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1. THE QUICK HITS PLAN The NFL offseason is almost over, and the 2009 season will have begun in the next three weeks with the start of NFL training camps. After free agency, the draft, and the offseason practices, the 2009 Buccaneers are virtually complete. Training camp and the preseason will provide the answers to the final roster spots and starting assignments, but the remaking of Tampa Bay's roster is virtually complete.
On February 9 the PI Quick Hits offseason plan was released for Bucs fans as a preview of the offseason to come, and we will use this week's Quick Hits to review the Bucs offseason and see how accurate that Quick Hits was in the actual moves made by new general manager Mark Dominik and head coach Raheem Morris.
The first part of the Quick Hits plan was to address the quarterback position. That started with re-signing Luke McCown. Tampa Bay followed through on that part of the plan by re-signing McCown before he hit the open market in free agency.
The next move that the Quick Hits plan advocated was signing veteran free agent quarterback Byron Leftwich. Looking at the free agents at the position, Pewter Report projected Leftwich as the best fit for the Buccaneers new offense under coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski. On Easter Sunday Tampa Bay made the Quick Hits plan two-for-two on the quarterback signings. We advocated McCown and Leftwich competing to be the starting quarterback for the Bucs in 2009, and that competition is what has played out up to this point and will continue into training camp and the preseason games.
The Quick Hits plan did not have the Buccaneers using their first-round pick on a quarterback, and that is what Tampa Bay did when it traded up in the first round to select Kansas State product Josh Freeman. The rookie quarterback could see the field in 2009, but he is not likely to start ahead of McCown or Leftwich at the beginning of the season. Overall, the Quick Hits plan and the Buccaneerss actions were on the same page with the Bucs signing Leftwich and McCown.
2. DEFENSIVE LINE The biggest difference between the Bucs' actions and the Quick Hits plan is found on the defensive line. The Quick Hits projection called for Tampa Bay to make a big splash in free agency by signing the top free agent in defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth. The All-Pro tackle ended up signing with the Washington Redskins with the Bucs coming in second place for his services.
The reasons for the Buccaneers not reeling in Haynesworth have been debated. Some say the team lost out on Haynesworht because they were not offering as much guaranteed money and signing bonus as Washington. Others have said Tampa Bay was offering more money in the total package, but Haynesworth preferred the direction of the Redskins. While the Bucs did not make this part of the Quick Hits plan come true, they tried to make it happen.
Outside of Haynesworth, the defensive line was addressed further by drafting Northern Illinois Larry English with the Bucs first-round pick, according to Pewter Report's model. English was selected by the San Diego Chargers one pick ahead of where Tampa Bay took Freeman, and the Bucs would have passed on English for Freeman if both players were available. The Buccaneers defensive line produced only 23 sacks in 2008, 6.5 less than it did in 2007, so upgrading the pass rush with Haynesworth and English was a vital part of the offseason plan from Pewter Report's perspective.
Tampa Bay signed only defensive end Louis Holmes in free agency, and drafted Roy Miller and Kyle Moore in the third round and fourth round respectively. Miller and Moore will figure into the defensive line rotation in the 2009 season. Moore looks to have a bigger impact as a pass rusher, and Miller is projected to be used more often for run defense purposes.
The Bucs are counting on new defensive coordinator Jim Bates' scheme to produce more pass rush in 2009. They also believe that 2007 fourth overall pick Gaines Adams will have a breakout year at right defensive end in Bates' system. If Bates and Adams don't produce as they are being counted on to do, then the Tampa Bay pass rush will be a weakness again. The Buccaneers also believe that defensive end Jimmy Wilkerson, linebacker Quincy Black, and the rookie Moore will combine to upgrade the pass rush over the 2008 production.
The Quick Hits plan was very bold in trying to upgrade the pass rush tremendously by signing the best free agent and selecting a quarterback to mentor with their first-round pick. The Bucs offseason actions almost made Haynesworth a reality, but the team was not as proactive in addressing the pass rush and defensive line as the Quick Hits model was.
3. RECEIVING OPTIONS The Quick Hits plan had the Buccaneers making multiple moves at the wide receiving position. First it called for 2008 leading receiver Antonio Bryant to be franchised, and for the team to re-sign fellow starter Michael Clayton. Dominik and the Buccaneers elected to do both, franchising Bryant and re-signing Clayton. The Quick Hits plan also called for Tampa Bay to retain receiving tight end Jerramy Stevens, which the Bucs did.
The Quick Hits plan also called for the receiving corps to be fortified with some speedy playmakers in the draft and free agency. The players that were the choices by Pewter Report also caught the eye of the Super Bowl Champion Pittsburgh Steelers. Those wide outs were free agent wide receiver Shaun McDonald, and Mississippi product Mike Wallace. Tampa Bay chose Miller over Wallace, who was drafted by the Steelers three picks later in the third round. The Steelers also signed McDonald after the veteran lingered on the free agent market.
In the seventh round of the draft the Bucs grabbed Oregon State product Sammie Stroughter to compete with players already on the roster to backup Bryant and Clayton. Brian Clark, Maurice Stovall, Dexter Jackson, Cortez Hankton, and Kelly Campbell among others are competing to make the team and see the field as the third and fourth receivers.
One of the biggest moves made by Dominik this offseason was trading a second-round pick for tight end Kellen Winslow. Adding a tight end with Winslow's abilities is the equivalent of adding a Pro Bowl wide receiver, so the Tampa Bay may have protected itself from a lack of talent behind its starting wide receivers with a plethora of mismatches from the tight ends.
Overall, the Quick Hits plan and the actual moves made by the Buccaneers were on the same page with the retaining of Bryant, Clayton, and Stevens. Dominik and Morris took it further by acquiring Winslow, but also did little to bring in competition for the backup wide receivers as the PR model suggested. 4. SECONDARY The Quick Hits projection for the 2009 Bucs called for the team to re-sign starting safety Jermaine Phillips and cornerback Philip Buchanon. It also had the team inserting second-year cornerback Aqib Talib into the starting the lineup. With Buchanon and Talib starting, the plan had veteran Ronde Barber serving as the nickel corner.
Tampa Bay did re-sign Phillips, but moved him to linebacker. Buchanon was allowed to leave in free agency, and Talib has taken his place as the starting left cornerback. Barber is still in place as the starting right cornerback, and the nickel cornerback is an open competition with Elbert Mack and Kyle Arrington being the leaders for that spot heading into training camp. 5. ODDS AND ENDS One of the final few moves of the Quick Hits plan was to sign Oakland punter Shane Lechler. Unfortunately, Lechler never was an option for Tampa Bay as the Raiders inked him to a contract before the Bucs had a chance to get him.
Pewter Report also had the Bucs fortifying the running back position with a backup in Chicago Bears free agent Kevin Jones. Tampa Bay was much more bold in signing the top unrestricted halfback in free agency in Derrick Ward. The powerful and shifty Ward will split carries with Bucs holdover Earnest Graham in 2009.
The Bucs also made some signings to be catalysts for training camp battles at linebacker and kicker. Angelo Crowell and Mike Nugent were signed at those positions respectively to challenge the Bucs holdovers.
The final move called for in the Quick Hits was to re-sign linebacker Barrett Ruud to a long-term extension. The Bucs and Ruud have had no significant talks about extending his contract this offseason. Ruud will not be a free agent for multiple years unless a new Collective Bargaining Agreement is reached. If a deal does get done, Ruud would become an unrestricted free agent next March.
Overall, the Quick Hits plan and the Bucs' actions were on the same page. The Quick Hits model and the Buccaneers agreed on re-signing McCown, signing Leftwich, franchising Bryant, re-signing Clayton, re-signing Stevens, re-signing Phillips, and inserting Talib into the starting lineup. Whether the moves wind up being astute will be proven this fall.