With new regime, Bucs face plenty of questions this offseason
TAMPA, Fla. — It was a year of trial, turmoil and, ultimately, change.
The 2013 Tampa Bay Buccaneers finished 4-12, but it’s hard to capture how difficult the final season under coach Greg Schiano was by record alone. They began with visions of quarterback Josh Freeman building off a campaign in which he threw for a franchise-record 4,065 yards and 27 touchdowns. Instead, he was released in October following a messy divorce with the team that drafted him No. 17 overall in 2009.
Freeman’s drama was only part of the problem. A MRSA infection affected three players: kicker Lawrence Tynes, guard Carl Nicks and cornerback Johnthan Banks. The Bucs, with no shortage of adversity, started 0-8 before earning their first victory over the Miami Dolphins in Week 10.
Ultimately, a 3-1 run in November wasn’t enough to save the jobs of Schiano and general manager Mark Dominik. On Monday, the Bucs announced the firing of the pair after an 11-21 record over two seasons.
"In our best games and in our best seasons, I’ve always had things that I’d like to go back and change," Schiano said after being fired. "You never call a perfect game. You never coach a perfect season. But what I’ve said is, at the time, with the facts you have, you make the decision you make."
The Glazers made the choice to move on and hire Lovie Smith, a former Chicago Bears coach who served as the Bucs’ linebackers coach from 1996-2000 under Tony Dungy. Smith, known as a skilled defensive mind, will be tasked with reviving a franchise that underachieved with eight Pro Bowl players.
"This season didn’t turn out the way we wanted it to be," linebacker Lavonte David said. "But next year, we’re going to have some great things happen."
If so, it will be a welcome change after the troubles of 2013: From MRSA to Freeman, from near-misses to blowouts, this was a headache. The Bucs, following a year of struggle worth forgetting, will have a much different look next fall.
"You bring somebody else — who knows what can happen?" linebacker Jonathan Casillas said.
"It was a tough year here. When you’re losing games, everything is kind of bad. Everything happened bad here."
WHAT WENT WRONG
Take your pick. Freeman. MRSA. The 0-8 start. An offense that ranked 30th in the league with 18 points per game. The injuries to Mike Williams and Doug Martin. The distractions.
Did we mention the distractions?
Any way you slice it, this was a strange year. Looking back, it was doomed from the beginning with Freeman’s free-fall. Who knows how different this fall would have unfolded if the quarterback situation had more stability?
It’s hard to pinpoint one reason why the Bucs fell short of expectations. Schiano’s staff, even with the peripheral issues, carries most of the blame. There were questionable defensive schemes under coordinator Bill Sheridan – what was with all the stunting at the line? — and Mike Sullivan’s offense grinded to a halt late. Not good.
A 31-13 loss to the Carolina Panthers on a Thursday night in Week 8 was rock bottom. Cam Newton threw for 221 yards and two touchdowns at Raymond James Stadium, and he ran for a game-high 50 yards with another score. The Bucs allowed 324 yards of offense and weren’t competitive in the fourth quarter.
The rout put Tampa Bay at 0-7, and there were legitimate questions about whether Schiano would survive to see Week 9. He did, of course, but not without some tense moments and hard questions about the Bucs’ direction.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
With all the turmoil of 2013, it’s easy to forget the Bucs went 4-1 from Weeks 10 through 14. The stretch included victories over some bad opponents (Atlanta Falcons and Buffalo Bills) and some decent ones (Miami Dolphins and Detroit Lions), but the change was a surprising pivot from the hopeless feeling that surrounded an 0-8 start.
Rookie quarterback Mike Glennon had some of his best moments in this window. He produced seven touchdowns in the run, along with four interceptions. Running back Bobby Rainey, meanwhile, broke out with 163 yards against Atlanta and 127 against Buffalo.
Some thought the show of life would be enough to save Schiano’s job. Turns out, it wasn’t. In retrospect, though, it was the lone bright spot in a dark year.
Beating the Bills in Week 14 ended the run of four wins in five weeks. The Bucs jumped to a 24-3 lead, then coasted in the second half to a 27-6 victory at Raymond James Stadium behind two touchdown passes from Glennon and a pair of field goals by Rian Lindell.
The Bucs’ defense had one of its better showings in sacking E.J. Manuel seven times. The Bills committed five turnovers, in large part because of pressure on Manuel, who threw four interceptions.
Afterward, it was thought Schiano could be on his way earning another year as coach.
The good times ended there, though. Tampa Bay went on to lose its next three games to close the season — against the San Francisco 49ers, St. Louis Rams and New Orleans Saints.
Linebacker Lavonte David
Forget that he wasn’t voted to the Pro Bowl in one of the event’s largest snubs. David, in only his second year, established himself as one of the game’s brightest young stars at his position.
He led the Bucs in tackles (144) and interceptions (five), in addition to disrupting offenses with his speed and athleticism. It’s a shame he was overlooked for a trip to Hawaii -- cornerback Darrelle Revis and defensive tackle Gerald McCoy received the Bucs’ nods -- but he made his presence felt all year.
No Pro Bowl slight can negate his impact.
1. Can Smith turn the Bucs around?
Bringing Smith back to Tampa is the best thing the Glazers could have done after firing Schiano and Dominik. Smith, a Bucs linebackers coach from 1996-2000, has familiarity with the franchise, so his learning curve should be less severe than it would be for an outsider. After nine seasons in Chicago, he’s no NFL head-coaching newbie, which means a break from the recent choices of Schiano and Raheem Morris. That’s a good thing.
2. What will become of Glennon?
Had Schiano returned, Glennon would be the Bucs’ quarterback in 2014. With a new regime, though, his future is less certain. It’s not a stretch to think Smith and Jeff Tedford, the Bucs’ new offensive coordinator, will explore all avenues – free agency, the draft (the Bucs’ have the No. 7 overall pick), a possible trade -- to find Tampa Bay’s quarterback of the future. Glennon produced respectable numbers for a rookie – 2,608 yards passing, 19 touchdowns, nine interceptions -- but he wavered late with at least one interception in four of his last five games. The Bucs’ quarterback situation remains an open-ended question.
3. Can the Bucs’ defense take the next step?
The unit was Tampa Bay’s strength all season, though it was undisciplined and inconsistent at times. The Bucs ranked 21st in scoring defense (24.3 points per game) and 17th in total defense (348 yards per game), 17th in pass defense (237.9 ypg) and 15th in rush defense (110.1). The numbers show this was an average group, though the roster includes above-average talent: Revis, McCoy, David, safety Dashon Goldson. Smith’s defensive background, one that includes a Tampa-2 zone coverage influence, should be an asset. Expect improvement in 2014.
4. Are the Bucs better off parting ways with Revis?
In short, no. Some have floated the idea that the Bucs could part ways with Revis given that his man-coverage specialization may not jive well with Smith’s preference for zone schemes. Revis makes $16 million a year with a pay-as-you-play deal, and some think moving past him could be the best thing for Tampa Bay for cap reasons if he’s unwilling to restructure his contract. That’s silly. Why wouldn’t Smith want Revis on his defense? Part of good coaching is adjusting to existing talent. Revis’ recovering left knee kept him from being as effective as he was in his prime. Still, Smith should try to use the five-time Pro Bowl player the best way he sees fit. Skill is skill, and the Bucs are a better defense with Revis than without him.