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Preseason Power Rankings No. 26: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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What the Buccaneers did last year under coach Raheem Morris was simply amazing.

Turning a 4-2 start into a 10-game losing streak is almost unthinkable. There’s no other way to describe it than to say the Bucs simply gave up, losing the final five by an average of 23 points per game.

That it didn’t lead to a complete house-cleaning might be the most amazing part, as General Manager Mark Dominik hung on, and replaced Morris with hard-nosed Rutgers coach Greg Schiano.

Then Dominik went out and spent some free agency cash, and the Bucs have a new sense of hope to go with a new staff. Whether it works remains to be seen.

Strengths.

The Bucs have the potential to be explosive on offense, but all that potential is conditional upon quarterback Josh Freeman looking like Josh Freeman again.

If he plays the way he did in 2010 (25 touchdowns, six interceptions, 95.9 rating) rather than 2011 (16 touchdowns, 22 interceptions, 74.6 rating), the Bucs could have a solid set of personnel.

Adding Vincent Jackson on the first day of free agency (with a five-year, $55.5 million contract) gives them a legitimate deep threat at wide receiver, which they didn’t really have even when Keyshawn Johnson was the presumptive No. 1.

The run game also got an early boost, with the signing of former Saints guard Carl Nicks (five years, $47.5 million) and adding running back Doug Martin late in the first round. Pairing Martin and LeGarrette Blount gives them the opportunity to run well and often, which will make things much easier for Freeman.

If nothing else, that could shorten games, and keep the sore spot off the field.

Weaknesses.

Taken individually, there are good parts to work with for new defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan.

The problem is, collectively those parts stunk last year.

The Bucs allowed 494 points last year, the most in team history. They ranked last in the league in points allowed and rushing defense, a sure sign there wasn’t much resistance late.

Moving veteran Ronde Barber from corner to safety, and installing him next to rookie Mark Barron gives them an interesting tandem in the middle.

On paper, Aqib Talib and Eric Wright give them a good pair of corners, but both have shown signs of knuckle-headedness in their past, making you wonder how they’ll fit with Greg Schiano long-term.

Second-rounder Lavonte David has promise as a playmaker at linebacker, but he’s surrounded by a fairly ordinary cast.

Up front, Gerald McCoy has shown flashes, but the defensive tackle has never lived up to his draft status because of injuries, similar to Brian Price.

Adrian Clayborn is a good, solid defensive end, the kind you can build around, but losing Da’Quan Bowers to a torn Achilles casts doubt on where the pass rush is coming from.

Changes.

Greg Schiano made an immediate imprint on his team, bringing a college-style structure to a team that sorely needed some kind of discipline.

That started with things like monitoring the temperature in meeting rooms, but creating an accountable environment will take more than that.

Releasing safety Tanard Jackson and trading disgruntled tight end Kellen Winslow were the first obvious moves. How he handles Eric Wright’s drunk driving arrest will be the next test of how Schiano steers through choppy waters.

But the way the Bucs played last year under Raheem Morris, a little more attention to detail was clearly needed.

If Schiano can maintain his edge, and keep his players from revolting, they have enough talent to make a significant turnaround.

Camp battles.

As with Freeman, if wide receiver Mike Williams returns to his 2010 form, they should be OK at the position.

Williams caught the same 65 passes in 2011 as 2010, he just didn’t do nearly as much with them. His per-catch average of 14.8 as a rookie made him a legitimate weapon. At 11.9 last year, he was just kind of out there.

If he doesn’t revert, the Bucs have a bunch of guys who have given hints, but few sure things.

Preston Parker caught 40 balls last year and could be poised to make a move. You could win bar bets by knowing Dezmon Broscoe caught a team-high six touchdown passes last year, more than a third of the team total (17). Arrelious Benn has shown the ability to make big plays when he makes them (15.2 yards per catch in two seasons).

Even Tiquan Underwood, one of Greg Schiano’s guys from Rutgers, has a chance to do something here. He was on and off the Patriots roster last season, famously released before the Super Bowl, but has speed and could find a niche on a less-talented team.

Prospects.

It doesn’t help that the Bucs play in one of the most competitive divisions in the league, as the NFC South is annually difficult.

Atlanta and New Orleans are legitimate contenders for the division title, and Carolina has improved significantly.

And while the Bucs are among the teams that could really use a quick start to dispel some of last year’s problems, the first month of the season opens with a visit from the Panthers and trips to the defending champion Giants and the Cowboys.

Win a pair of those, and it becomes a lot easier for Schiano to sell his program at the pro level. Drop enough games to push the losing streak into the teens, and it becomes much tougher for him to play the tough-guy card.

The simple fact they were so bad last year means they would have to work to be worse, but there are reasons to believe they could get better.

But in the neighborhood they’re living in, they could clean up the yard and still be the worst house on the block.

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14 Responses to “Preseason Power Rankings No. 26: Tampa Bay Buccaneers”
  1. hulkhogansays says: Jul 12, 2012 10:02 AM

    Florida – Where all your pro football teams are a waste of money and time brother.

  2. rmoore7 says: Jul 12, 2012 10:10 AM

    Seriously concerned about Josh Freeman, and if he stinks again or is injured the Bucs are in deep trouble.

  3. bucrightoff says: Jul 12, 2012 10:24 AM

    Obviously the success of this season depends on whether Freeman can get back to 2010 level. If, and obviously its a big if, he can, then I think this could be a playoff team, though I suspect they’ll be closer to a 7-9/8-8 team.

    Defense will be better just for the coaching change, the offensive line could dominate and I wouldn’t be surprised if Martin and Blount each got close to 1,000 yards, though I expect Martin will be the starter.

    Bottom line is the talent is there, its now up to whether or not it can showcase it on the field with the new staff. I think Schiano has done a great job to date, and hopefully he’s another Dungy type.

  4. bucs13 says: Jul 12, 2012 10:29 AM

    As a long time Bucs fan, who suffered during the many lean years (pretty much all of them, other than a blip of the NFC loss to the Rams, the brief Doug Williams experiment ended by Screw Culverhouse, and, of course, everything else too numerous to mention…), this is nothing.

    They have talent and youth. I do not have high expectations, but they could be decent, with an upside of good. I’ll take it.

    Also, I miss Bruce the Buccaneer. I may be alone in that. Wink!

  5. bucsfan5000 says: Jul 12, 2012 10:51 AM

    The NFC South is the worst to first division. No one expected the Bucs to do it in 05 or 07. No team has finished first or last in back to back years.

  6. jpack1974 says: Jul 12, 2012 11:22 AM

    This team is awful. They should be at the bottom

  7. scubasteve4930 says: Jul 12, 2012 11:36 AM

    Our offense has the talent to put up some serious numbers this year…thats not my concern.

    Our defense is what is gonna make or break our playoff berth. The front 4 was strong the first few games last year until McCoy got hurt, and then we fell like dominoes. If we can stay healthy on the d-line, everything else should fall in place. The loss of bowers hurts, but micheal bennett is an underrated beast. I hear a lot of hate on Sheridan…but with Schiano and Butch Davis having a lot of say what happens with our D, the coaching shouldnt be a problem.

    Seeing what we have on paper, 9-7 or 8-8 seems about right. LETS GET IT BUCS!!!

  8. scalfor3 says: Jul 12, 2012 11:50 AM

    neutral fan here (i root for an afc team) but i think the buccos are gonna surprise alot of people this year. the problem was the attitude, not the talent last season, and schiano seems like he’s just the kick in the ass that locker room needed. couple that with adding some real talent through free agency and they could be better than the 2010 playoff team.

    also, the division is wide open. the falcons dont overwhelm anyone, the saints will be weakened by bountygate and carolina has a crap defense. should be a real interesting year

  9. onebucfan says: Jul 12, 2012 11:59 AM

    I want to drink the kool aid, but not just yet. I too think this is a 9-7 or 8-8 team. As long as we beat the kitty cats and “S”cam newton, that will make my day!!

  10. buccaneerz78 says: Jul 12, 2012 4:14 PM

    I was hoping for an even lower rating ,, so when they make the playoffs and win the south you can all kiss it…. This team will surprise people this year..

  11. onemilemore says: Jul 12, 2012 11:49 PM

    The Bucs will be this year’s Eagles: big splashes in free agency, with no playoff berth to show for it.

  12. benchwarmer69 says: Jul 13, 2012 12:08 AM

    onemilemore says:Jul 12, 2012 11:49 PM

    The Bucs will be this year’s Eagles: big splashes in free agency, with no playoff berth to show for it.

    Except for the fact that teams aren’t gunning for them quite as much as the overhyped Egals, everyone besides the three FA’s have been on the team a couple of years, and more importantly WHO they obtained.

    Not only that, but Schiano has a few of his previous Rutgers players (7) that will help the transition to the rest of the players “buying in.”

    VJ and Nicks are both beasts, whereas “Scrabble” was literally/obviously overhyped when he was a FA.

    If you want to call them a “dream-team,” go ahead, but I seriously doubt the same outcome will befall the Bucs as it did the Eagles.

    The Bucs will have a whole offseason, whereas the Eagles last season did not.

    Apple to orange.

  13. wjmoffatt says: Jul 13, 2012 1:18 AM

    You can’t be serious! 26th? Willing to be any amount of money they finish that bad in the standings? No chance in hell bub!

  14. petedutcher says: Jul 24, 2012 3:56 PM

    I hope every team the Bucs face thinks they’ll be an easy victory because they will be in for a huge sureprise.

    The Bucs schedule is a tough one this year, but if they win I’m sure you people will claim it’s an easy schedule.

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