Healthy Buccaneers are a formidable force
We all watched in horror as the season starter after starter left the Buccaneers active roster for the wilderness that is the Injured Reserve list. This had two main effects on the Buccaneers through 2010
1. The Bucs found that the roster they had assembled had tremendous depth.
2. It made the Front Office work even harder to find the gems that are often available from other team's Practice Squads. The scouting network the Buccaneers employ did a fantastic job of picking up the likes of Al Woods, Frank Okam and, of course, LeGarrette Blount throughout the season from under the noses of other NFL teams.
Buccaneers fans around the World got so used to watching the teams back-ups towards the end of the season that it can be hard to imagine what a healthy Tampa roster would look like. When you actually look at how our Pewter Pirates could line up on day one of the 2011 season (assuming there is one) it makes for great reading. It is not until you see the starters listed, as could be, that you truly appreciate how far this team can go.
With Josh Freeman under centre with a full NFL season under his belt we are in great state at QB. When fit you can line up with rookie standout Mike Williams, fellow rookie star of the future Arrelious Benn opposite him and 2009 seventh round steal Sammie Stroughter, late season standout Dez Briscoe and speed merchants Preston Parker and Micheal "Santa Maria" Spurlock all waiting on the sidelines.
Although no big names by league standards (Williams as the only possible exception) that receiving corp is very deep with talent and as per so many other units on this team young too.
At tight end the Bucs boast one of the top five players at the position in Kellen Winslow with solid, if unspectacular, support in John Gilmore and Ryan Purivs. The Buccaneers use Winslow more as a slot receiver than a down lineman tight end but whenever he is on the field, especially in third down and redzone situations, he is a big play threat.
The offensive line went through more changes in personnel than any other unit last season but again when healthy the group looks extremely strong. Jeff Faine at centre flanked by Pro-Bowler Davin Joseph and "Mr Versatility" Jeremy Zuttah and rounding out the unit outstanding left tackle Donald Penn and James Lee/Jeremy Trueblood at right tackle. That unit looks very strong and has good depth once again in Hardman and Larsen.
2011 will be the first full season of LeGarrette Blount in the Tampa Bay backfield and he will be joined by speed merchant Kareem Huggins and Earnest Graham. Whether Cadillac will be back or not remains uncertain. Blount and Huggins has the feel of the Jacobs/Bradshaw team in New York and could see the Bucs set well at the position for time to come.
The area of the Bucs roster that saw most starters miss time in 2010 was the defense. But when you can start with Gerald McCoy with Roy Miller/Brian Price at Defensive Tackle, Talib/Barber at Corner (with outstanding support from Biggers and Lewis) and Safeties of Sean Jones and Cody Grimm, depending on how high Tanard Jackson is at the time of training camp, then I think you can see how strong we are in certain areas.
Quincy Black and Geno Hayes are good NFL linebackers and although primarily a Special Teams standout Adam Hayward showed some nice touches during increased playing time towards the end of the season.
What this does show though is where the defense is missing key playmakers. Defensive end is a problem area as the ends last got to a quarterback consistantly was before Simeon Rice left for Planet Simeon.
Stylez G White is a solid end and would be decent support for a real star pass rusher, but apart from him the other DEs on the roster are not of the calibre that is required. This area should really see the Buccaneers top pick in the 2011 draft, possibly even the first two picks.
Now for the $64 million question. Barrett Ruud. What happens to Mr Ruud this off season? Some people point to 56,929 tackles in three years and say pay the man. Others point to the same tackle stats but more that only three of them were for a loss!
Ruud is a solid leader but not the rabid monster that the defense needs. I think the Front Office need to address this through Free Agency/Trade, go and get someone who is going to make big plays and put fear in the opposition playcallers.
So when you look at the potential starting line-ups and only come up with defensive end and middle linebacker as areas that are lacking shows that with minimal tweaking this roster could be outstanding. Championship outstanding. Super Bowl outstanding. We all hope that something gets worked out so that we are not left with no football next year and if it does expect these young Bucs to achieve big things.