Thursday, July 22, 2010

Tampa Bay Buccaneers Pre Camp Predictions: Offense

Going into the second year of Coach Raheem Morris' tenure, the Buccaneers now have more stability on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. We know there won't be any coordinators fired this year during the preseason so players should feel more comfortable in they systems and therefore be able to play faster instead of having to think too much. With camp starting here shortly I just wanted to give my assessment of the roster, which guys I expect to be around after the final cuts and what roster battles fans should pay attention to.

Today I want to talk offense. First lets go position by position.

Wide Receiver

Last year we kept 5 wide receivers on the roster for our first game. This year we are heading into camp with 11. If precedent holds 7 or 8 of those guys won't make it. Instead of going through the list of guys who are fighting that uphill battle Id rather focus on the 5 or 6 guys I think will make the team.

Arrelious Benn and Mike Williams have the advantage of being 2nd and 4th round picks respectively. For that reason both are pretty much assured roster spots. The question is how much will either guy contribute as a rookie. Here are the top rookie receivers for the past 5 years and their numbers in catches-yards-touchdowns

2009 Percy Harvin 60-790-6
2008 Eddie Royal 91-980-5
2007 Dewayne Bowe 70-995-5
2006 Marques Colston 70-1038-8
2005 Reggie Brown 43-571-4

One good thing to note is every guy on the list isn't a high first round pick. That doesn't mean that we can expect Benn or Williams to put up comparable numbers. But it does mean that its not out of the realm of possibility. There is no rule that says rookie wide receivers can't set the world on fire right off the bat. Even though his follow up campaigns weren't nearly as impressive, you can look to Michael Clayton's rookie year to validate that.

I believe that before the year is over both guys will start although in my opinion only Williams starts the first game. I envision a starting lineup against the Cleveland Browns where Maurice Stovall lines up at Flanker, Mike Williams lines up at Split End and Sammie Stroughter is the slot receiver. Eventually I would expect Benn to supplant Stovall at Flanker by midseason or so.

After the those four guys I think Reggie Brown sticks for his special teams play as much as anything else and if the Bucs decide to carry 6 receivers instead of 5 I would bet it will be because rookie Preston Parker has shown a lot of potential in the return game.

This group may not rate high on most folks radar but the potential is there. Williams was one of the most impressive wide receivers I have seen in college football in the last few years before he quit in the middle of their season. Stovall has all the physical tools you like but I think playing special teams will slow him down a bit. Stroughter showed last year that he is a play maker who will go up in traffic and get the ball. Benn is a big, physical, run after the catch guy who will look a lot more impressive in pads than he has in shorts. As a unit they may end up shocking a lot of people.

Running Backs

I know that publicly at least the Bucs are saying the starting tailback position is still up for grabs, but I'm not buying that. Even though Derrick Ward was a big free agent pick up last year, I would be shocked if Cadillac Williams isn't the starter barring injury. It not necessarily that I think Caddy is that much of a better back. Ward is hands down the better receiver out of the back field in my opinion. But Caddy runs with a style and intensity that is inspirational to anybody that plays with him. When you see a guy that size looking for contact, bouncing off defenders and refusing to go down easily, it gets you hyped man. And this team is going to have to draw on all the inspiration it can muster because many times the will face teams that are more talented.

Not looking to knock Ward but you just don't get the same vibe watching him work. He is talented in his own right but I think for this team and for this year he works better as the backup.

An interesting case is that of Earnest Graham. Now you can count me among the Graham fans in the Tampa Bay area but the problem is Earnest is never going to wow you in OTAs. Graham is a running back who needs to be in pads behind the first team line to show what he can do. He is not the fastest nor quickest running back you have ever seen but he's one of the slipperiest. He doesn't make the huge highlight cuts but he still finds a way to make people miss. He doesn't steam roll guys but he finds a way to run through arm tackles. Its amazing how many times you see him make a run where it looks like a defender has him dead to rights and he still squirts by them.

Unfortunately at the moment he is listed at fullback AND he is one of the major contributor on special teams. That means that he won't get many opportunities to showcase his talents in the preseason. It also means that he will have to compete with a guy who really IS a natural fullback in Chris Pressley to start at the position.

Now I for one thought Graham did a helluva job as a lead back last year when he was thrown into the position because of injury. But Pressley is the classic throw back "thumper" type fullback whom flattens linebackers rather than just blocking them. Graham can definitely catch the ball better out of the backfield but if Pressley can close some ground in that area can the Bucs really afford to keep him on the bench?

Assuming the Bucs keep both Graham and Pressley that gets you up to four running backs whereas last year they had 5 on the roster for the first game. So who gets that last roster spot?

I think it may end up being the roster fight of the preseason. Clifton "Peanut" Smith has been a Pro Bowl special teams guy for the Bucs primarily because of his return abilities. But after he was injured last year several other Bucs showed that they could take up the slack in the return game. Then there is the factor of Smith's fumbling problems. Huggins on the other hand is untested but brings a speed factor sorely lacking on our offense. No matter which guy makes the team its doubtful that either would play extensively on offense but if you were going to give a guy a few reps a game wouldn't you want it to be a home run threat?

Advantage Huggins.

Tight Ends

Kellen Winslow is the starter unless he has a setback with the rehab on his knee. The battle over who backs him up however could get quite interesting.

The last few years Jerramy Stevens has been a fixture on offense. Last year however he might as well have been a hood ornament. On the one hand I lay blame at the feet of offensive coordinator Greg Olsen who rarely used Stevens as a pass catching option, even in obvious situations near the goal line where he could have used his size and athleticism to out jump the defender. But on the other hand his blocking was piss poor. I mean it was frustrating to watch him get dominated game after game by defensive ends who weren't much bigger than he was. I said it last year and I stand by it, the biggest problem with our running game wasn't our offensive line, but instead it was our tight ends. Unfortunately Winslow is who he is, he ain't gonna turn into a road grater over night. That means whomever backs him up is going to have to assume that role.

Maybe Stevens will come out with a better attitude this year and commit to being a dominant blocker. If he does that's great. If not then its time to move on and let the next guy get a shot. I like John Gilmore but his technique was all screwed up last year. He obviously had the will to block but not the way. I think Ryan Purvis also has some potential as an inline blocker. I don't really care who wins the job but SOMEBODY is going to have to be willing to put their face on people if we intend on running the ball this year.  Last year we kept three and I personally would rather the two after Winslow be big time blockers and good special teams guys.


This one is really simple, Josh Freeman is the guy and the team will sink or swim for the most part this year based on how far he comes in his second year. In my opinion however that won't be measured in just how many yards he throws for our how many touchdown passes he tosses. To me the big question mark with Freeman is his decision making ability. Several times last year he threw interceptions that weren't just bad balls, but also horrible decisions. He threw into triple coverage at least twice when no matter how well the ball was thrown his receiver had a very low possibility of coming down with it. And these were throws not made on 3rd down out of desperation, but instead throws made on early downs where he could have either dumped it off or thrown it away and tried again the next play.

Our defense is going to be young and pretty talented but depth is going to be a problem. So the more our offense can possess the ball for long drives even if they don't score, the better chances our defense will have of staying fresh and preforming well. Freeman will have a lot to say about that with his ball security. And that includes holding onto the ball when he is sacked and anticipating that contact. Aside from his cannon of an arm his ability to escape out of the pocket is probably his 2nd greatest quality but he has to make sure its a plus for his team and doesn't become a liability by laying the ball on the turf.

If he can not lose us the game consistently then odds are we will have quite a bit of success this year. That's not to say I don't want to see him be aggressive. When there are one on one matchups or Winslow has a linebacker on him I expect Freeman to torch their asses. But the trick is recognizing when the grand slam  isn't there and shooting for a base hit instead.

Behind Freeman is a guy I like a lot and don't mind saying so. Josh Johnson is a guy with tremendous speed, quickness and a pretty decent arm as well. It was unfortunate that his only game time last year consisted of being thrown to the wolves while our starting center was out and the guy who replaced him couldn't block my aunt. He still showed some flashes of brilliance but with guys hanging off him almost every play anybody would look horrible.

Realistically though he is still young and his only experience was those handful of games so while I feel comfortable with him as Freeman's primary backup there is still some uncertainty of just how well he will perform if called upon again. We all hope that he isn't forced into action at any time this year but if so you would have to say its still a bit of a question mark. One of the most curious situations on this team this year was their refusal to pursue a veteran backup. Its a decision that could definitely come back to bite them.

Rudy Carpenter and rookie Jevan Snead will fight it out to be the third quarterback but if either guy has to see action this year, we are in big big trouble.

Offensive Line

Lets cut to the chase, all the rest of this analysis is just fluff if our offensive line doesn't show up this year. And to be even more blunt, we are going to suck if Donald Penn isn't in the lineup in week one. From my perspective that means they need to pay the man. His resume is definitely worthy. But it really doesn't matter if its a new contract that does the trick or he decides against holding out, the Buccaneers NEED Donald Penn to be successful this year.  He is the bell cow of the group and he also is Freeman's personal body guard.  His blocking enables Greg Olsen to draw up passing plays where all five eligibles are allowed to go out on routes.  He also has the kind of controlled anger that you want to see in your offensive linemen.  Something has to give.

In addition the health of Jeff Faine will be of particular interest. Last year when he went down everything went to shambles. The Bucs ended up rehiring a guy they had recently cut and to call it a disaster would be disrespectful to the word. What is scary is the fact that the Bucs did nothing of note to shore up the backup center position this off season. So if Faine goes down again...

There is a quiet battle that I will be watching during camp and that is between Jeremy Trueblood and Xavier Fulton. I didn't watch any OTA practices but something piqued my interest. While Penn held out this spring the Bucs put Demar Dotson out there in his spot. What that stood out to me is that the year before they spent a 5th round pick on Xavier Fulton who actually played offensive tackle in college where as Dotson was a rookie free agent.

This could be interpreted in a variety of ways. Fulton could potentially suck so bad that the Bucs already recognize they wasted a draft pick on him so they will just try to hide him as a backup the next few years until they can get rid of him. Another way to look at it however could be that because the Bucs believe Penn will eventually come to camp and be the left tackle, they didn't want to move Fulton and have him miss out on developing as a right tackle.

If its the latter, which I suspect it might be, that could be interpreted as a sign that the Bucs are fed up with all of the penalties and bone headed play from Trueblood. Trueblood is a very good player 95% of the time but the other 5% of the time he does the kinds of things that get you beat at the wrong times. That is unacceptable and I was hoping they benched him last year if for no other reason than to teach him a lesson. Now this is purely speculation but it is very curious to me that the Bucs didn't give their 5th round pick from the year before the opportunity to vie for the job protecting their franchise quarterback's blind side while Penn was out. I realize that the Bucs have a lot of time and money invested in Trueblood and that he and Davin Joseph seem to have good chemistry on the right side, but you can't let one guy keep putting your team behind the eight ball. Its not fair to the rest of the team.

Maybe, I'm reading too much into this. Maybe not. I guess we shall see.

The last impactful camp battle on offense will be between incumbent starting left guard Jeremy Zuttah and late free agent pickup Keydrick Vincent who most recently started for a Carolina Panthers offensive line that gave our defense the blues running the ball. The obvious advantage Vincent has is that he is a bigger, more physical run blocker than Zuttah. However Zuttah in my opinion got better as the season went on and he showed a lot of athleticism in getting up to linebackers on running blocking and in his pass blocking. Overall I would give the edge to Zuttah but there have been random anonymous reports that he hasn't been giving it all he's got this spring. I have no idea if its true or not but I am betting we will see his absolute best once camp opens and Vincent is breathing down his neck.

I will restate my opinion that Vincent may also give the Buccaneers more options should Penn hold out long term. The prospect of having Dotson protecting Freeman's blindside when he never even played offensive tackle in college HAS to be scaring the hell out of the Bucs brass. Zuttah may not be that great of an offensive tackle judging from his limited time there last season, but at the least he has had a year of starting experience and he knows the offense at this point. If Dotson starts in the preseason and gets treated like a revolving door I expect the Zuttah as left tackle experiment to start on the spot.

As for roster spots its not even worth delving too hard with this group. Last year the Bucs carried 9 offensive linemen on the roster on opening day. Once you get past the top 9 offensive linemen on our roster at the moment things start getting pretty sad anyway.

Well that's my pre-camp analysis of the offense. Be on the lookout for my defensive installment in the next day or so.


  1. Good stuff Steve...


  2. Top notch info, great reading for the serious fan.

  3. I said on Joebucsfan "Mark, please pay Don Penn".
    I still feel that way. The lack of a stud back up center is going to hurt if Faine can't stand the pain. As far as Huggins goes, and his 4.2 40, it was hand timed I have heard. I don't know that much about him. I agree Cadillac is an inspiration, and can take over a game with decent blocking. Once we show we have a passing game, teams will stop jamming the box on us, opening running lanes up for our backs.
    Like you said before Steve, our Tight Ends must block better, if we are to have success at ball control.
    Last Year, it was 3 and out so much you could see our entire D Line entire gassing, not just Hovan.