The 2009 Buccaneers - a preview in three parts
Every person who writes a preview piece for the Buccaneers will fall into two categories - glass half-empty or glass half-full. And the supposedly-loyal fans will tear into the pessimistic previews and the hardened realist will not take seriously the feature that calls for a 14-2 season and Super Bowl triumph. But there are just too many variables and unknowns that people simply cannot consider when predicting a season.
Take a look at the fantasy preview magazines as case in point. "We expect Matt Ryan to throw for 3,500 yards and 25 touchdowns". "LaDanian Tomlinson will not see so much playing time and will not score more than six times". So what if Darren Sproles blows out his knee in the first quarter of the Chargers' season opener? Or Matt Ryan tweaks his MCL and spends a month on the sideline with his cap on back to front.
Any injury can affect a team dramatically (the exception being the 2008 Patriots Brady/Cassel) and any preview has to look at the best and worst possible scenarios for a season. So for the 2009 Buccaneers, we will use Pete the Pessimist and Oscar the Optimistic before coming up with our realistic preview.
OK can you honestly see a Buccaneer quarterback lifting the Vince Lombardi Trophy next January when the current candidates are Luke McCown, Byron Leftwich or Josh Freeman. You can make a real case for all three seeing playing time in 2009 through injury/benching/oh what the hell play the rookie scenarios. And any of them would lead to nothing more than six wins in spite of all the ofensive weapons that the Bucs now own.
Michael Clayton to regain his rookie form (this line is now on its fourth lap and will black flagged next fall). The defense is no longer the Tampa-2 but could turn into the Tampa-7 as it conceeds points by the bucket load without a real pass rush. The secondary is either too old (Ronde) or too young (Aqib), the offensive line is missing one important piece (Arron Sears) and the whole coaching staff is new.
Sorry optimistic and realistic fans but Pete here sees a 4-12 season as even the worst teams win a few games in the "Any Given Sunday" mentality of the modern-day NFL (exception - the LLLLions). Any chance of getting Tim Tebow next April?
Pete needs to look in the mirror and remember who he supports. Is he a real Buc fan or not? Oscar here is the eternal optimist even if his predictions for Steve Spurrier to lead the 76 Bucs to a winning season and Leeman Bennett to even win three games were a little off the mark. There are enough bulletin board posters who have written off Raheem Morris even before he has coached a game. How many games had Mike Tomlin won when he took over from Bill Cowher? Anyone seen that shiny new ring on his finger?
The days of 10-7 and 13-10 wins under Tony Dungy are long gone. These Bucs have the weapons to score 28-30 a game even with Luke McCown at the controls. Remember three of his starts were with half a roster when Jon Gruden was resting players for an important wild card loss the following week.
Yes the defense will be different to years gone by but Quincy Black, Tanard Jackson, Aqib Talib and others are the young blood it needed. I still remember the outcry when Brad Culpepper was released in 1999 - the Bucs merely led the NFC in defense that season.
Carolina are not the force they were and they still have Jake Delhomme at QB, Atlanta can't sneak up on anyone this season and the Saints still have the new Norv Turner, Sean Payton coaching. No former Leicester Panther QB from the British league has ever been successful in the NFL. I see a surprise 9-7 record and if it's enough for the division, then that's good enough for me.
Ricky the realistic here to curb Oscar's enthusiasm and drag Pete back from the window ledge. The offensive arrivals (Derrick Ward and Kellen Winslow) will add firepower but the lack of a proven QB will negate most of their impact. Luke McCown will have some nice moments but expect to see Josh Freeman leading the Bucs come December.
Jerramy Zuttah is good enough to replace Arron Sears but there is nothing behind the starting five. Special teams remain strong and I have confidence in this coaching staff from Raheem to both his experienced co-ordinators.
The key will be the defense which I do expect to be better with the deadwood now stripped away (sorry Derrick but you were not the player you were in 2008 at all). The secondary is the weak link as I do think Gaines Adams will play at a new level. What he really needs is a decent defensive tackle inside him. Quincy Black will be the new star Buccaneer linebacker and don't rule out former Seminole Geno Hayes to make the starting line-up by mid-season.
For me, 6-10 is realistic with some serious experience gained by Josh Freeman and the young defensive players for a realistic playoff run in 2010. And as BUCPOWER.COM's esteemed editor said in San Diego before Super Bowl XXXVII, "I'll take ten straight losing seasons for a win over the Raiders".
Paul Stewart, The Tampa Tribune, August 2009