Freeman looks to end Buccaneers’ playoff drought

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers spent generously to upgrade a porous

defense in hopes of giving Josh Freeman every opportunity to be

successful.

The fifth-year pro is entering the final season of the contract

he signed as a rookie in 2009. He likely needs to lead the Bucs to

the playoffs to prove he’s worthy of the hefty pay raise he could

command next year.

Tampa Bay hasn’t made the playoffs since 2007 and doesn’t have a

postseason victory since winning the Super Bowl 11 years ago.

”There’s always going to be pressure, but it’s all internal,”

Freeman said, shrugging off the notion that because of his contract

status there’s a greater sense of urgency to get the Bucs over the

hump.

”When I look at things, look at what I want to be and who I

want to be as a player, it exceeds everything that anybody else

could hope for,” the 25-year-old added. ”When I leave the game, I

want to be regarded as one of the best who ever played.”

Freeman became the first passer in team history to throw for

4,000 yards in a season, and the Bucs offense also set club records

for points, yards and touchdowns in 2012.

But the quarterback’s inconsistency also contributed to a

late-season slide that saw Tampa Bay lose five of six down the

stretch to finish 7-9 and miss the playoffs for the fifth straight

year.

The defense was a problem, too, with a leaky secondary and

anemic pass rush factoring in the Bucs nearly setting a league

record for passing yards allowed.

Enter cornerback Darrelle Revis and safety Dashon Goldson,

offseason acquisitions expected to make a difference on defense.

The Bucs hope their arrival will give Freeman and a potent offense

featuring running back Doug Martin and receivers Vincent Jackson

and Mike Williams more opportunities to shine.

Revis, a three-time All-Pro who’s recovering from knee surgery

that sidelined him most of last season with the New York Jets, was

obtained in exchange for the 13th overall pick in this year’s draft

and given a six-year, $96 million contract.

Goldson, an All-Pro last season in San Francisco, signed a

five-year, $41.25 million deal as a free agent after helping the

49ers reach the Super Bowl.

”The organization did a good job of bringing guys in. … I

think we can get it done,” Goldson said. ”In San Francisco, it

took time. Here, it’s going to be the same way. We have a lot to

build on coming off last year.”

Here are five things to watch as Freeman tries to lead Tampa Bay

to the playoffs for the first time in his career.

REVIS ISLAND: Revis made a name for himself in six seasons with

the Jets because of his ability to blanket some of the game’s top

receivers in single coverage. The Bucs have not rushed his return

from knee surgery in hopes that keeping out of preseason games

would enhance the chances of Revis being fully recovered for the

Sept. 8 regular season opener against his old team.

SCHIANO IMPACT: Greg Schiano spent much of last season – his

first as a NFL head coach – changing the culture within a team that

lost its final 10 games under predecessor Raheem Morris. The Bucs

improved from four wins two years ago to seven under Schiano, who’s

free now to focus on coaching rather than selling his program to

the players. ”The biggest thing is that we all understand each

other,” Schiano said. ”This is who we are, this is what we are,

this is how we do things, and this is how we’re going to win.”

Schiano said. ”The guys believe it. The staff does, I do, and I

think there’s a respect both ways.”

RUN DOUGIE RUN: Second-year running back Doug Martin made the

Pro Bowl as a rookie, rushing for 1,454 yards and 11 touchdowns,

while also finishing third in the NFL behind Adrian Peterson and

Calvin Johnson with 1,926 total yards from scrimmage. If Freeman is

going to fulfill his potential, the Bucs have to continue to run

the ball effectively.

WHO’S UP FRONT: The offensive line had a shaky preseason,

allowing Tampa Bay’s first three preseason opponents to sack

Freeman nine times. The unit was expected to be a strength entering

training camp, partly because of the anticipated return of injured

guards Carl Nicks and Davin Joseph. Joseph is back. But Nicks is

still recovering from toe surgery, and it’s uncertain when he’ll be

ready play after being one of two Buccaneers diagnosed with MRSA

infections.

THE PASS RUSH: Schiano brought in Revis and Goldson to address

needs in the secondary, however another key to getting better

defensively will be improving the pass rush. The Bucs had 27 sacks

a year ago, third lowest in the league. Tackle Gerald McCoy is

coming off his first Pro Bowl appearance, and Schiano is hoping to

get more production out of young ends Adrian Clayborn and Da’Quan

Bowers.

AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org