Hungry Buccaneers eager to begin Schiano era

A lucrative five-year, $47.5 million contract was just one of

the reasons Carl Nicks found the Tampa Bay Buccaneers attractive in

free agency.

The All-Pro left guard spent the past four seasons in New

Orleans as a key blocker for Drew Brees on the Saints’

record-setting offense. He believes his new team also has the

talent to put up impressive numbers, climb out of the NFC South

cellar and become a Super Bowl contender.

The Bucs were 27th in the NFL in scoring and also had one of the

league’s least productive running games last year. But they’ve got

a rising young quarterback in Josh Freeman, and Nicks and receiver

Vincent Jackson were part of a one-day free agent haul that new

coach Greg Schiano is counting on to make a difference.

Tampa Bay finished 4-12 in 2011, including 10 consecutive losses

to end the season.

Nicks, Jackson and cornerback Eric Wright signed deals worth a

combined $140.55 million on the first day of free agency, each

believing they were joining a talented young team that – despite

its struggles under fired coach Raheem Morris – was headed in the

right direction.

”It’s not a rebuilding year. We’re trying to win,” Nicks said.

”We’re trying to shock teams kind of like Detroit did after their

few years of not doing so good and how San Francisco shocked the

world last season. We’re trying to do something like that, bringing

in veteran guys, skill guys, Pro Bowlers. It’s going to be fun to

see what we do out there.”

Freeman shed 20 pounds during offseason and also reported to

training camp sporting a stylish new haircut, eager to put a

disappointing season behind him.

A year after having one of the league’s best

touchdowns-to-interceptions ratios with 25 TDs and only six picks

while nearly leading the Bucs to a playoff berth, the 6-foot-6,

240-pound quarterback threw for 16 touchdowns and 22

interceptions.

Tampa Bay’s defense also shouldered part of the responsibility

for the club’s collapse following a 4-2 start. The Bucs yielded an

NFL-worst and franchise-record 494 points, while also finishing

30th among 32 teams in yards allowed and last in rushing defense,

sacks and turnover margin.

”Reality is a beast, and last year was reality,” two-time Pro

Bowl right guard Davin Joseph said, noting players reported this

summer with a renewed determination to do whatever’s necessary to

be successful.

”If you don’t commit to the offseason, if you don’t have

structure, you don’t have discipline, you’re not going to be very

good,” the seventh-year pro added. ”I think reality hit a lot of

guys last year on potentially how short your career can be without

wins and potentially how miserable football can be without wins. A

lot of guys are committed to putting football first now. That’s

exactly what we need.”

Joseph suffered a season-ending right knee injury in the third

preseason game, an injury that strips the club of some veteran

leadership and also figures to make narrowing the gap on the rest

of the quarterback-driven NFC South more difficult.

But Schiano remains confident the Bucs can get the job done.

In addition to bringing in Jackson, who had 37 touchdown catches

in seven seasons with the Chargers, the former Rutgers coach signed

tight end Dallas Clark. Then he drafted running back Doug Martin

late in the first round in hopes of taking some of the burden off

Freeman with a consistent ground game.

Rookies are also being counted on to make an impact on

defense.

Safety Mark Barron was the seventh overall pick, and

second-round selection Lavonte David has played his way into the

lineup at linebacker. With five-time Pro Bowl cornerback Ronde

Barber shifting to free safety, the Bucs technically will open the

season with new starters in three of four spots in the secondary.

Barron was a playmaker at Alabama, helping the Crimson Tide win

national titles two of the past three years. He’s already made an

impression on veterans such as Barber and cornerback Aqib

Talib.

”He’s an NFL-ready dude,” Talib said. ”Some people grow up

faster than other people. That boy, he’s grown. He’s ready.”

With David playing well in the preseason, and returning starters

Quincy Black and Mason Foster progressing in the system, Schiano

feels linebacker could emerge as a strength, too, especially if

third-year tackle Gerald McCoy can remain healthy and elevate play

on the defensive line.

”The whole thing is, doing your job,” Schiano said. ”One of

the things you can’t do as a defensive player is try to do too

much, because what happens then is you try to do too much and

something opens up, you have a big play and then guys start to lose

confidence in what they’re doing. So we’ve just got to do our job

and do it consistently..”

That also applies to Freeman.

Schiano brought in former New York Giants quarterbacks coach

Mike Sullivan as his offensive coordinator. New quarterbacks coach

Ron Turner has worked with the fourth-year pro on his footwork in

the offseason, while Sullivan focused on the 24-year-old’s

decision-making in the pocket.

”I think just like the whole team, he’s improving every day.

And part of that is decision-making,” Schiano said.

”It’s very much like a fighter pilot. They’re making

split-second or high-speed decisions … and then you have to

execute once you make those decisions,” the coach added.

”Defensively, we’re trying to show him looks and take them away so

he’s got to really figure it out, and I think he’s doing better

every single day. That’s what we have to do at every position, but

we all know how important the quarterback position is.”

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