, or if you started your season back in March at the outset of free agency, it is high time to do as chef Emeril Lagasse suggests, and “Kick it up a notch!”
1. The number one thing I will be watching, like many of you, is the development of Josh Freeman. I’ve been reading the expert training camp practice analysis on PewterReport.com carefully and I’ll be watching the preseason games especially carefully. As goes number 5, so go the 2010 Buccaneers.
2. It will probably be worth watching Josh Johnson a bit too, since the Bucs have a penchant for using more than one starting quarterback per season.
3. I’m actually not that concerned about many of the other position groups. I think Mark Dominik and the front office actually did a nice job of bringing in substantial talent under obvious financial constraints. Frankly, the only offensive or defensive groups that really concern me are the cornerbacks. With many teams spreading the field with receivers 50 percent of the time, a successful defense needs to have three starting caliber cornerbacks in the NFL. The Bucs have one starting caliber cornerback in Aqib Talib. The Bucs may even have two if ageless Ronde Barber continues to compete at a high level. Where is number three? Myron Lewis is a rookie we’ve never even seen play on Sundays. Elbert Mack we may have seen too much of. I haven’t heard the E.J. Biggers bandwagon starting up yet (although he had a good game in Miami). The Bucs have a lot of unknowns at the cornerback spot and precious little depth if the injury bug bites.
4. All that said, a hellacious pass rush could make some pretty good cornerbacks all by itself.
5. However, the one unit that worries me more than any other outside of quarterback, and the one that should worry you as a Bucs fan, is the field goal unit. Specifically, the kicker. That’s right, I said the kicker. One thing that people are only referring to in passing is the fact that Connor Barth has essentially no competition during this training camp. And no, undrafted free agent Hunter Lawrence doesn’t count.
6. Aside from how Freeman plays, one could make a compelling argument that the number one issue that will drive Tampa Bay's record in 2010 is how well Barth kicks field goals.
• Consider: The Bucs have finished with a frighteningly consistent 61 percent success rate for field goals in 2003, 2004 and 2009.
• In all three seasons, that 61 percent number ranked dead last in the NFL.
• The win totals for those seasons? Seven victories, five wins and a whopping three triumphs. And remember, the 2003 team was coming off a Super Bowl win and had Super Bowl talent on the roster!
7. My take-away? You finish last in field goals, and it is almost impossible to have a winning record in the NFL.
8. Is Barth the answer to the Bucs’ historical kicking woes?
• Consider: He made 76 percent of his field goals at NC State. He has made 77 percent of his field goals in the NFL at KC and Tampa.
• A 77 percentage result would have ranked 24th out of 32 teams for accuracy in 2009. That performance is the cusp of the fourth quartile.
• Four teams had a worse FG percentage than 77 percent but wound up with winning records: Baltimore, Dallas, Green Bay and Houston.
9. What can we learn from these four teams that seem to defy the odds? If you are going to have a crappy kicking team, you had better have a phenomenal offense (Green Bay (second), Houston (tenth)) or defense (Baltimore (second), Dallas (third)) to win games. There is no margin for error.
10. You can't just kick field goals and win in the NFL, but if you can't kick field goals at all, it is almost impossible to win unless you can overwhelm teams in the other phases of the game. NFL games are typically close contests decided by less than a touchdown.
11. Barth is 24 years old. This Buccaneers team is very young overall, and it is unlikely it will be as dominant as Baltimore on defense or as explosive as Green Bay on offense in 2010.
12. Want to know how the Bucs are going do in 2010? Forget the other position groups and statistics. Watch Freeman’s INT percentage and Barth’s FG percentage. Those two numbers will likely tell much of the story. Interesting, isn’t it?
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