31 Days, 31 Teams: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Turmoil was an all too frequent guest for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the 2009 offseason. After a shocking Week 17 loss to the Oakland Raiders that kept the team out of the 2008 playoffs the Buccaneers fired Jon Gruden and replaced him with Raheem Morris, an unknown with no head coaching experience. Then just days before the start of the season the Bucs fired offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski. As expected, the 2009 season nearly went down the toilet.
Halfway through the year the Bucs handed the keys of the offense to rookie quarterback Josh Freeman who led the team to an upset of the Packers in Week 9. However, Freeman played the part for much of the remainder of the year, firing 18 interceptions and getting sacked 20 times. But Freeman showed his potential in late season wins over Seattle and New Orleans and should improve on his 2009 numbers. The problem is Tampa Bay isn't exactly loaded offensively. Antonio Bryant is gone and the Bucs have a rather unremarkable crew of wide receivers. Freeman will have a security blanket in tight end Kellen Winslow, coming off a 77 catch, five touchdown year. Leading rusher Cadillac Williams is back again as is 2009 free agent pickup Derrick Ward, who scored only one rushing touchdown last season. If the Buccaneers are to improve on the 15 points per game average they will need way more production from Ward.
Last season was a case of good news, bad news for the Bucs defense. In the secondary Tampa Bay was manned by Aqib Talib and Tenard Jackson with each tallying five picks. As a result Tampa Bay was one of the tougher teams to throw on. But that was not the case against the run. The Bucs gave up a league-high 158 rushing yards per game. In two games against Carolina the Bucs lost by a combined 17 points but surrendered 424 rushing yards. Against Miami in Week 10 the Buccaneers lost by only two but gave up 199 yards. It was a common theme, the Bucs were competitive in a number of games but the inability to stop the run wore the defense out. Tampa Bay targeted this need in the draft and used their first two picks on defensive tackles Gerald McCoy and Brian Price.
If there's one factor working in Tampa Bay's favor it's the last place finish in the NFC South. We all know that the South is volatile and last place teams one year become playoff teams the next. The Bucs can get back to 9-7 form if Freeman takes that next step and make his lackluster receivers better. All eyes are on first round pick McCoy to stuff the middle and bring relief to the run defense. After an 0-8 start the Bucs finished 2009 3-5 and that momentum should carry them to more wins in 2010.