State of the Team: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
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.
- Jury’s still out
- Just a guy
- Upgrade needed
- No longer on the team
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.
Click here for an archive of all State of the Team articles.
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
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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.
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19 comments, Last at 18 Aug 2018, 5:08am
#1 by MilkmanDanimal // Apr 17, 2013 - 5:52pm
From what I've seen (which, as an obsessive Bucs fan, is pretty much every snap), Freeman is a perfectly good QB with a few exceptions; one, he's due for about one inexplicably bad throw per game, and two, he's terrible when he gets pressure in his face. Pressure around the outside? Sure, nobody likes that, but he's perfectly willing to get sacked or try to escape in that case. Pressure up the gut? Panic, bad throw, time to swear. I would tend to divide last season into the "Getting to know my new teammates, things are inconsistent" phase, the "Holy crap, Doug Martin and V-Jax are making this easy, plus Carl Nicks is steamrolling everybody, awesome!" phase, and then, sadly, the "Carl Nicks is hurt, OH CRAP THEY'RE IN MY FACE AGAIN" phase, which was part of that four-game crapfest later in the season. For a guy who can't seem to take pressure up the middle, the loss of Joseph and Nicks was just devastating, and the hopeful fan in me sees a big improvement this coming year, presuming those two are back to normal.
Defensively, Adrian Clayborn really was a holy terror the first few games last year, and
the defense is largely resting on his surgically repaired knee; if he can be as explosive off the line as he was those first few games, I don't care if Michael Bennett is gone. If he hasn't recovered, well, crap. As for LaVonte David, I'm just changing my name to LaVonte now. I mean, good GOD, how the hell was he so many places last year? Between him, Kuechly, and Wagoner, 2012 was a hell of a rookie LB class.
Also, for the green-clad elephant in the room, please, please, please do not trade for Revis. The Jets have utterly screwed themselves here, and it's clear Revis will never play for him again. They're going to have to either cut him or have him tearing the locker room apart, and, really, why would you ship a first-round pick (and more) off to a guy you could legitimately sign once he's likely gone from the Jets?
#13 by MilkmanDanimal // Apr 18, 2013 - 12:03pm
Clayborn was being disruptive in ways that don't directly show on a stat sheet; he was constantly in the backfield and blowing up the protection. Clayborn went down in the third game vs. the Cowboys; at that point Michael Bennett and Gerald McCoy had three sacks each (two each in that game alone). Bennett ended the year with nine sacks and McCoy five, so their production dropped significantly once Clayborn was no longer causing trouble. Just because he personally wasn't getting to the QB doesn't mean he wasn't having an impact, it just means he was making it easier for everybody else.
#15 by speedegg // Apr 18, 2013 - 5:09pm
I thought Freeman was inconsistent with his accuracy, was that entirely due to pressure up the middle? There were times he threw a beautiful deep ball to V-Jax and other times he throws a WTF pass at the intermediate level.
#16 by MilkmanDanimal // Apr 18, 2013 - 5:50pm
He is inconsistent with his accuracy, and seems to me to have most of his issues on pretty basic stuff, things like swing passes and drag routes and such; if he has to really get his arm into it, he strikes me as far more accurate than if he has to pull back a bit and rely purely on touch. I think he's one of the best deep ball throwers in the league, but, then again, that may have a lot to do with the fact that V-Jax and Mike Williams are particularly good at adjusting to a ball in the air, and they have time to make that adjustment on deeper throws. The "up the middle" stuff is to me the really shining problem with Freeman's game, but it's not the only one. I still think he has enough upside that Tampa should have given him a contract extension this year before Flacco blew up the market.
#17 by Sifter // Apr 19, 2013 - 1:53am
Good insights, particularly earlier when you pointed out the difference between Nicks and no-Nicks. I think the 2 games I saw were one of each, and so I saw a taste of both good Josh and bad Josh. I did sit and wonder what the deal with Freeman was when I discovered: a) his high yardage but relatively poor DVOA, and b) that he hadn't been extended by the Bucs yet and is in the last year of his contract.
You think they'll draft a QB to challenge him? It's not as though they can sign a cagey veteran now...Tyler Thigpen is about the best QB left on a thin market - maybe Trent Edwards now he's been released, but his inability to throw deep would hurt Tampa.
#3 by Andy G (not verified) // Apr 17, 2013 - 7:28pm
I think the comments on Blount are sorta harsh. I still think he's a better pure runner than Martin. Interestingly, Martin's 2012 DVOA was the same as Blount's 2010 DVOA.
The difference was Blount was/is epically bad at pass protection and is sub-par as a receiver.
I dunno what value Blount can have to any NFL team without being able to identify or pickup a blitz, but I still think he's a better runner than many backs out there.
#5 by MilkmanDanimal // Apr 17, 2013 - 9:11pm
Possibly two years ago, but Blount was utterly awful as a runner last year. He's a straight-ahead power guy who has very little lateral agility, yet he seems to be convinced he can jump from side to side and find a hole. He goes down at first contact very easily, and he dragged the offense down every time he came in; example #1 is him getting three cracks from the 1 against the Saints and doing nothing. That's not an outlier, that's how Blount ran consistently last year.
The idea that Blount is a better "pure runner" than Martin is frankly ludicrous; Blount gets yards if there's enough of a hole to build up some momentum and bust through, but Martin last year showed a pretty special combination of speed, power, and elusiveness.
#12 by Karl Cuba // Apr 18, 2013 - 11:16am
Even this niners fan thinks Gore is a green nowadays. He used to be blue back when the niners gave him no help at all and was less productive but now he's green but more of the line should be green (ie Boone and Davis).
#8 by Jonrd // Apr 18, 2013 - 8:53am
Hey Andy - What is your opinion on Leonard Johnson? I thought he looked competent for much of the year, though, admittedly, I may just have forgotten what good cornerback play looks like. I think a couple of good plays probably skews his yards against averages (80 yarder to Danario Alexander, where he should've made the tackle and another 80 to Julio Jones, where he shouldn't be on an island), but was otherwise solid. Obviously, you have him as "upgrade needed," but do you think he can develop into a solid #2 or is he too limited by his size/speed?