The Bucs have interesting competitions across their roster and will be focused on getting certain things settled this summer in training camp.
The big concern for the Bucs heading into 2013 starts with Josh and ends with Freeman. All eyes are on Freeman and questions about on whether or not he’s going to take that next step and become a more consistent and efficient passer.
It’s not a lack of talent holding Freeman back, as one can see with his size, arm strength, and the occasional money throw he can make in crunch-time situations. It really is about being more consistent with those situations. Too often he’ll miss open receivers and makes too many mental mistakes. It doesn’t appear that the game is slowing down for him as much as it should for a player that has started 56 games and is entering his fifth season in the league. It’s really a make or break year for Freeman.
And the Bucs haven’t been silent about it. They used their third round pick on quarterback Mike Glennon, and head coach Greg Schiano has made it no secret that Glennon could push Freeman. Now, Schiano has since backed off a little. Probably because he realizes that he doesn’t want to ruin Freeman’s confidence. But if Glennon comes into this summer and plays well, and Freeman not so much it could create a quarterback controversy. One that could potentially undermine the entire 2013 season for the Bucs. So Schiano himself is going to have to do his best to manage this situation carefully. But things will be so much easier to manage if Freeman just shows up and plays his tail off in preseason.
The Bucs made a number of low-level additions on their offense in the off-season, but the two biggest gets were the healthy returns of guards Carl Nicks and Davin Joseph. Joseph went down before the 2012 season started, and Nicks was on injured reserve by Week 9. Both have the potential to form one of the league’s elite pair of guards, and will be tasked with clearing holes for second-year tailback Doug Martin. The Bucs believe they can take a lot of pressure off Freeman if they can commit to a physical, smashmouth ground attack. If so, that can suck up defenders and leave players like Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams in one-on-one situations on the outside, scenarios that big receivers like them can exploit. A key competition will be for Martin’s backup, with rookie seventh rounder Mike James expected to win the job. Martin was a bit overused last year with 319 carries and if the Bucs intend to make a playoff run, lessening his load to keep him fresh could be important.
Speaking of the wide receiver position, there is an open competition for the third slot receiver spot. Tiquan Underwood is the incumbent and emerged under his former college coach Schiano last year in that role. But the Bucs brought in Cowboys receiver Kevin Ogletree to compete for the spot. Ogletree emerged during last year’s season opener against the Giants, but then was very quiet from that point on. It’s Underwood’s job to lose, but if they can get good production from Ogletree as well, it will give them a more well-rounded passing attack.
Tight end is also an area of concern. Luke Stocker is expected to win the job, but how productive he is in 2013 is up in the air. Stocker is a capable blocker with good size and athleticism, but certainly not to the level where he can be a weapon to exploit down the seam. The Bucs are hoping he can function like a poor man’s Jason Witten, as both hail from Tennessee, and he can provide value as a blocker and help move the chains on the third downs in the passing game. He’ll be pushed by ex-Packer tight end Tom Crabtree.
Another battle on offense will be at right tackle, where incumbent Demar Dotson will be pushed by Gabe Carimi. Dotson is a plus-athlete but needs to refine his skills. Dotson is expected to win the job, but he can’t slack in camp with Carimi pushing behind him. Carimi struggled in Chicago at right tackle thanks to injuries and slow feet. He seemed much more at home playing inside before they shipped him off this off-season for a sixth round pick, after being a first round pick in 2011. If he adjusts well to the change in scenery he could open the season and give the Bucs a very good run blocker on the right side to team with Joseph.
Defensively, the main issue the Bucs are facing is finding someone to emerge up front alongside Gerald McCoy. McCoy is the anchor of the Bucs front, and when healthy is one of the best interior presences in the league. But the Bucs want more production from the edges, and namely that will come with Da’Quan Bowers and Adrian Clayborn. Both players are coming off injury-plagued seasons. How good they look this summer could determine what sort of success they have in 2013. Bowers is the more talented of the pair and is looking to break out with a strong season.
Beside McCoy is expected to be rookie nose tackle Akeem Spence. The team brought in veterans like Gary Gibson and Derek Landri to compete for the spot, but it’s Spence’s to lose. How quickly he adjusts to his new position could also be a factor in determining if the Bucs defensive line becomes a strength.
Strongside linebacker is unsettled with the speedy Jonathan Casillas competing with Dekoda Watson. Watson isn’t very big, but shined as a pass rusher in his days at Florida State. Casillas is one of the rangiest linebackers in the league due to his plus speed, but he has never been a consistent starter. Whoever emerges in that battle will simply have to be decent beside Mason Foster and Lavonte David, two solid young linebackers.
The secondary also has some question marks, although most of them center on the knee of Darrelle Revis. Revis is expected to set up “Treasure Island” in South Florida this year, and will be counted on heavily to slow down players like Julio Jones and Roddy White this year for the Bucs. At the other corner spot the team is bringing back Eric Wright, who appeared to be on the outs earlier this off-season. They also picked up rookie Johnathan Banks with their top pick, and along with Leonard Johnson they will compete for reps with Wright and potentially in the nickel. Banks has good length and ball skills, but isn’t the quickest or fastest corner. Wright can play in the slot and has been effective there in the past. He had a poor 2012 campaign, and they hope that he plays at a level comparable to the 2011 season he had which prompted them to sign him in the first place.
DaShon Goldson was picked up to solidify the free safety spot, and they hope his leadership and ball skills will fix a problem area from last year’s squad: one of the league’s worst pass defenses. Mark Barron had an up but mostly down rookie year, and they hope he can continue to improve in his second season. Potentially they have a pair of active and playmaking safeties, and the presence of Revis plus improvement from Wright should make their jobs much easier.
Overall, a lot of attention will be paid upon Josh Freeman offensively. Defensively, the Bucs are optimistic that a player like Bowers can emerge to help improve their pass rush. How effective Revis is coming off his ACL tear will also be a big factor on whether the Bucs defense is significantly improved from a year ago. The Bucs have the makings of a team that could certainly push for a wildcard spot and potentially challenge for the NFC South crown if all things go their way. But they will need players like Freeman, Bowers, and Revis to play at high levels coupled with some of their young players and rookies stepping up.