Possibly the closest Super Bowl matchup in history also poses the question: how much does it mean when certain aspects of an NFL team improve dramatically in the second half of the season?
17 Apr 2013
by Andy Benoit
The 2013 "State of the Team" articles will run daily through the NFL draft. These offer a snapshot look at a team’s roster, with players classified by color based on how they fit their role. My analysis is based on film study, not statistics, although we will try to note when my judgment differs significantly from FO's advanced stats, and explain a little bit why. Starters are in bold, and you will notice that many units are listed with 12 starters rather than just 11. This denotes the extra playing time that nickelbacks and third receivers usually get in today's NFL.
Some players colored pink as "just a guy" are younger low-round picks who just haven't seen much playing time, but keep in mind that 99 percent of the time, there’s a negative reason why such a player has rarely seen the field.
Players colored red as "upgrade needed" are not necessarily bad players. Sometimes, this simply means the player is a decent backup who should not be starting.
Since I generally don't do analysis on special teams, those categorizations are based strictly on FO stats, with any comments written by Aaron Schatz. We're only listing kickers and punters, as most teams go into training camp without specific players set as return specialists.
Greg Schiano has installed an old-school, two-back run game, which the Bucs had more and more success with as last season progressed. However, that success was often outweighed by an erratic aerial game. This offense won’t function properly until Josh Freeman becomes a steadier dropback passer and decision-maker. The Bucs have provided enough weapons and have tailored the game plans to make things simpler for him. It’s time for the 25-year-old to respond.
QB: Josh Freeman, Dan Orlovsky
RB: Doug Martin, LeGarrette Blount, Brian Leonard, Erik Lorig (FB); Lost: D.J. Ware
Freeman has the arm talent and athleticism to be a star. Where he’s lacking is in reading coverages, and his inconsistent internal clock. At least with a classic run game to fall back on, the Bucs can afford to be patient and gradual in adding more to Freeman’s plate. Leading that classic run game -– which features a heavy dose of "power," "iso-lead-weak," and lead-draws –- is Martin, a compact second-year runner with good short-area lateral agility and natural velocity. Martin is also an unheralded part of Tampa Bay’s passing attack, which will mean few reps for the veteran Leonard (a safe, controlled, third-down back). It’s no surprise that Martin’s arrival triggered Blount’s de facto disappearance. Blount’s 1,000-yard rookie season had tricked fans into believing that his plodding, methodical style and perplexing lack of power weren’t true weaknesses. Fortunately, the Bucs knew better.
WR: Vincent Jackson, Mike Williams, Kevin Ogletree, Tiquan Underwood; Lost: Arrelious Benn, Sammie Stroughter
TE: Luke Stocker, Tom Crabtree, Zach Miller; Lost: Dallas Clark
Jackson was exactly what the Bucs hoped for last season. He’s a nightmare to defend downfield, especially when isolated outside the numbers. It wouldn’t hurt for offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan to be a tad more creative with where he lines him up this season. Williams is a heavy-legged runner who knows how to win one-on-one matchups when the ball is in the air. He’s productive, but a No. 2 with his attributes demands that there be a speedy darter in the slot. It’s doubtful that Ogletree can be that guy for all 16 games. At tight end, the Bucs have a bunch of blockers and nothing else.
LT: Donald Penn LG: Carl Nicks C: Jeremy Zuttah RG: Davin Joseph RT: Demar Dotson
Backups: OT Jamon Meredith, G/C Ted Larsen; Lost: Jeremy Trueblood
Nicks and Joseph are both coming off season-ending injuries. If they don’t fully recover, this will be a resoundingly mediocre front five. Penn has enormous size, but is a finesse-oriented player. Dotson doesn’t have overly impressive strength or athleticism. Zuttah has acclimated well enough at center after spending most of his first few years at guard. He shows pretty good movement in the ground game. Tampa's depth is young and has experience, but they aren't suited for starting roles.
The Bucs are a multiple defense still searching for an identity. They did a superb job against the run last season, using slants and twists along the front line to free up space for their chase-oriented linebackers. That defensive line, unfortunately, did not have the same potency in rushing the passer. This cost the Bucs dearly, as the secondary, in turn, was constantly in limbo at all four spots. By season’s end, with third-stringers getting starts, the cornerback position had become a fatal weakness. Those are issues that must still be addressed, as the Bucs, if anything, are softer at that spot now than they were at this time last year.
DE: Adrian Clayborn, Da’Quan Bowers, Daniel Te’o-Nesheim, Aaron Morgan Lost: Michael Bennett
DT: Gerald McCoy, Gary Gibson, Derek Landri, Corvey Irvin, Pep Levingston; Lost: Roy Miller
The jury is out on Clayborn because he’s coming off a knee injury. He was a rising star prior to the injury, showing great physicality and natural explosiveness in his first step. The Bucs really need him to bounce back. The jury is out on Bowers because it’s undetermined if he can handle a full-time gig for 16 games. It’s also undetermined if he can blossom into a star, though he showed very positive signs once he started getting regular reps last season. Te’o-Nesheim is a decent backup who plays with all-around quickness. Even if he continues to emerge, however, he’ll likely not get all the press he deserves because – guessing from personal experience here – many writers can’t stand dealing with the abundance of vowels and punctuation marks in his name. Inside, Miller will be missed, though Gibson can suffice as long as he’s up for a full-time load. McCoy is one of the most gifted interior athletes in all the land. Landri is an unheralded destructor who thrives playing 12-to-18 snaps off the bench.
OLB: Lavonte David, Jonathan Casillas, Dekoda Watson, Adam Hayward; Lost: Quincy Black
ILB: Mason Foster, Najee Goode
David naturally stands out on film. He’s fast and incredibly instinctive. In fact, he’s good enough to carry an entire linebacking corps, which is what he did as a rookie and what he’ll likely have to do as a sophomore. Casillas is a downhill burner, but he has never been a full-time starter. He could steal the nickel reps from Foster, a third-year player who does not stand out positively, but at least no longer stands out negatively.
CB: Leonard Johnson, Eric Wright, Myron Lewis, Anthony Gaitor; Lost: E.J. Biggers, Brandon McDonald
S: Dashon Goldson, Mark Barron, Ahmad Black, Cody Grimm
CB/S: Ronde Barber?
Goldson was the prized free agent on the safety market this year. He’ll add a lot as a downhill missile. However, his awareness in coverage is only good, not great. He’s at his best playing over the top of man-to-man; he’ll struggle somewhat if given major zone responsibilities. Bucs fans should be concerned about Barron, who did not show great instincts in coverage and, for whatever reason, became less ferocious as a downhill attacker as the season wore on.
Cornerback can be considered a "must fill" position for general manager Mark Dominik. He probably would not have kept Wright if not for the utter paucity of talent at the other corner spots. Things will be a little better if Barber decides not to retire. Not surprisingly given his sagacity in zone coverages, he has transitioned well to a sub-package linebacker and box safety role. With Goldson around, Barber would no longer be a starter at safety, but he would still see a lot of time on the field as either a strong safety or nickelback in nickel and dime situations.
K: Connor Barth, Nate Kaeding; P: Michael Koenen, Chas Henry
Why did the Bucs sign two inferior veterans to compete in camp with the perfectly adequate specialists they already had? Your guess is as good as ours. Koenen is dramatically better on kickoffs compared to punts; he should really be green for one role and pink for the other.
23 comments, Last at 14 Oct 2014, 3:36am by nandito707