The 2010 season saw many players have breakout performances for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Quarterback Josh Freeman, running back LeGarrette Blount, wide receiver Mike Williams, guard Ted Larsen, cornerback E.J. Biggers, and safety Cody Grimm were some of the young players that had breakout performances for the Bucs. In 2011, Tampa Bay is hoping to see some more of their young players emerge as playmakers in the NFL. Pewter Report takes a look at the top 10 players that could surprise and have breakout years in 2011. First we will look at a few players that narrowly missed the top 10.
MISSING THE CUT
DEFENSIVE ENDS ADRIAN CLAYBORN & DA'QUAN BOWERS
Typically in the NFL defensive ends take some time to develop and do not break out with big sack totals as rookies. Bowers is also working his way back from offseason knee surgery. The expectations for a rookie defensive end should be around a handful of sacks, but expecting them to have a breakout year of close to double digit sacks immediately in their NFL career is unrealistic and unfair.
SAFETY AHMAD BLACK
Black could be a sleeper that has a big impact on the Bucs defense in 2011. Tampa Bay head coach Raheem Morris would like to work with suspended safety Tanard Jackson again, but the Buccaneers are not including him when planning for 2011. Grimm is the favorite to start opposite Sean Jones when the season starts, but Black could force his way onto the field. Black would have to have a dominant training camp and preseason to become a starter. It definitely is possible, but right now Grimm is the likely starter with Black serving as a backup and special teams contributor.
DEFENSIVE TACKLES AL WOODS & FRANK OKAM
The Bucs feel they got steals in signing both Woods and Okam during the season. Each player provided Tampa Bay with some quality run defense during their playing time in the second half of 2010. The Bucs would like to keep both on the roster in 2011 and go with five defensive tackles. If that is the case one of Woods or Okam is likely to be inactive on game days. The other player will rotate into the game in run and goal line situations. If there is an injury to one of the top three defensive tackles, especially starting nose tackle Roy Miller, Woods and/or Okam would take on a much bigger role.
TOP 10 BREAKOUT BUCS FOR 2011
10. LINEBACKER MASON FOSTER
There is a real possibility that Foster could be a starter on defense early in the season at one of the linebacker spots, Mike (middle) or Sam (strongside). If Tampa Bay does not re-sign veterans Barrett Ruud and Quincy Black, Foster is likely to be starting sooner rather than later. If that is the case, he would be much higher on the list. As it stands with both Ruud and Black potentially returning to the Buccaneers, Foster may work his way on the field more gradually. Ruud, Black, and many other future starting linebackers started out as core special teams players, and if Foster isn’t a starter he definitely will be a special teams first-teamer. Also, Foster would figure to get rotated into the defense for series periodically.
9. FULLBACK ERIK LORIG
The Bucs really like how Lorig finished the season, and he has spent the offseason mastering the fullback position. Lorig figures to get an expanded role as a lead blocker in 2011. If Cadillac Williams is not re-signed, Lorig could become a major part of the Bucs offense. If Williams leaves in free agency, the Bucs would probably move veteran Earnest Graham into the role of the third-down back. Graham has the trust of the coaching staff in blitz pickup, know’s the offense exceptionally well, is a good receiver and a strong runner. Using Graham in that role would reduce the snaps that Tampa Bay would play him on early downs and Lorig would get increased playing time to serve as a lead blocker. If Graham stays at fullback the Bucs plan to use Lorig more at fullback anyways to save Graham some wear-and-tear, and keep him fresh to get him the ball more.
8. WIDE RECEIVER DEZMON BRISCOE
Briscoe finished the season strong with six receptions for 93 yards and one touchdown in two games. The 6-foot-2, 207-pound Briscoe has good speed, body control and leaping ability. He has been adding muscle to his frame and looks like he could be a mismatch threat for the Buccaneers offense. Entering the 2011 training camp, Briscoe is going to compete to be the third slot receiver, and potentially push starting Z ‘flanker’ receiver Arrelious Benn. Beating out Benn will be difficult, but Briscoe has the best skill set of any of the other receivers outside of Mike Williams and could easily prove to be a dangerous weapon for the Bucs offense as a slot receiver. It wouldn’t be surprising if Briscoe takes advantage of some favorable coverage matchups to produce a season with significant totals in receptions, yards and touchdowns as teams roll coverage towards Williams, Benn and tight end Kellen Winslow.
7. LINEBACKER TYRONE McKENZIE
The driven McKenzie could be poised to force his way into the lineup at either Mike or Will linebacker. It wouldn’t be surprising if the Bucs have veteran Barrett Ruud back in 2011, in that case McKenzie could push Geno Hayes. McKenzie is bigger, more physical, and a better student of the game than Hayes. The 6-foot-2, 245-pounder could upgrade the Bucs run defense, which has ranked at or near the bottom in the NFL the past two seasons. The New England Patriots' 2009 third-round pick is healthy and focused. In order to have a breakout season all he needs is an opportunity for playing time.
6. DEFENSIVE END MICHAEL BENNETT
The Buccaneers defensive coaching staff is extremely high on Bennett and it plans on using him all across its defensive front. The 6-foot-4, 274-pound Bennett started two games in 2010 and recorded one sack with 21 tackles. The Bucs will likely turn to Bennett to be the starting left defensive end if rookie Da’Quan Bowers is not ready due to offseason knee surgery. Bennett also figures to see snaps at right defensive end and defensive tackle. Bennett is the favorite to be the third defensive end to rotate into the game and keep the starters fresh. He figures to get a lot of playing time in 2011, so he should easily improve on his tackle and sack total next season.
5. TIGHT END LUKE STOCKER
The Bucs plan on using Stocker as a quasi-starter as long as the rookie is up to the task of picking up the offense in a crash-course due to the NFL lockout. Stocker is projected to be an integral part of the Bucs offense as a drive blocker, and Tampa Bay believes the running game is going to improve with Stocker as a blocker. They also like his receiving ability, and the rookie figures to get many favorable coverage matchups as defenses focus their attention on established weapons like tight end Kellen Winslow, wide receiver Mike Williams, and running back LeGarrette Blount.
4. CORNERBACK MYRON LEWIS
Tampa Bay is very excited to see Lewis in 2011. The Bucs believe that he has a superb skill set that will make him an excellent man corner. Injuries held Lewis back from competing to be the nickel corner last year, a role he was projected to have after being the team’s third-round pick in 2010. Lewis saw the field late in the season and the Buccaneers liked how Lewis competed against some of the top receivers in the NFL, like Detroit’s Calvin Johnson. Lewis (6-2, 203) had 10 tackles and four passes broken up last year. If starter Aqib Talib is unavailable for part or all of the season Lewis is could be the Bucs starter at left cornerback and at the very least will likely be the nickel corner. The Buccaneers feel Lewis has a high ceiling and are looking forward to seeing him start towards reaching it in 2011.
3. DEFENSIVE TACKLE BRIAN PRICE
At the start of training camp Price was the talk of the organization for the way he was dominating practice. The 6-foot-1, 303-pound Price was routinely winning matchups against Tampa Bay's veteran starting offensive linemen like center Jeff Faine and guard Davin Joseph. A hamstring injury that was part of a deeper problem knocked Price out of the lineup and after some time he was placed on injured reserve. Tampa Bay is excited to get Price back in 2011. They believe that he can push Roy Miller for the starting nose tackle position, and also serve as the backup three-technique to Gerald McCoy. Beating out Miller is going to be tough, but Price is a pure pass rusher that will get plenty of chances to sack the quarterback in 2011. Last year, he had six tackles with one tackle for a loss and three quarterback pressures. Price could be a player like Biggers that lost his rookie season to injury, but came back to have an eye-opening second season.
2. WIDE RECEIVER ARRELIOUS BENN
Benn has been a fast healer from his late season ACL tear, and right now it sounds as if he should be ready to play when training camp starts. Benn was finishing the 2010 season strong when he went down with the injury against the Seattle Seahawks in Week 16. He totaled 25 receptions for 395 yards and two touchdowns. Benn’s production started to take off mid-way through the season as defenses were devoting extra attention to Mike Williams and Kellen Winslow. That should be the case early in the 2011 season. Benn enters the season in position to retain the starting Z ‘flanker’ receiver position. The 6-foot-2, 220-pound Benn is a very good blocker and is a dangerous run after the catch receiver due to his ability to power through tackles. Benn has clutch hands and he could prove to be a valuable position receiver that consistently moves the chains for the Buccaneers offense in 2011. If he is healthy it would not at all be surprising if Benn doubles his yardage and more than doubles his receptions and touchdowns in 2011.
1. DEFENSIVE TACKLE GERALD McCOY
The Bucs' second-year defensive tackle has been a driven workout warrior this offseason as he shoots for a breakout season in 2011. Last year, McCoy recorded 43 tackles with three sacks, six tackles for a loss, 17 quarterback pressures, five passes broken up, and one forced fumble. The 6-foot-4, 295-pound McCoy was playing well when he went on injured reserve with a torn bicep. Once McCoy got over some initial growing pains and figured out what was needed from him in the Bucs scheme he started to flourish. McCoy has been hard at work to get faster and more explosive. McCoy has been studying lots of film, and has a better knowledge of how to attack guards. Of all the players on the Bucs roster, McCoy sounds like the player that is most ready to breakout across the NFL with a banner 2011 season.