Even though I've praised Shaffer for much of this year, I think these last 4 games will really display the sort of ability he has.
He will face Rice and Rucker of course, but he'll also battle with Alex Brown, Will Smith, Darren Howard, and Charles Grant. Now only Rice is considered an elite DE, but Brown and Rucker are still good Pro Bowl caliber plays and Smith is one in the making, while Howard and Grant aren't having great years, but aren't slouches.
How well he plays against these guys will display if he's capable of being our LT for a few more years. I don't expect him to pitch 4 straight shutouts, but if in 3 out of these 4 games he doesn't look overmatched and do a pretty good job keeping his man from taking over a game, then I'd say its a plus in my book.
I know I'm in the minority, but I don't think we have to do a lot of big things to the defense. Now that doesn't mean I'm against using early draft picks on guys or signing 1 high caliber free agent. But i think that experience alone is going to improve the defense from 2005 to 2006. Now would they be among the best in the league on added experience alone in '06? Probably not.
I think the defense will improve if we get the players in here that will allow us to be more aggressive. I think that's what has hurt us this year, and why we saw a similar regression from 2002 to 2003. We relied too much on the bend but don't break mentality, and as a season passes, giving up huge chunks of yardage plays on your psyche, and you start to do more breaking and less bending. So for that reason, getting DEs or DTs or whatever that are big bodies that can plug run lanes is not necessary. Instead, I think getting DEs and DTs that are more aggressive, bring more speed and athleticism is more important since it will allow us as a unit to be more aggressive, and hopefully more successful. Despite what others might think, the Bucs defense even at their height of their defense prowess under Dungy were weak up the middle vs. the run. A team with a solid interior ground game could slash through the middle of their line because Sapp & McFarland & Culpepper weren't great run stoppers. Now of course, few teams could say that they were solid enough in terms of their middle O-linemen matching up with the Bucs D-line, but I think if you look at 2003 with both Sapp & Booger McFarland there in the game that Bibla started and Duckett had 93 yards that day.
I think we need a safety that can play the run well. I think we need a young cornerback that can be groomed to be a starter in a year or two. I think we need another pass rusher at DE to take pressure off the other guys. Those are the only things that I'd call needs on defense. Everything else is just depth if that.
Offensively, the only thing I think we need right now is a left guard that fits our scheme but also plays well in pass protection enough that he can match up with the Kris Jenkins, Shaun Rogers, and other top DTs in the league. At least better than Matt Lehr does.
OT, now I don't think it's a need since I think as it stands now we can live with Shaffer & Weiner as our starters in 2006. But I would like to add someone at that position to push those guys or potentially replace one. Losing both would hurt this year since it really breaks up continuity.
But I agree, these last 4 games will give the chance to some players to earn contracts next year or a spot on the waiver wire.
"Vincere scis, Hannibal, victoria uti nescis" -- Maharbal, 216 B.C.E.