By definition, the preseason is a fuzzy picture of individual plans, off-the-radar players fighting for jobs and stars hoping to avoid injury. It's wise to use caution when analyzing results that will be forgotten come Week 1.
Bucs closed their exhibition schedule 1-3, following a 30-12 loss to the Washington Redskins on Thursday night at Raymond James Stadium that included little action from starters.
The bottom line: This team remains very much a work in progress.
From offensive question marks (mainly, Josh Freeman) to a big defensive unknown (Darrelle Revis' health), there are many reasons to wonder how good Tampa Bay will look when it plays for real against the New York Jets on Sept. 8 at MetLife Stadium.
Here are some takeaways from the Bucs' preseason.
1. Simply, the offense has issues. We'll concentrate on Josh Freeman in a moment, but there was little to like from the offense all preseason. From Freeman's anemic production to the head scare with Doug Martin against the New England Patriots, from the dropped passes and poor line protection, there are few pluses to draw from the past month.
Granted, the pieces are promising, and everything could come together in fine fashion in the regular season. The talent is there: The Bucs have to like their chances if Martin, Vincent Jackson, Mike Williams, Davin Joseph and Carl Nicks all step on the field at the same time.
But it was alarming how inefficient the top offense was in the first three preseason games. Nicks' uncertain condition with the MRSA-infected blister on his left foot has to be a concern as well. There isn't a good read on how this unit will look come Week 1 against the Jets. Stay tuned.
2. Freeman has a lot of work to do to prove his doubters wrong. This will be a storyline as long as he allows it to be. That is the power Freeman has over the noise around him: He can eliminate most of the chatter with strong play.
A bizarre offseason that included rumors about a rift between him and coach Greg Schiano (all parties involved denied this) gave way to a preseason that included more criticism, including Hall of Famer Fran Tarkenton's “God-awful” label that received national buzz.
Usually, it's dangerous to read too much into preseason stats for starters, but you must squint to find signs of life from Freeman's preseason line: 12 for 26, 101 yards, no touchdowns.
This is Freeman's team, and he can become a rich, rich man with a big season that results in Tampa Bay reaching the playoffs for the first time since after the 2007 season. But like his offense overall, he enters the preseason with questions. Lots of them.
3. The defense must be as improved as the Bucs hope. If the preseason is any hint, the Bucs' offense could need some time to ease into this thing.
That means high-profile free-agent signees safety Dashon Goldson and cornerback Darrelle Revis, as well as second-round draft pick cornerback Johnthan Banks, must deliver as advertised. Schiano remains optimistic about Revis' progress, though it will not be known for sure how he looks until he steps on the field in regular-season play.
A few other questions: Will the Bucs produce an effective pass rush? Will the run defense be as strong as it was last season? Gerald McCoy is the clear leader on the defensive line, and Adrian Clayborn, if he stays healthy, could grow into an effective pass rusher.
The defense certainly looked stronger than the offense in the preseason. If that trend continues, the defense could be asked to do a lot.
4. Da'Quan Bowers was disappointing. The Bucs have ridden the third-year defensive end hard in training camp and in the preseason, and the jury remains out to see if he will respond to the staff's liking.
The extra work was a good thing, because the former second-round pick admitted that he could use the reps, despite the thought that he was a favorite to start opposite Clayborn this season.
In recent weeks, however, it appears the Bucs have moved toward making four-year player Daniel Te'o-Nesheim the top option opposite Clayborn. Bowers has remained level-headed about the situation when asked about his situation in recent weeks. But it is clear that the Bucs wanted more from Bowers. Plain and simple: He was a letdown.
5. Peyton Hillis' time with the Bucs could be nearing an end. The move to bring in the six-year veteran before training camp was smart.
Hillis' presence at was low-risk, high-reward move, and it gave Tampa Bay time to learn more about its running-back depth. Along the way, though, the Bucs discovered they are more than fine with Martin, Brian Leonard and Mike James.
Leonard and James, in particular, received a bulk of the work in the preseason. Rightfully so. Leonard showed he can be an effective downhill runner, and James has shown promise in space.
Of course, so much of Tampa Bay's offensive potential rests with Martin's ability to stay healthy. But Leonard and James have shown in the preseason that they can be strong options, if called upon to produce.
Unfortunately, for Hillis, that leaves little room for him.