The 2013 NFL regular season is right around the corner. With that being said, it’s time to launch our team previews. FOXSports.com contributor Taylor Jones will answer important questions for every franchise.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
2012 Record: 7-9. Missed the playoffs
Which player is under the most pressure?
The Buccaneers drafted a promising young rookie in Mike Glennon, but that is not the reason I designated Josh Freeman to be the player facing the most pressure. Freeman will be a starting quarterback in the NFL for years to come, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it will be with Tampa Bay. Freeman is entering his contract year and neither side would have been smart to negotiate an extension based on Freeman’s recent play. As for the Bucs, they want to see if he can get back to his 2010 form, when he had an astounding 95.9 passer rating, before they determine he is worthy of an extension such as Tony Romo and Matt Ryan signed this offseason. As for Freeman, he may be wise to take the Joe Flacco approach and gamble on this final season to make a push for the big bucks. Freemans learned a new system in 2012 and threw for more than 4,000 yards but his completion percentage dropped nearly seven points to 54.8. That isn’t all that surprising considering the shots they took downfield to Vincent Jackson, but that completion percentage needs to hover right around 60 in 2013.
When it is all said and done, I think Freeman and the organization settle somewhere in the middle by Freeman proving his worth to the organization but not by the way of becoming Super Bowl MVP as Flacco did.
What is the team’s biggest obstacle?
The Bucs were dead last in the league when defending the pass and to address it, they brought in high-profile players like Darrelle Revis and Dashon Goldson to bolster their secondary, but the fastest way to improve a poor pass defense is to improve your pass rush and if anything, the Bucs got even worse in that category. Tampa Bay ranked 29th in the NFL in generating sacks last season and their team leader with nine individual sacks, Michael Bennett, left via free agency to Seattle. The Bucs used two high draft picks in 2011 on Adrian Clayborn and Da’Quan Bowers to get after the quarterback, but Clayborn missed all but three games last season with a knee injury and Bowers, with just three sacks in 10 games, has a major injury history of his own and is coming off an offseason littered with legal issues stemming from a felony gun possession charge that was eventually reduced to a disorderly conduct and a small fine. It will be interesting to see how Bowers and Clayborn step up to become fulltime starters in Bennett’s absence and if either one of them can stay healthy for a full slate of games.
What is the team’s biggest asset?
We were all introduced to Doug Martin last year as one of the more explosive rookie running backs we have seen in recent memory and he could easily be the team’s biggest asset. But someone had to open those holes for him, all the while, allowing just 26 sacks (third-best in the NFL) in the process. The offensive line is clearly the strong point of this team and it will only improve from last year as two of their best players played in just seven games total. Carl Nicks and Davin Joseph were both lost for the year with season-ending injuries and they are arguably the two best guards in the NFL. The fact that they both missed significant time means that the Bucs are not only talented along the offensive line, but deep, too. Martin and Freeman should have plenty of opportunities to get their work done behind these big bodies.
Which rookie stands the best chance to succeed?
Johnthan Banks wasn’t a first-round pick, but he has first-round talent. Banks was the 43rd overall pick and the sixth cornerback taken in the 2013 NFL Draft. He wasn’t even the first corner drafted from his college team as teammate Darius Slay went eight picks earlier to the Detroit Lions, but don’t be surprised when Banks becomes the best of the entire class. Banks has the new body type that Gus Bradley made desirable in Seattle with big and long corners in the 6-3 Richard Sherman and the 6-4 Brandon Browner. Banks has similar size and has all the tools to cover the bigger receivers in the division like Julio Jones and Marques Colston. Banks won the Jim Thorpe Award for being the best secondary defender in college football and there isn’t any reason he can’t carry that success to the NFL … and bring it early.
What is the team’s biggest addition/loss from the previous season?
The Bucs brought in two big-name defenders this offseason and coincidentally, they are also the two most important. The Bucs were the worst pass defense in the NFL last season, so what did they do? They brought is what many believe to be best corner in the entire NFL in Revis and a top-flight, free-agent safety in Goldson. But neither come without risk. Revis is coming off of a major ACL injury that limited him to just two games last season and while Adrian Peterson made returning from knee surgery look easy, that isn’t often the case. It may take half the season before Revis feels completely comfortable on the field and has his quick twitch muscles in the leg working at 100 percent. Goldson is a good safety but there is a reason that San Francisco let him hit the open market, and that is his tendency to get torched in the passing game. Goldson provides invaluable run support, but all too often, he gets greedy and loses a step in the deep half and therefore gives up many more big plays than you would like out of your last of the line defender. If Goldson can play more sound technique within the structure of the defense, the sky is the limit for him in Tampa Bay … but that is a big if when considering the tape he put out last season.